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Airline Pilots Rely Too Much On Automation, Says Safety Panel 270

Posted by samzenpus
from the hands-on dept.
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Nearly all people connected to the aviation industry agree that automation has helped to dramatically improve airline safety over the past 30 years but Tom Costello reports at NBC News that according to a new Federal Aviation Administration report commercial airline pilots rely too much on automation in the cockpit and are losing basic flying skills. Relying too heavily on computer-driven flight decks now poses the biggest threats to airliner safety world-wide, the study concluded. The results can range from degraded manual-flying skills to poor decision-making to possible erosion of confidence among some aviators when automation abruptly malfunctions or disconnects during an emergency. 'Pilots sometimes rely too much on automated systems,' says the report adding that some pilots 'lack sufficient or in-depth knowledge and skills' to properly control their plane's trajectory. Basic piloting errors are thought to have contributed to the crash of an Air France Airbus A330 plane over the Atlantic in 2009, which killed all 228 aboard, as well as a commuter plane crash in Buffalo, NY, that same year. Tom Casey, a retired airline pilot who flew the giant Boeing 777, said he once kept track of how rarely he had to touch the controls on an auto-pilot flight from New York to London. From takeoff to landing, he said he only had to touch the controls seven times. 'There were seven moments when I actually touched the airplane — and the plane flew beautifully,' he said. 'Now that is being in command of a system, of wonderful computers that do a great job — but that isn't flying.' Real flying is exemplified by Capt. Chesley Sullenberger, says Casey, who famously landed his US Airways plane without engines on the Hudson River and saved all the passengers in what came to be known as the 'Miracle on the Hudson.' The new report calls for more manual flying by pilots — in the cockpit and in simulations. The FAA says the agency and industry representatives will work on next steps to make training programs stronger in the interest of safety."
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Airline Pilots Rely Too Much On Automation, Says Safety Panel

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  • self-flying planes (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 21, 2013 @09:07AM (#45480383)

    The obvious solution is self-flying planes! Then there won't be a pilot to rely too much on automation.

    • That is modifying the terms of the problem, not a solution.

      A solution is: have pilots run simulation exercises while they are flying on autopilot. We'll call it the yo dawg routine. This will both have 'em stay alert at all times, prevent them to running candy crush on their tablet and brand new wifi equipped airplane, and train them without losing time. All you need is a spare monitor and a "this is not a simulation" honking siren when real emergencies arise

      And when somebody eventually tries to patent this

    • by Moof123 (1292134) on Thursday November 21, 2013 @12:05PM (#45481899)

      Yes, you are actually totally correct. The problem we have today is we are in the twilight zone between automation and human control. A simple autopilot alleviates the pilot from drudgery and reduces fatigue related human errors. But we have moved so far from that to a point where it promotes ineptitude, but is not self sufficient for the hard crap.

      I think we need to see rules that curtail how much an automation system does to just automate the drudgery (smooth level flight at cruising altitude) unless it is certified to do it ALL. Until such time that automated systems can handle bad weather, false sensor readings, and other crisis at least as well as a good pilot, they should not be given too much responsibility. The same steps are already applied to a co-pilot, he doesn't get the pilots seat as soon as he can handle the easy crap, he has to put in thousands of hours as co-pilot before he gets full command of the aircraft.

      • by Electricity Likes Me (1098643) on Thursday November 21, 2013 @12:25PM (#45482119)

        Except the problem is false sensor readings can't be handled by a pilot either. Trusting your human senses just doesn't work with piloting, and has been the cause of any number of light plane and several major jetliner accidents too.

        When sensors on a plane malfunction, you can't just look out the window and know what's wrong. Similarly there's a lot of concern about exactly the type of deferrence you suggest - co-pilots that, due to their culture, feel unable to question or overrule perceived bad decisions of the captain.

        It's a complicated problem and is not easily explained as laziness on anyone's part.

      • by timeOday (582209) on Thursday November 21, 2013 @01:13PM (#45482547)

        I think we need to see rules that curtail how much an automation system does to just automate the drudgery (smooth level flight at cruising altitude) unless it is certified to do it ALL.

