What’s the pilot there for?

Loss of control in big jets is a problem that has had the industry wringing its hands for years. 

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).

3 Responses to What’s the pilot there for?

  1. Andrew 26 January, 2012 at 3:45 am #

    We need to get pilots to think about the autopilot again like they did before the 1980s: as a luxury, not an absolute. Pilots get caught off guard when the systems they pass the buck to in-flight fail, and that is why LOC occurs.

    Technology can help pilots be more efficient and situationally aware, but the focus of technologies and training should always be THE PILOTS. They should be trained to always be prepared to hand-fly at a moments notice, not just pass the buck to the autopilot and shut their minds off for the rest of the flight.

  2. David Connolly 28 January, 2012 at 1:02 am #

    “AF447 blew the Airbus theory out of the water”, really ? surely blown into the water, without having been so, due to its long mushing stall and rolling-fall to the water of the ocean via its woeful man-machine interface of latent design failure ?

  3. Biggles 7 February, 2012 at 11:50 am #

    Dear David Learmont,

    Your latest report on Flight Training and Safety issues in seems to contradict the previous Flight Safety article:

    “There is an emerging consistency in the views of those who embrace the human output of high quality consolidated ab initio training, whether the graduates follow the MPL or traditional commercial pilot licence (CPL) route. This, the argument runs, is more likely to provide a robust product than the modular approach involving hours-building in bush flying, agricultural work, instructional flying or other methods of accumulating time in the air. While this system might produce a well-rounded aviator, equally it might not. It is rather hit-and-miss and, as Petteford says, just as likely to permit the development of bad habits as it is to produce useful and beneficial experience.”

    Flight International 31 January 2012

    “What has most affected pilots is the influence of low-cost carriers, bringing radical change to many airline relationships with flightcrew. But what has most changed crew recruiting and management is the decline of the military as a pilot skills provider.

    Meanwhile, there has been a loss of pilot exposure to ­anything other than pre-packaged flight planning, followed by automated flight on the line. In unusual ­circumstances – non-standard or not automated – a lack of pilot resilience has led to fatal loss of control (LOC) accidents, making LOC the biggest killer category this century – taking over from controlled flight into terrain in the last.”

    Flight International:Forecasts 2012: Deliver us from evil

    The first quote is simply free advertising for certain flight schools. Looming pilot shortages are a direct result of a lack of previous investment by airlines in the training system for youngsters and ignorance of the traditional source: the existing pool of highly experienced and well motivated professional pilots (both Military and GA) that have sustained the industry since its’ very conception. Such “consistency of thinking” between approved schools and airlines has resulted in an imbalance in cockpit demographics and a lack of hands on flying experience. Airmanship comes with the right experience but experience costs!

    Thinking ahead in a global economy is not easy and some airline recruiting changes on a weekly basis. Understandably, Airline Management would love access to a pool of freshly trained pilots at minimal cost (whilst meeting regulatory requirements of course) who are available at the drop of a hat. The closest to this fantasy, under JAR, was the integrated frozen ATPL/IR. It has now morphed into the EASA MPL, which some promote as the answer to all of our problems.

    Whilst Aviation Authorities in Canada, USA, Australia and beyond are all restoring higher flying experience requirements on A320/B737 class aircraft, several major UK jet airlines are now promoting MPL exclusively as their recruitment tool.

    As a result, what was once the natural business expense of an airline (Type, Base and Line training) has now been out-sourced to relatively few “approved” schools who have themselves out-sourced to those with more of an ability to pay than piloting ability per se.

    In contrast to the headlines and school advertising, UK airline pilot jobs are few and far between. Recruitment here now favours 2 main streams:

    1. Under 35 years old, Approved Integrated course/MPL with a £130,000 soon to be depleted bank balance in place. Straight into a medium Jet airliner.

    2. Catch 22: ATPL and Type Rated with recent 500h experience on that specific company aircraft type. This suits those moving between airlines. One airline is well known for it’s self sponsored Type Rating scheme where candidates front up an additional (on top of ATPL training) 30,000 Euros and enter a holding pool to become, not an employee, but a contractor. Self Employment Tax rules on single client pilots mr taxman?

    Whilst it is absolutely right to have approved ab-initio training schemes, the concept, in it’s present form has been abused and taken to the extreme end of credibility. These MPL cadets need an apprentiship scheme. In truth the BA sponsored cadets in the 1980s/90s had more mentoring than todays MPL students. Britannia cadets went to MacAlpine to fly HS125 business jets before going onto B737s. Even today Thomas Cook has sent it’s cadets to Flybe to fly the Q400 turbo prop as a pre-cursor to big jets. They were also forward thinking enough, under the previous MyTravel incarnation, to give these students Upset Recovery training using T67M260 Fireflies with Huntings/Babcock. Those days have sadly passed unnoticed in the light of AF447 and Colgan 3407.

    Easyjet now has over 60% of FOs who are cadet trained. Many of their Captains came through the very same scheme. Like the MPL, even the Integrated path now features less solo flying and more mutual operations. The sponsored, experienced pilot, type rating (TRSS) path into easyJet was abolished in 2008 in favour of more cadets. Total time in the front seats can now be under 4000h in an A319 and most of that is under automated conditions.

    Again to quote your recent article:

    “Dragonair MPL graduates are bound for the right-hand seats of the airline’s Airbus A330s as well as of its A320 fleet. If putting ab initio pilots straight into the right-hand seat of a widebody sounds like a first, it is not, says McCorquodale. Back in the 1970s, British Airways put ab initio graduates from its own Hamble training course straight into the right-hand seat of its Lockheed TriStars.”

