Flight International Comment from 1 October
Loss of control in flight (LOC-I) is the biggest killer in an industry that is getting safer, and it has been growing as a problem in its own right. Its rise as an issue has accompanied the gradual automation of flightdecks, and the decline of direct pilot mental and physical involvement in directing the aircraft.
One of the factors behind the delay in the industry’s reaction to LOC-I was that the connection between it and automation was not obvious, and although it is recognised as a factor now, it is only one of many changes that have happened in the industry over the same time.
But now the beginnings of a reaction are about to become visible. The US Federal Aviation Administration is about to make upset prevention and recovery training (UPRT) mandatory for airlines, and EASA will do the same. The FAA also proposes to demand that simulator manufacturers make their devices represent flight close to and just outside the aircraft’s flight envelope more accurately, so that stalling and UPRT can be more realistically practised in flight simulation training devices.
This is the first move on UPRT by the regulators, but it is the result of years of agonising over what the root cause of the LOC-I problem is, and what could feasibly be done about it. One of the big worries was the possibility of introducing training measures that can have a negative effect. For example, an FSTD cannot reproduce g-forces, and its reaction near the edges of the flight envelope might confuse. On the other hand, exposure to g-forces and extreme attitudes in an aerobatic light aircraft that responds rapidly to throttle and rudder and has a fast roll rate might lead to a dangerously enthusiastic response to an upset in a widebody airliner.
The Royal Aeronautical Society’s conference on UPRT last week showed there are still many views on the best path to take, but knowledge is accumulating and views are converging. It does not actually matter if differences remain over what the best UPRT methods are because if the goal is to reduce the risk of LOC-I, there is more than one way of using the accumulated UPRT knowledge to achieve that. What matters is that each airline forms a view, develops a programme, and gets approval for it from its aviation authority.
And that is not the end of the story. The fact that LOC-I has developed as a phenomenon proves the industry has a fundamental training problem. UPRT is only the sticking plaster. The industry needs to treat the disease.