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Aviation human factors expert Dr Rob Lee remembered

written by Gerard Frawley | May 1, 2018

Dr Rob Lee (right) with ATSB chief commissioner Greg Hood. (ATSB)

Long-time aviation administrator and human factors expert Rob Lee died on Friday.
“It is our melancholy duty to advise that Dr Rob Lee AO, a great leader and aviation safety visionary passed away peacefully on Friday morning 27 April 2018,” the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) said on Monday afternoon.
“Whilst he will long be remembered for such a significant contribution to aviation safety, he will also be remembered for his warmth, his love for his partner Sue and his family, his infectious smile, his international diplomacy, and for his musicianship, as lead guitarist in the Canberra band ‘Mid-Life Crisis‘.”
Dr Lee was the first human factors specialist to be appointed at the then Bureau of Air Safety Investigation (BASI) – later to form part of the ATSB – when he joined the organisation in 1983 and helped establish and develop the Bureau’s capability in human factors, systems safety and research.
He rose to the position of BASI director in 1989. And in 1999, Dr Lee was appointed director of human factors, systems safety and communications at the newly-established ATSB.
“During his directorship he transformed the Bureau from a largely reactive investigative agency to an innovative multi-skilled organisation that also concentrated on proactive accident prevention and safety enhancement,” the ATSB said in its 2009 Past Present Future publication that celebrated the 10-years anniversary of its formation.
“Dr Lee was instrumental in establishing and developing mutual cooperation in air safety investigation between BASI and the Australian Defence Force, including negotiating and signing the first Memorandum of Understanding between the two agencies.”
In 2012, Dr Lee received an Order of Australia (AO) award in that year’s Queen’s Birthday Honours list for “distinguished service to the aviation industry, to the development of air safety and accident investigation standards, and to national and international professional associations”.
Dr Lee graduated with first class honours in psychology at Australian National University in 1970. He also completed his PhD in psychology at the University of St Andrews, Scotland, with his research focused on human performance in complex systems, with particular reference to aircraft.
His work as an international consultant has also involved analysing accidents around the world including the Gulf Air A320 accident at Bahrain in August 2000, the Singapore Airlines B747 accident at Taipei in October 2000, and the mid air collision between a Boeing 757 and a Tupolev Tu-154M over Ueberlingen, Germany in 2002.
Further, Dr Lee’s career also included working extensively with the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), where in 1976 he was appointed senior psychologist, operational command. He was the first RAAF psychologist to serve as a human factors specialist on RAAF aircraft accident investigation teams.
Later, Dr Lee served as Group Captain in the RAAF Specialist Reserve. The consultancy role involved conducting regular training courses on aviation psychology, human factors, systems safety and air safety investigation within the Australian Defence Force.
Dr Lee is a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society, and a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Logistics
and Transport.
In 2000 Dr Lee was awarded the Aviation Human Factors Achievement Award by the Australian Aviation Psychology Association.

Comments (10)

  • Buzz


    So sad to hear about Rob Lee’s passing. I had the pleasure of meeting him a number of times and listening to his Human Factors presentations at ANZSASI conferences and other aviation workshops. Rob will be truely missed.

  • Freddie


    His ‘shoes’ will be hard to fill with the same passion he had for his profession. RIP

  • Summo


    A real gentleman and a great intellect, will be missed by all. RIP Rob.

  • Barbara Dunn


    Rob will be missed by all who new him. His wealth of knowledge will be impossible to replace and his infectious smile will be a cherished memory.
    My heartfelt prayers and thoughts to Sue and the family.
    Rest In Peace my friend.
    Barbara Dunn

  • Alan E Diehl


    Dr. Lee was a true trailblazer. As a former US NTSB and USAF air safety investigator I was lucky enough to meet him on several occasions. His leadership at BASI I’m sure contributed to Australia’s investigatorial prowess and his nation’s outstanding aviation safety record. Respectfully, Alan E. Diehl, Ph.D.

  • Lee Edmonds-Ward


    Rob Lee remains an inspiration to all who aim to apply intelligent logical and human(e) thinking to the science of safety.
    Thank you for your knowledge, inspiration and humility. You will live on in the many with whom you have shared and encouraged.

  • Very sorry to hear the news, sincere condolences to Sue and the family.
    Rob you made a positive contribution, a job well done.

  • Letizia Bernabeo / Italy


    I will never forget you. Your Aviation Safety Lessons will continue and never end. Your smile and your talent for music, an unforgettable experience. Respectfully.

  • Tony Gower-Jones


    When James Reason introduced his ‘layers of defence’ model in 1990 it didn’t have a name. Rob Lee looked at it and remarked it looked like a Swiss cheese.
    Having such a powerful metaphor helped the adaptation of barrier-based thinking.

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