        Flying in the US in the last decade is safer than it has ever been before, anywhere. Automation is part of the reason for that. What you propose is tantamount to disabling antilock brakes so people maintain their brake-pumping skills, just in case the ABS ever fails. It is likely to be a poor tradeoff.

    • Drones have a horrible safety record, and are exactly what you are claiming is the fix. In the case of drones since humans rarely get hurt you don't hear about all of the crashes. At least two within the last week have caused damage to people so we heard about those.

      The problem is really that people sitting outside expect or demand perfection where it can't really exist, given our current "air lift" flying technology.

      Well trained humans combined with computers has gotten us to an extremely good record wit

      • by jp102235 (923963)
        UAV's (drones) have a horrible saftey record, true, but it is because the automation on them is quite poor. At this point, very few of them are "autonomous". The problem is not too much automation, but automotion that is not sufficiently rigorous, testable, nor capable to handle somewhat common contingencies.

        I have multiple thousands of hours in heavy aircraft, and I can tell you that 'hand flying more' is not the solution to the problem either.

        A well placed, rigorously programmed, redundantly powered
  • Wait, what? Why in the world would someone use the auto pilot in a simulator? Isn't the whole point of the simulator to let the pilot get more stick time without the fuel cost?

    -jcr

    • by ALeader71 (687693) <glennsnead@@@gmail...com> on Thursday November 21, 2013 @09:11AM (#45480413)

      It depends on the simulation. If you are training for a cross oceanic flight, you would simulate switching out flight crews and long periods where you would normally use auto pilot. The simulation would toss various problems at you to break up what is normally a dry, boring routine so you know how to handle different problems.

      Personally, I think we're just a few years away from a fully automatic flying experience.

      • Personally, I think we're just a few years away from a fully automatic flying experience.

        Me too. Honestly I can't imagine a human surviving as many crashes as our black boxes have.. The combined learning from all of those, as well as the automation we already have ought to be able to out perform a human right to the last moment, when human pilots may have been incapacitated by movements or G-forces. We are getting better and better at explaining to these moving robots how to handle themselves in all sorts of crazy situations.

        Just think about the Google Car that has to handle far crazier th

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Shinobi (19308)

          A human can get an appreciation of velocity even without working pitot tubes, in a middle of a weather system where GPS doesn't work. The flight computer can't handle that, which is why it disconnected and warned in the case of the Air France flight.

          In the case of the Hudson River landing, bird strikes took out both engines simultaneously, killing power. Pilot manually switched over to APU. Ironically however, in that case, the computer helped the pilot ditch the plane safely, once it had power again. With

          • I see no reason why a computer couldn't use visual clues and alternate sensors to detect velocity.. These may have been harder in the past, but certainly possible with today's technology.

            I also see no reason why a computer couldn't visually see broken engines and do an emergency maneuver.

            I also see no reason why a computer couldn't learn from the Hudson landing and be able to do similar maneuvers.

            I see the pilot being needed at this time, but I also see that in the not too distant future a computer could do

            • Re:In the SIMULATOR? (Score:5, Informative)

              by Shinobi (19308) on Thursday November 21, 2013 @09:48AM (#45480639)

              What alternate sensors, that aren't already in use? GPS? Far less reliable than pitot tubes, due to weather, and that's just one example. Come on, practical engineering please, and not crackpipe dreaming....

              And the systems to see the broken engines would be powered by what? Also, the emergency maneuvers have to be programmed in, based on human experience. Humans also have the advantage of being able to generalise and abstracting, able to adapt from one situation to fit into another situation more or less on the fly.

              Hudson landing, until the pilot activated the APU, the flight computer was crippled.

              Let's face it, automated cars is a fundamentally easier to solve problem, due to far fewer variables and complications, and weaker forces involved.

              • What alternate sensors, that aren't already in use?

                The ones they can develop and add to the plane in a few years. Not something already on the plane for some other function.

                I'm guessing that's what he meant.

