A U.S. government and industry report has concluded that airline pilots have lost flying skills as automation takes over mundane tasks and may be startled when systems don’t behave as expected. It was said that both of these have contributed to crashes The report, commissioned by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), said that airlines need to improve pilot training in autopilots and other automation in the cockpit. The report stated that the issue is growing in importance as the U.S. installs the $42-billion satellite-based navigation system known as NextGen.
Without a doubt, auto-throttles, computer navigation systems and other automation on planes have improved safety. Because of the advances in technology, airline safety is at an all-time high, according to accident statistics. The downside of these new technologies, however, is that they may be incorrectly programmed more than previous systems and are so complex that pilots don’t always understand their actions. The report’s findings, reported in the Wall Street Journal, included the following:
The report, entitled “Operational Use of Flight Path Management Systems,” studied 26 accidents from 1996 to 2009 in which automation played a role. The authors also relied on incident reports, cockpit audits and anonymous pilot accounts gathered by airlines and government agencies. Several recent accidents that weren’t considered in the report, including the Feb. 12, 2009, crash of a regional turboprop approaching Buffalo operated by Pinnacle Airlines Corp.’s former Colgan unit, are also related to how pilots are trained on cockpit automation. The Colgan accident killed all 49 on the plane and a man on the ground.
A pilot on an Asiana Airlines plane that struck a seawall while attempting to land in San Francisco July 6 said he thought the plane’s auto throttle was maintaining speed. The Boeing Co. 777 had slowed to almost 40 miles (64 kilometers) per hour below its target speed before losing altitude and striking the seawall. The [National Transportation Safety Board] NTSB hasn’t yet concluded what caused the accident.
Pilots accustomed to having autopilots and other devices to keep a plane on course and at the correct speed have allowed basic manual skills to erode. Pilots also have greater difficulty handling malfunctions of automated systems because they may not understand the systems or haven’t been adequately trained. “This is a particular concern for failure situations which do not have procedures or checklists, or where the procedures or checklists do not completely apply.”
In other cases, pilots have accidentally put the wrong information into an airplane’s guidance system, leading to flying the wrong path or even accidents. Eighteen recommendations were made for better training on how cockpit devices work, improved design of the systems and new procedures to minimize the impact of malfunctions or mistakes.
The FAA has taken action on the 18 recommendations. The agency on Feb. 5, 2013, issued new regulations changing pilot training to emphasize more realistic simulator sessions. That action addresses several of the report’s recommendations. Industry officials met on Nov. 21 with the FAA and described additional steps the airlines can take to voluntarily improve training.
Source: Bloomberg News
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