In response to a series of recent aviation accidents, US-based Flight Safety Foundation (FSF) has launched initiatives to examine unstable approaches, crew resource management and the need for training to ensure pilots understand advanced flight systems.
The group says a recent study conducted by its European advisory committee found that pilots seldom elect to abort a landing and conduct a “go around” in cases when the aircraft is not properly stabilised on approach.
The group finds that 3% of commercial aviation approaches are unstable, and that in 96% of those cases pilots elect to land anyways.
Those statistics are important because 68% of air accidents in roughly the last decade — a total of 68 accidents worldwide — occurred during the landing period of flight, FSF’s president and chief executive Kevin Hiatt tells reports during a briefing in Washington, DC on 17 September.
The last several months have seen three high-profile aviation accidents in the US that occurred during approach and landing.
Those include the 6 July crash of Asiana flight 214 at San Francisco, the 22 July incident involving Southwest Airlines’ flight 345 at New York’s LaGuardia airport and the crash of UPS flight 1354 on 14 August at Birmingham, Alabama.
The Asiana crash killed three passengers and the UPS crash killed two crewmembers. There were no fatalities from the Southwest incident, but five crew members and three passengers were hospitalized, the airline has said.
FSF’s go-around study caught interest of US regulations, Hiatt says, noting that the group recently presented its findings to the US National Transportation Safety Board.
“They were extremely interested [and] we expect to see more information and collaboration from the NTSB,” says Hiatt.
FSF has also began investigating whether crews continue to practice effective crew resource management (CRM), which is designed to encourage pilot collaboration and to ensure junior pilots feel comfortable questioning decisions of senior pilots.
“We believe, anecdotally, that we have gotten somewhat away from [effective CRM],” says Hiatt. “Carriers that have practiced CRM since the 1980s may have gotten a bit stale, and worldwide carriers ... may have some cultural issues associated with [CRM].”
Hiatt says a graduate student group at Purdue University will examine the role of CRM in aviation accidents since the 1980s. The group, sponsored by FSF, will release results of the study in spring or summer 2014.
Recent accidents also suggest that pilots don’t always understand automated aircraft systems and that reliance on automation may lead pilots to lose basic “stick and rudder” skills, Hiatt says.
He notes that cockpit confusion amid a cacophony of automated warnings contributed to the loss of Air France flight 447, which crashed into the Atlantic Ocean on 1 June 2009, killing 228 passengers and crew. The aircraft stalled when one pilot pulled back on the control joystick following failure of the aircraft’s speed sensors.
“The systems are designed very well and are very intricate and require [an] understanding of how they are used,” says Hiatt. “There needs to be a little bit more training and practical use of systems so we can avoid those types of events.”
FSF is working with the Royal Aeronautical Society to examine automation in the cockpit and the need for improved training, he says.
The group will address these safety issues during its upcoming International Aviation Safety Summit, to be held October 29–31 in Washington, DC.