Pioneering unit launched to research impacts of technology

Research aimed at establishing scientifically whether pilots of highly automated aircraft are losing their flying skills, and whether it matters if they do, is being carried out by the UK's Cranfield University.

The university has launched a "pioneering" research unit - the Flight Operations Research Centre of Excellence (FORCE) - to examine the effect on pilots of changes brought by new and future flightdeck technology, air traffic control and navigation systems advances.

There have been several airline accidents in recent years where investigators have highlighted deficiencies in basic flying skills, but it has been difficult to determine whether these resulted from ineffective training or increased automation on the flightdeck.

FORCE - sponsored by the UK Civil Aviation Authority, the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators (GAPAN) and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council - sees its task as taking up the baton from the European Joint Aviation Authorities Future Aviation Safety Team (FAST), which has completed its work defining "future hazards" - technology and operations changes that may introduce human factors or other risks. But where FAST identified possible hazards, FORCE will measure and study the results of changes, and determine which methods could be used to overcome the problems.

Pilots and operators have long speculated that automation reduces pilot skills, and loss of control accidents (LOC) now make up a higher percentage of serious airline accidents than they used to. FORCE "is going to do something about it", says Dr Hazel Courteney, the CAA's head of research management.

She describes FORCE as "a fully functional research centre for the industry". It is part of Cranfield's Air Transport and Human Factors Department, overseen by Professor Helen Muir.

Projects to be studied include emerging navigation technology and "the opportunities opened up by global navigation satellite systems"; effective training methods for pilots operating highly automated aircraft; and how best to design operational instructions for pilots "in the light of their changing roles and responsibilities".

Courteney says FORCE is working with the International Civil Aviation Organisation and agencies in countries including the USA, and is working for ICAO and GAPAN to help standardise international navigational language and terminology created by advanced navigation programmes.



Source: Flight International