              • Let's face it, automated cars is a fundamentally easier to solve problem, due to far fewer variables and complications, and weaker forces involved.

                Cars=moving in X and Y axis... Aircraft=moving in X, Y AND Z axis...

                • by Shinobi (19308)

                  Don't forget about wind moving in X, Y and Z, ambient temperature, ambient pressure, humidity, precipitation, other objects moving in X, Y AND Z. And as I said, the forces involved in an aircraft flight are greater.

                • by rmstar (114746)

                  Let's face it, automated cars is a fundamentally easier to solve problem, due to far fewer variables and complications, and weaker forces involved.

                  Cars=moving in X and Y axis... Aircraft=moving in X, Y AND Z axis...

                  AND on top of it, it has to keep moving at a speed above some minimum velocity with respect to the surrounding air. A car can just stop. It may be dangerous, but not as much as when a plane just stops in the middle of the air.

              • And the systems to see the broken engines would be powered by what? Also, the emergency maneuvers have to be programmed in, based on human experience. Humans also have the advantage of being able to generalise and abstracting, able to adapt from one situation to fit into another situation more or less on the fly.

                If you are to the point where your engines are broken, and you have completely lost power so much that the FCS is down, I'm not quite sure how much any pilot is going to be able to help you on a large aircraft. He couldn't even get on the intercom to tell people to 'smoke em if they got em' if it reached the level of bad you are describing.

                • by Shinobi (19308)

                  Read up on and watch a few documentaries about the Hudson River crash landing

              • Re:In the SIMULATOR? (Score:5, Interesting)

                by bickerdyke (670000) on Thursday November 21, 2013 @11:05AM (#45481269)

                I think automated cars would have to cope with far MORE variables and complications.

                Planes receive a unique flightplan and detailed instructions for take of and landing that are steered by a central traffic control to make sure that there won't be any other planes nearby. Thats possible because EVERY plane has to receive instructions from them.

                So basically, automated planes would not need to consider other planes. They do in a rather simple way (TCASS) but only as a last line of defense. And even if that emergency system triggers, it sends one plane "up" and the other "down", which are obviously no evasion options for cars. (And blindly going "left" and "right" aren't options either as usually on roads, you have to expect curbs, trenches, more cars in more lanes or pedestrians)

                Additionally, all information needed for a plane is already available in electronic maps. Pilots hardly have to react to speed limits posted on traffic signs. (Which my be dirty or partly shielded and all that stuff)

                The final proof is even in the summary: We already have commercial airplanes that fly almost completly automated! (having to touch the actual controls no more than 5 times between NY and London is almost completly automatic!) whereas automated cars were unthinkable untill a few years ago and today they're not completly from "experimental" to "testing" stages.

                But there is ONE THING that makes autonomous cars safer than planes: Cutting of the engine is a safe failure mode. (Espescially if it can be propagated to surrounding cars by radio, so blindly jumping out of your exploding Tesla onto a busy highway is rather safe when information about an emergency stop has been broadcasted to the cars around and they stop, too)

                • by bmajik (96670)

                  But there is ONE THING that makes autonomous cars safer than planes: Cutting of the engine is a safe failure mode.

                  Yes. Fully autonomous flying is fine as long as nothing brakes.

                  Part of what made the AF crash such a high-stakes affair is that jetliners (AF included) fly up in "coffin corner".

                  Basically, if you draw a graph where the x-axis is airspeed, and the y-axis is altitude, and plot where the safe alt+airspeed boundaries are, you get a triangle. The far right of the triangle is basically a vertical li

                • by Obfuscant (592200) on Thursday November 21, 2013 @03:33PM (#45483971)

                  Planes receive a unique flightplan and detailed instructions for take of and landing that are steered by a central traffic control to make sure that there won't be any other planes nearby. Thats possible because EVERY plane has to receive instructions from them.

                  I'll stop you there because you've just shown you don't know what you are talking about. Even if we just limit the discussion to large commercial aircraft, your claim that each receives a "unique flightplan" is ridiculous. The initial parts of the flightplan (departure) are so UNunique that they print them in books and give them names. A common departure clearance would be something like "United 123 is cleared to [destination], Farmington 3 departure, SHADO (an intersection somewhere on the filed flight plan), then as filed, maintain 3 thousand, departure frequency 123.45". Pretty much every aircraft going the same direction gets the same thing.

