On The Fly

On the fly

Safety & Training: What about the human factor?

Safety is an ongoing discussion and part of regular everyday routine – not to mention being a key focus to training. Some see it as a cultural and mindset thing. Building safer, more consistent and reliable flight operations through training, study and use of new tools or systems is pushing the safety discussion forward. But is it doing so at the expense of trusted and proven older methodology? And are the new regulations and regionally changing rules taking attention away from flight safety and giving cause for pilots to become burdened with technology and compliance issues? FlyCorporate's Rob Seaman investigates.

On this topic, one safety support firm recently stated: “safety trends seem to take two forms, namely those that are industry or regulator-driven, and those that occur as the result of common culture and practice. The former are directed and, in most cases, healthy, but the latter can be maverick and, sometimes, undesirable.”

Add to this some recurrent themes that seem to keep coming up. One is Upset Training. Another is over reliance on automation. And a third is use of support systems to enhance – not hinder – operation safety and competency. 

In the case of Upset Training, there have been noted incidents where pilots have lost control of the aircraft through non-recognition of the signs that an upset was about to occur. As we increasingly rely on flight simulator training – and no slam to this is intended – it seems that some of the tradition “stick and ball” flying techniques have fallen by the wayside. 

The NTSB recommends that air carriers and commercial operators “Provide their flight crews with training in the recognition and recovery from unusual attitudes and aircraft upsets.” Statistics from NTSB reports show that 10 – 15% of all fatal aircraft accidents are attributed to spatial disorientation, and 90% of spatial disorientation accidents are fatal. One aspect of any post accident report is to learn by the mistakes of others. What we seem to read in many post incident reports is that increasingly overreliance on automated systems or intensive sim training vs. hands on is taking its toll. 

Comparing how it was to where we are

AeroSafety World is a publication of the Flight Safety Foundation and provides some quality articles and white papers on current safety and training issues. A white paper by author Hemant Bhana, which appeared in the June 2010 issue, brings some enlightened and progressive thinking and discussion onto the subject of over reliance on automation. 

Bhana compares an early model Boeing 727 with the new Boeing 787. “The 727, introduced into airline service in 1964, required extensive pilot involvement and contained modest automation. This level of automation tasked the pilots with computing almost every performance and navigation solution.

In comparison, the 787’s advanced flight management system (FMS) can compute solutions far more accurately than a human can, and is more in line with the machine performing the actions while advising the operator.”

The author has researched the automation phenomena and concludes: “as automation has gained in sophistication and systems integration, the role of the pilot has shifted toward becoming a monitor or supervisor of the automation. Instead of actively controlling many of the processes, pilots are increasingly tasked with evaluating the computed solution and either stopping automated control or allowing it to continue.” 

His paper goes on to report a general, wide-ranging lament about the effect of automation on maintaining hand-flying skills. Specifically, his research shows that out of the 105 responses, 33% indicated “a degradation of traditional flight skills is a significant issue in their daily flying, including how they deal with increasingly complex aircraft and operations.” 

A pilot in his study summed up the unwanted effect of automation by saying: “I am a line check airman with 36 years in high-performance jets. The majority of pilots that I fly with do not back up the automation with raw data. Basic airmanship has dropped out of the training program. This is reflected by complacency on the flight deck and an unwarranted trust in the automation.”

So what is the solution?

Enter UAT (Upset Aircraft Training) – a company where everything old is new again. UAT is dedicated to preparing pilots for upset prevention and recovery in both jet and piston aircraft. As the company say – “It’s completely real, professional and uses a “PhD approach” to educating students. This isn’t an add-on service for our company, it’s all we do and we’re dedicated to providing the best training possible.” These guys are focused on taking good pilots and giving them the education, skills and instilled mindset to face and overcome an aircraft upset.”

UAT’s unique program combines ground, visual and instrument flight training in the L-39 Turbojet and P-51 Mustang. There are no simulators involved. They familiarize pilots with the recognition and recovery from unusual attitudes and in-flight upsets in both VFR and IFR environments. 

