Johnny was here: From airmanship to airlineship

​In this article we explore the phenomenon of airmanship in commercial passenger flights, in a context of increasing standardisation of procedures and technologies. Through observation studies in cockpits and interviews we have studied pilots' practices and how they relate to the larger system of procedures and the technical environment. We find that practices are to a large extent guided by standard operating procedures, and that interchangeability of pilots and aircrafts is both a prerequisite for and enabled by this standardised regime. However, since sociotechnical systems in general and operation of aircrafts is no exception are inherently underspecified, the pilots' exercise of discretion in their context-sensitive adaptation of the procedures and technical environments is another prerequisite for well-functioning systems.

Mastering these adaptations and recognising the absolute delimitations of adaptations is a central aspect of airmanship. Outside this space of manoeuvre for the pilots, the aircrafts are managed by what we call airlineship: The inter-organisational efforts to create predictability and safe practices through de-identification and interchangeability of personnel and aircrafts. Pilots are actors in sociotechnical systems that are not demarcated by the cockpits. To understand pilots’ work, studies must account also for the wider sociotechnical context of organisational, regulative and techno-material structures. The article is a contribution to the a generic attempt in the field of ergonomics to contribute with models and theories that portray individuals, groups, organisations and systems in ways that keep sight of the individuals in the systems and the systems in the individuals at the same time.