Loss of control in big jets is a problem that has had the industry wringing its hands for years.
What’s the pilot there for?
By David Learmount on 23 January, 2012 in Uncategorised
This blog too – more space has been devoted here to LOC and specific examples of it (like AF447) than any other issue.
But big jet LOC, although last year happened to be free of it, is still going to happen again unless the industry does more than talk about it, because the problems that caused the nine fatal LOC events since 2000 are issues of human physiology and cognitive capabilities.
The physiology can’t be changed, but the cognitive capabilities can: it’s called training. But the right kind, not what we do now because that clearly isn’t working.
There have been two favoured theories for dealing with LOC. The most common was to train crews in upset recovery techniques.
The other – particularly favoured by manufacturer Airbus – was to ensure that the aircraft stays within its flight envelope and avoids extreme attitudes, so upset recovery becomes unnecessary.
AF447 blew the Airbus theory out of the water. When the autopilot/autothrottle tripped out in the cruise, the flight control law switched out of normal, which has full flight envelope protection, into alternate, where there is very little protection. When the crew’s manual flight control inputs took the aircraft outside its flight envelope, the crew quickly lost their situational awareness and never regained it, according to the flight recorders.
Behind the scenes, some organisations have been brainstorming the LOC phenomenon, but there’s no action plan yet.
The latest idea, the product of a LOC analysis group, is to study what pilots are looking at and doing before they make the decisions that decide whether they retain control or lose it. Called the Pilot Monitoring Study, it is examining in detail where pilots’ eyes look, what information they could glean from where they look, and what they do. The UK Civil Aviation Authority has commissioned this study, working with several airlines.
What they have found (they have completed the fact-finding phase) could make the skies much safer if used intelligently.
But training, and attitudes to training by regulators, airlines and flight training organisations, are going to have to change. Find out how in the 31 January issue of Flight International (and soon after on Flightglobal).
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