January 2013 Archives
Bill did a lot more at the FSF than make speeches, but what can he do at the FAA? He certainly knows it well - he worked there before he went to ICAO and then to the FSF.
Commercial aviation safety in the USA may not be perfect, but it's so good that the FAA, because of how it's constituted, has its hands tied behind its back. It cannot justify updating outdated regulation on the cost/benefit grounds that it needs to be able to demonstrate to be permitted to make changes. That means the organisation cannot change a regulation just because it should, or because it's right to do so.
In turn, that means existing FAA regulation is becoming increasingly irrelevant to the modern world and the FAA might as well admit that it has no safety oversight role except to cajole the industry into doing the right thing, and apply fines for technical breaches of regulations. Maybe that will work, up to a point, but it's a strange way to operate a government safety oversight agency.
Last year at Flightglobal's London safety conference Bill delivered a keynote speech in which he shared some of his thoughts about airline operations today. Despite welcoming the unprecedented safety levels being achieved today, he said this: "I don't feel we have this under control yet. The system seems fragile."
He referred to the aircraft certification assumption that the pilot is there "to pick up the pieces when the automation fails". Because of airline standard operating procedures which enjoin pilots not to do any of the flying, Voss observed, "today's pilots follow the flight director and find the raw information a mere nuisance".
Part of the reason for the latter, he commented, is that the ratio of training time to flying time is so low that "fixing training is much less of an issue than looking at how we fly".
He's not the first to bemoan the fact that today's highly automated, highly reliable operations do not provide pilots with any on-the-job training, which used to be one of the assumed benefits of experience.
But if the airlines don't make use of revenue flying time for keeping their pilots in touch with their aeroplanes, they will have to invest serious money in correcting that training/operating ratio. Which they won't do without coercion.
See the previous blog entry for Airbus' thoughts on similar issues
If you go to Airbus for your A350XWB type rating training, you'll have some fun. Officially.
Since modern aeroplanes are racks of computers surrounded by an airframe that's actually just an ordinary aeroplane, Airbus has studied the way in which people - especially children - learn to operate a new electronic device, and modified its A350 type rating course accordingly.
Children - and most adults - don't even use the quick-start guide with a new gadget, but just turn it on and start to find out how it works by experimenting with it. As Airbus' head of flight crew development Christian Norden points out, this not only leads to quick learning, "it is also more fun".
But there's more to it than that. Accident and incident data for the last 15y unequivocally shows that, across the world fleet, pilots' manual aircraft management skills are declining significantly, so Airbus is going to use a more hands-on learning process for pilots - from the start - to allow them to familiarise themselves with the aircraft and its manual handling characteristics. They'll have a bunch of new training devices including a full flight simulator to play with. When the "gamers" start to feel familiar with their environment and more confident about handling the aircraft, they will gradually gain expertise at using the automated systems also.
Airbus has made a science of studying the skills needed specifically to fly the world's highly automated aircraft, and has come up with more than 300 essentials, according to Capt David Owens, head of flight crew training policy.
It has distilled these down to just four "Golden Rules", and boxes of wallet-size plastic cards printed with these arrived at the Toulouse Training Centre when I was there two days ago.
1. 1. Fly, navigate and communicate (in this order and with appropriate task-sharing)
2. 2. Use the appropriate level of automation at all times
3. 3. Understand the flight mode annunciator at all times
4. 4. Take action if things do not go as expected
If you were flying a 707 you'd just have the first one. That sounds simple, but would you honestly opt to go back there?
The message is: feel at home with your aeroplane as a manual flying machine. The automation is good, so use it, but watch it, and if you don't like what you see, trip it out.
It's about time somebody not only said it, but started training people to do it.
The first to benefit will be the first A350 pilots who start training very soon. But gradually Airbus will adopt this training philosophy across all its types.