Airbus Industrie is stepping up human-factors research in preparation for the service entry of several new ultra-long-range aircraft under development.

In one initiative, the consortium is studying a "Pilot Guard" system for maintaining pilot alertness on very-long-range flights. Tests of an initial version of the system are due to begin in August, aboard an A330 -200 (the long-range version of the A330-300). "Our intention is to help improve vigilance and to manage pilot rest times better," says Airbus engineering vice-president, Capt Etienne Tarnowski.

The Pilot Guard would recognise when a pilot has fallen asleep - using techniques such as an eye-surveillance system - and either take control of the aircraft, if the flight is proceeding normally, or sound an alarm. "There are a lot of unknowns, such as how do we integrate it with the other systems," says Tarnowski.

"But we are looking at a new generation of very-long-range aircraft, such as the A3XX and A340-500, which we believe will require improved human-factors engineering in the cockpit," he adds.

Forthcoming technologies such as automatic datalink communications "-will totally revolutionise the way crews communicate with the ground", says Tarnowski. "Aircraft must comply with the new technologies to be safer and more efficient, but we need to study the roles and functions that crews will have in this new operating environment," he adds.

Attention will also focus on pilot training. "We think we should merge design and training teams much earlier during the design process," says Tarnowski. "Then we can develop adaptive tools to transmit better the operating philosophy of modern-aircraft systems to trainees". He adds that the human-factors programme "-is a long-term effort, with the aim of improving safety even more- which is our primary and permanent goal".

Source: Flight International