    The argument espoused might be valid if the original BA Sponsored cadet scheme hours were compared alongside the MPL path. However, the fact that the former did not demand any money up front compared to today’s financial pressure on pilot trainees is an oversight. Fundamentally the biggest eye opener is that the BA Tristar L1011 was a 3 crew operation! i.e: The Flight Engineer had an extra set of eyes and added to CRM.

    And what of the traditional sources of experienced pilots?

    Military/GA/Modular/Turbo Prop Pilots:

    Whilst, I agree, there are fewer Military trained pilots compared to 20 years ago, many are readily available post SDSR, yet they are the ones finding it harder to make a career in the airlines. Fewer HR/Recruiters understand what an A2 QFI qualification means. The rightful emphasis on CRM and Multi crew operations has blinded airline recruiters to the skills of single crew, single engine fighter pilots. They have forgotten that these pilots work within a team environment with ground based operators and wingmen. I know of 2 Harrier Pilots with JAR frozen ATPLs who were turned down by the flag carrier depsite their vast experience in Afghanistan and huge instructional abilities.

    The claim (mostly made by the approved ab initio schools) that Europe does not have a sufficiently healthy GA industry and that the integrated/MPL route is vastly superior to the JAR Modular/National route to the ATPL has been swallowed by the airlines and become a self fulfilling prophesy. The lack of regard by the majors for this vital source of dedicated pilots has resulted in a Pilot Training system that is heavily biased in favour of MPL and Cadet training. Europe has a very significant GA community – just look at the airshows, Red Bull races, and the rise of VLAs, Netjets and VLJs. Not to mention gliding, parachuting and PPL owner operators.

    Turbo Props:
    ICAO Annex 10 demands the highest pilot skill levels and CRM to enable the safe Flight Inspection of SIDS/STARS/VORs/DMEs/Radars/GNSS/ILS navigational and landing systems. However, the pilots that manually fly Multi Crew down to 50 feet and 180kts, at night, testing a CAT3 ILS roll out guidance for London Heathrow will find it near impossible to enter the airlines. The recruiters only see their time on a B200 King Air as light aircraft flying.

    Even those already with airlines flying the heavier turbo props are finding it increasingly hard to move onto jets. Some fear being stuck in lower paid, though potentially more demanding job (more levers, more weather). Those that self fund Jet Type Ratings end up without interviews due to a lack of automated time on automated type.

    Pay to Fly:

    As the Airline HR machine has grown and Chief Pilots have less and less say in who is hired, so new hoops have been invented to make direct entry pilot requirements higher and higher. At first is was COMPASS/Psychometric tests (which have their place) then Type Ratings ($$$/£££) and now it is recent and significant time on type. This has given rise to the worst cancer in professional piloting: Pay to Fly (P2F):

    P2F: Some airlines have sold (legally?) the RHS to “customers” who are paying to fly passengers (most of these “trainees” do it out of desperation due to option 2). It is called Line Training (LT) but genuine LT is around 40 sectors. The vast majority were “dismissed” after 100 hours with no employment prospects to be replaced by another “customer”. In addition the high throughput means all Captains become effectively training captains (increased pilot monitoring required), genuine airline FOs are left on standby unable to build time towards command, and Terms and Conditions spiral further down-hill making the job even less attractive to prospective pilots. This “option” is not really a route but a gross distortion of the piloting career path. I know of 3 A320 rated pilots who have been used by UK LoCo carriers offering P2F for 100 or so hours and they are now unemployed – with insufficent hours on type for advertised posts. Some of the companies that promote P2F abroad (e.g: Lion Air) are banned by the FAA and EU as reported in the RAeS article”Wage Slaves” last year. Sadly, Flight International regularly prints advertising from P2F “schools”.

    In Summary:

    The current UK Pilot Training System is failing the student. OOA’s Anthony Petteford is right to be concerned by the apparent lack of Pilot mentoring by airlines. The MPL has it’s place but it requires a rethink – particulary of the confidence building solo time and apprenticeship areas. Cadets are not necessarily being trained to the highest possible standard, rather to a minimum regulatory standard with minimal course flexibilty due to high costs and an unwillingness for some schools to change. In addition the modular route is seen as a second class citizen.

    Now the CAA looks set to make life even harder (financially) for the latter by mandating further cost on the individual who is not MPL approved through a JOC. Given previous studies such as the Cranfield University FORCE (investigation into Type Rating training and manual flying skills) and ICATEE / RAeS concerns over airline piloting skills, something more than just an MPL or modular plus JOC is needed.

    We need still aviators not just ticks in the right boxes:

    Ref: US Airways 1549: A320 Hudson ditching: Was Capt Sullenberger an MPL? Did he have a GA background in gliding? Did he fly for the Military?


    Ref: QF32 Qantas A380 engine and system failures: How much experience was in the front seats?

    From the RAeS interview: “Captain David Evans is a Senior Check Captain at Qantas with some 32 years of experience and 17,000hrs of flight time. At the time of the incident he was in one of the observers’ seat, and thus had a ring-side view of the drama as it unfolded. The other flight deck crew were Richard de Crespigny (Pilot in Command, 15,000hrs), Harry Wubben (Route Check Captain, 20,000hrs) Matt Hicks (First Officer, 11,000hrs and Mark Johnson (Second Officer 8,000hrs). With the Cabin Service Manager (Michael Von Reth) this team boasted some 140 years of experience and over 71,000 flight hrs – a significant factor in the successful outcome of the incident.”

    A radical aeronautically based rethink on both training and recruitment is required.