“Statistics show that the majority of pilots will encounter some sort of unusual or inadvertent attitude situation that will require them to react properly in order to save their life and the lives of others,” says UAT President Lee Launderback. “Simulator training can provide some background, but it’s far from adequate training. Our in-flight VFR and IFR upset prevention and recovery training program provides students with “hands on” recovery experience.” 

Using a series of benchmark maneuvers, the UAT instructors place students in different nose up, nose down and inverted situations in both visual contact and “under the curtain” flying for actual IFR recoveries. “We’ve actually been building this program for over 10 years,” continues Lauderback. “We’ve put many pilots through our Ground School and VFR program using the Mustang. People are excited about flying the P51, but they have a completely different perception after experiencing what UAT has to offer.” 

“We can do so much in the Mustang, but we couldn’t offer an instrument recovery syllabus because of flight instrumentation,” says Lauderback. “That’s when we decided to look for an appropriate jet and install state-of the-art EFIS (Electronic Flight Instrumentation System) to reflect today’s corporate aircraft.” 

Enter the L-39

Comments from those who have used UAT support their efforts. For example, according to General Mills Director of Air Transportation Neil Brackin: “Every member of our department was excited to fly the Mustang – truly a dream come true. But once we participated in the course, we quickly realized how comprehensive and meaningful this program can be. It provides an exceptional learning experience that cannot be duplicated in any simulator and would be extremely helpful in an unfortunate aircraft situation. Safe flight operations are the main priority for our department, and UAT has definitely provided our experienced group with a new skill set to support that goal.” 

Training aside, there are other ways to improve

Australia based Avinet are dedicated to improving and assisting flight operations with safety/support systems, technology and programs. The firm has enhanced safety, efficiency and compliance for over 180 organizations worldwide in the last nine years. Their “suite” of secure and cloud-based products work with flight groups and the “tools” contained in them reinforce positive trends and controls that preclude detrimental tendencies say the company. 

According to Avinet: “It is encouraging to note the efforts of many regulators that are now bearing fruit.” They credit privately funded research and specialized expertise that has been applied to implement some effective Fatigue Risk Management (FRM) programs.

Avinet has included FRM monitoring modules – examples being Fatigue Assessment Tool (FAID), Safety Analysis and Functional Evaluation (SAFE) - among others in Air Maestro, their main aviation support product. As to Operational Risk Assessments (ORSs), the company notes that as an industry-driven initiative, this hasn’t received as much attention as Fatigue Management System (FMS). The result seems a rather unhealthy tendency towards merely ‘checking the boxes’ of a poorly conceived and often generic ORA. Apart from being worthless, the company notes seeing the exercise becoming counter-productive, in that it frustrates aircrew members who view the assessments as “more meaningless paperwork”, instead of opportunities to analyze the risk and adequacy of controls associated with a sortie.

To solve all this, Avinet work to four cornerstones in developing a successful - and, by implication, safe - management system. Those are operational control, organizational transparency, maximum employee participation and documented accountability. They address this through “education” during initial and recurrent training in the use of Air Maestro’s ORA module. 

A little of that human touch

Flying skills are one thing, but there is so much more to operational safety. In today's heavily regulated environment, the complexity and need to comply with a number of regulations and standards is on the rise. These complex requirements make it difficult to track and react to important information in a timely fashion and add stress to the cockpit and operation as a whole. Products like Air Maestro are designed to simplify the process of compliance and assist in being able to effectively demonstrate compliance status to regulators and external auditors.

Aviation training has changed so much over the years. Most of the progress has without question been great. But along the way we seem to have lost the human touch – be it basic flight skills or the systems, procedures and regulations that have necessarily evolved along the way. 

History is a great teacher, and we are fools not to use it to advantage. The examples here show just a small sample of how we can do so. 

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