A draft US Federal Aviation Administration study into the relationship of pilots with today's airliner flightdecks - specifically the automated systems in the cockpits - is beginning to reveal hard data to prove that pilots are not properly trained for modern cockpits. The result has been some serious accidents that did not need to happen.
Airline pilot recurrent training needs a serious review, and now, courtesy of one of the FAA's leading human factors experts, Dr Kathy Abbott, it looks as if it might get one. Abbott is leading the FAA team carrying out this study, provisionally entitled: Operational use of flight path management systems.
Meanwhile, at the same event where Abbott presented her findings so far - the 3-5 November Flight Safety Foundation International Aviation Safety Seminar in Milan, Italy - three other big industry guns spoke at length on the subject of stall recovery, and another heavyweight presented on go-arounds. Stall recovery was addressed by Boeing's Dave Carbaugh, Airbus's Claude Lelaie, and ALPA's top human factors expert Capt David McKenney. Then Air France corporate safety manager Bertrand de Courville addressed the art of safe go-arounds. And all this was because accident and incident data reveal that some airline pilots do not have these competencies.
The ability to carry out safe stall recovery and go-arounds is so fundamental to basic pilot competence that the need to cover them in such depth at one of the world's main forums for examining safety policy is a symptom of the fact that airline recurrent training is not addressing the basics.
And now Abbott reveals that it is also failing to impart skills for managing advanced automation.
So what is recurrent airline training achieving, then? Ticking boxes, and the wrong boxes too? Abbott's evidence suggests that pilots concentrate on programming the automation at the expense of monitoring the flight path. Training policy, rightly, is not changed on the basis of anecdotal evidence, but now Abbott's team is on hand to provide the data to back up the anecdotes.
In 1996 the FAA published a landmark study, called The interfaces between flightcrews and modern flightdeck systems. Automation has advanced since then, and in the intervening years pilots have become progressively conditioned by its existence. A fundamental review of what modern type and recurrent training should include is way overdue.