Despite all the recent talk in this blog, at the FAA, at Airbus, and now at US ALPA about loss of piloting skills as a result of operating with high levels of automation for a long time, there is a danger that some people are getting confused between the loss of hand-flying skills and the loss of mental skills.
Hand flying skill rarely gets terminally rusty, and if it does you can pick it up again fast. Once you've learned to ride a bike you never lose that ability.
It's the mental ability to fly and to navigate using raw flight and navigation data that gets lost if it is not used. If you have to hand-fly the aircraft at the same time as using raw flight and navigation data when you are not used to either, that's quite a workload.
That mental ability can also be restored quite quickly with a bit of training, but its return is not instant.
Raw-data handling is manual flying without the flight director. It's having to choose a pitch attitude and a bank angle that will provide the performance you want at the power setting you have selected, instead of having both of those chosen for you. If you unquestioningly follow the crossbars out of sheer habit, you may stop noticing what your pitch and bank actually are, or at least not with any precision.
All pilots learn early on that a chosen flight path is the result of a combination of a selected pitch attitude, bank angle (or wings level) and power setting. If you stop having to choose the attitudes and power settings that give you the result you want because you can choose the performance directly by dialling the numbers into the autopilot, that is not flying, it's trajectory management. So if, one day, you have to go back to flying when the autopilot trips out because two or more air data computers disagree and so do your airspeed indicators, you are not in practice for the situation you face.
So the recurrent training today's pilots need to be given must entail a couple of hours with the autopilot, authothrottle and the flight director tripped out, and compass rose mode selected on both navigation displays.
All pilots can do this. They wouldn't have their licence if they couldn't. But they can't do it well if they never practice it.
Does it matter? Yes it does. The FAA-quoted Colgan accident is not the only example of why it does.