The US Federal Aviation Administration says great strides have been made in improving safety, but continued improvements are contingent on further data sharing by the industry and more relevant pilot training.
“I can't over-emphasise enough the importance of what data sharing does,” says John Hickey, deputy associate administrator for aviation safety at the FAA.
“Data sharing allows data-driven decision making…when an airline, aircraft manufacturer, and a government regulator come together and look at the data together, they cannot but make the right decision.”
Hickey was speaking at the IATA Ops conference in Kuala Lumpur. He said data sharing by carriers helped reduce the USA’s fatal accident rate by 70% from the 1990s to the 2000s.
He says airlines were initially wary of sharing safety related dated with government regulators, fearing punitive action. Without naming countries or regions, Hickey indicated that data sharing internationally still has some way to go.
“Data sharing is the number one way to reduce fatal accidents around the world,” he said.
Hickey also expressed a concern that pilot training is divorced from the reality of operating modern commercial aircraft.
“An evolution has occurred in that pilots, with their training, have become somewhat incompatible with the way airplanes are built and designed today. When we look at accidents over the last ten years there is a common theme in the US and globally. There is a fundamental misunderstanding going on between man and machine. We have to fix that.”
He noted that the US has mandated rules that pilot training increasingly focus on areas such as stall recognition, avoidance and recovery, and aircraft upset modes.
He also said hand flying skills are of concern. “There is too much reliance on automation, there needs to be a balance,” said Hickey.
Another emerging problem area is the USA’s requirement that pilots need 1,500 hours before gaining eligibility to become a first officer, up from 250 hours previously.
“This is creating a potential challenge to airlines in the US. The business model is fundamentally upset. It will be a challenge to see how pilots will pay for, on their own, 1,500 flight hours, and then start at $26,000 a year. It will be a very difficult environment and we don’t have answers.”