A new study by the AOPA Air Safety Foundation to be released later this month highlights benefits as well as continuing safety challenges with the spread of glass cockpits through the general aviation fleet.

The report examines accident records of new and existing technically advanced aircraft (TAA) - those with at least a multifunction display, an IFR-approved GPS unit and an autopilot - between 2003 and 2006.

Accident aircraft included those built by Cessna, Cirrus, Columbia, Diamond, Hawker Beechcraft, Mooney and New Piper.

While TAA capabilities like moving map, fuel management and widescreen attitude indicators were found to "substantially reduce" the occurrence of accidents involving manoeuvring and fuel starvation over traditional "steam gauge" cockpits, ASF found that TAA aircraft with high-performance aerodynamic design fared worse in landing and go-around accidents as well as in weather-related accidents.

"TAA accident data also were up to three times worse than the non-TAA fleet in weather-related accidents due in part to how many relatively new pilots use TAA in a wider range of conditions," writes the organisation. Glass cockpit aircraft accounted for 45% of the fatal weather-related accidents, compared with 16% for GA fleet with traditional instrumentation.

Training issues that need to be addressed include teaching new pilots to not only handle the aircraft well but to become "systems managers" that can properly use tools such as terrain proximity and datalink weather without becoming "overly reliant" on the technology, says the ASF.

"We as an industry are still playing catch-up on the training aspects of TAA," says Bruce Landsberg, ASF executive director. "We are making progress, but we don't yet have all the tools."

Source: Flight International