Task Saturation in the Student Pilot

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Focused, or task saturated?

When a pilot becomes task saturated, her mental bucket is full. Once that mental bucket fills up, the bucket will not hold even one extra drop of input. This may explain why task saturated pilots tune out, or fail to understand radio calls from air traffic control.

It’s All Too Much

When first learning to fly, student pilots can easily become task saturated by basic aircraft maneuvers. At that point, as a survival mechanism, the student pilot’s brain will automatically filter all other stimuli not directly related to aircraft control. Missing one or more calls from ATC is a sure sign of task saturation.

Two Key Takeaways:

  1. In the early stages of training, flight instructors should not expect students to hear and digest every radio call that comes in.
  2. If you are a student pilot, don’t sweat missing or misunderstanding ATC during the early stages of training. Basic aircraft control will require less and less mental strain as your training progresses. As your brain spends less time planning and processing your next move on the controls, it will become more receptive to stimuli not directly related to aircraft control. Over time, your ability to see more, and to hear more will improve as you fly.


If you are a student pilot, are you having trouble concentrating on the radios? If you are an instructor, how do you help a student pilot who is task saturated?

There’s More

If you got something out of this article, check out the rest of the website. You can also challenge yourself with the Pop Quiz on aircraft radio calls below. Have fun and explore!

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