Airline pilots ‘have not been trained for modern aircraft’

A draft FAA study into the relationship of pilots with today’s airliner flightdecks – specifically the automated systems in the cockpits - provides the hard data to prove that pilots are not properly trained for modern cockpits. The result has been serious accidents that did not need to happen.

I have been arguing for ages that airline pilot recurrent training needs a serious review. Now, courtesy of Dr Kathy Abbott’s FAA team, it looks as if it might get one. This is good news.

At the same event - last week’s Flight Safety Foundation International Aviation Safety Seminar in Milan, Italy – at which Abbott outlined the initial results of her studies, three seriously big industry guns spoke at length on stall recovery, and one of similar calibre presented on go-arounds. Stall recovery was addressed by Boeing’s Dave Carbaugh, Airbus’s Claude LeLaie, and ALPA’s top human factors expert Capt David McKenney. Air France corporate safety manager Bertrand de Courville addressed the art of safe go-arounds.

These are two subjects so fundamental to basic pilot competence that the need to cover them in such detail is a symptom of the fact that current training is not addressing the basics. And Abbott, of course, has now revealed that today’s training is not covering advanced automation either.

So what is recurrent airline training achieving, then? It’s a bit of an oversimplification of the many things she said, but the hard evidence suggests that pilots concentrate on programming the automation at the expense of monitoring the flight path.

Is anyone actually surprised by this? Hadn’t you actually observed it yourself? Hasn’t there been sufficient anecdotal evidence of this for a while to make you worried?  Well now Abbott’s team is on hand to provide the data to back up the anecdotes.

Don’t expect change tomorrow, but big changes will come. They must come.


4 Responses to Airline pilots ‘have not been trained for modern aircraft’

  1. David Connolly 9 November, 2010 at 1:01 am #

    Hope springs eternal in the fall, to prevent a uni-seasonal stall and fall to a bottomless abyss of ignorance of willful neglect of understanding under knowledge. With melted wax and loosened strings sank hapless Icarus upon faithless wings,
    for when the buckled spar lets down the grinding span,the grief for loss incurred confers upon a man and grief is thus a falling leaf upon the dawning of the day.

  2. Joseph Farrugia 10 November, 2010 at 8:56 am #

    I believe most pilots have become pilots not because they were attracted by the automation of the systems but because they felt that they have the God given talent and ability to fly an aircraft. I believe that too much automation is not helping in this regard but on the contrary is interfering and making simple procedures like Go-around and stall recovery complex.

  3. John Laming 10 November, 2010 at 11:42 am #

    As a simulator instructor I regularly see automation dependancy in action where to ask a pilot to turn off the flight irector and autothrottle and fly an ILS in a crosswind on raw data is akin to a PAN PAN situation. Even circuits and landings in the simulator sees pilots going heads down furiously programming the FMC even though the circuit is (or supposed to be) flown visually looking at the runway.

    Worse and potentially dangerous is the lack of competence in recovering from an unusual attitude in IMC. These are not isolated cases. Despite numerous stories of blind reliance on automatics that have caused fatal crashes – Flash Air and Kenyan Airlines and Adam Air Indonesia Boeing 737 disasters come to mind, and of course many excellent research papers on the degradation of pure flying skills because of automation dependancy, regulators and airlines shrug their shoulders as if to say it doesn’t happen in our backyard so why worry. And while the aircraft manufacturers push ever increasing use of automatics on their aircraft then it is hard to convince operators, pilots and regulators to take automation dependancy seriously.

  4. Tony Smit 11 November, 2010 at 6:54 am #

    YES! YES! YES! I have been instructing on various aircraft varying from 1936 vintage to the latest Hawker 4000, 900 Cessne Sovereign etc. over the past 30 yesrs.

    So true, I have seen this happen numerous times operating in West Africa, mainly with young pilots who are very computer literate and operate FMS/FMA a lot better than I do. However, the problem lies in that the youngsters tend to rush into the FMS like lightning, the “Execute” BIG Mistake!!! I as and old pilot (DC3 days) tend to take it solwly, check it then “execute”, or when things get hectic in the cockpit, I always tell the young pilots to “Go back to basics and “FLY the aircraft, and continue the approach on basic instrumentation (Like a Cessna 182), especially when approach is changed by ATC in a critical position, where to re-program FMS can cause loss of concentration in FLYING the aircraft.

    Example: Beechjet flying into Lome West Africa, on ARC approach, cleared No.1 for approach. Decending through from FL095 to 7800ft for 6500ft, we were suddenly advised by ATC “On reaching FL 085, maintain FL 085 as there is an aircraft at FL075 on the exact same radial as us. We were decending at 1000ft/min so were virtually through FL075 befgore the talking was done. My co-pilot a very good computor guy immediately went directly to the FMS to re-program the approach altitude back to FL085. WOW!! I setup HSI Rose and continued the descent and approach flying basics. We were IFR in the evening.

    If we had tried to climb, we would have collided with the other aircraft.

    Sometimes us “oldies” and the basics of flying still have a valuable place in aviation.

    I notice that private pilots now flying light aircraft with Garmin 1000 and other Glass equipment, spend more time with their heads in the cockpit playing with the equipment than looking out and navigating by “eyeball”. This happens in very busy airspace and in General flying areas.

    I train both basics (Round) Instruments thoroughly, then thoroughly onto the EFIS systems.

    Any other Comments????? Thanks