                  When the aircraft gets close to the arrival airport, it will get yet another UNunique approach, by name. "United 123 cross BILBO at 5 thousand, cleared for the ILS 14 right approach". That ILS approach will start at some initial approach fix (maybe BILBO, maybe after) and then bring every aircraft on that approach through the same course. The goal of the approach controller is to get them all lined up at a nice, regular spacing all coming down the same ILS with sufficient spacing that as soon as the preceeding one clears the runway the next one is about to land.

                  An important thing to know about the system is that even with a filed flight plan and a clearance "as filed", the flight plan does not specify the approach procedure. That bit of critical info isn't known until close to arrival. Usually the last approach controller will tell the pilot "expect the ILS 21" or whatever. The automated weather system may contain that planning information, too, but the pilot is free to ask for something else if he wants it, and he isn't cleared to fly that approach until the words "cleared for ..." come out of the controller's mouth. If communications is lost enroute, the rule is that the pilot can fly any appropriate approach procedure.

                  The second bit of foo is "steered by a central traffic control". The pilot steers the plane. ATC issues clearances and gives instructions, but the pilot steers. And "center", despite its name, it not a "central control". There are a lot of them, and each "center" (New York Center, for example) is split up into sectors. Since we're currently limiting our context to large commercial passenger aircraft, yes, there will almost certainly be a "center" involved in the flight, but they take over only after the aircraft has gone through the departure controller at the airport, and will hand the flight off to the approach controller for the destination airport (for airports large enough to have their own). For destinations that aren't large enough to have their own approach, or their own control tower, this "central control" will actually cut the aircraft loose to talk on the CTAF (common traffic advisory frequency), so this IFR aircraft on a "unique" flight plan will now have to mix in with all the VFR traffic at the airport, even the student who is up in the pattern practicing landings. See and avoid.

                  These ATC folk don't make sure there aren't any other planes nearby. Only for IFR traffic (which anything above 10000 feet must be in the US) do they provide traffic separation. They will issue instructions to keep two IFR aircraft apart, but the vertical spacing can be just 1000'. In airspace where VFR flight is permitted, and outside ATC control, it is quite possible for another aircraft to be "nearby" and less than 1000'.

                  And the final nail? "Thats possible because EVERY plane has to receive instructions from them." It's severe clear outside here this morning. I could drive to the airport and fly off to someplace else where there is commercial service, and the only time I'll have to talk to ATC is when I'm within 5 mi

            • by fisted (2295862)

              I see no reason why a computer couldn't use visual clues and alternate sensors to detect velocity.. These may have been harder in the past, but certainly possible with today's technology.

              Check.

              I also see no reason why a computer couldn't visually see broken engines and do an emergency maneuver.

              Check.

              I also see no reason why a computer couldn't learn from the Hudson landing and be able to do similar maneuvers.

              No. We are unlikely to see that before someone comes up with strong A.I.

          • by tibit (1762298) on Thursday November 21, 2013 @11:08AM (#45481299)

            A human can get an appreciation of velocity even without working pitot tubes, in a middle of a weather system where GPS doesn't work.

            Sorry buddy, you've just killed yourself in exactly the same way the AF pilots killed themselves. Oh the irony. NEXT STUDENT, PLEASE.

            Seriously. Your seat-of-the-pants "feel" for a modern jet is precisely what is going to kill you. So let me be clear: if you ever end up as an untrained babbling idiot in a cockpit of a jetliner, trying to save a bunch of souls while the air data is missing, you better keep it straight and level and not mess with anything until you've read the checklists. After you do, and you better be quick about it, you'll know that what you're supposed to do is to set the throttles to a fixed position that depends solely on altitude and desired rate of climb/descent. You'll look those up in a fucking table, and as long as you do, you have a chance to make it. There's going full retard, and it's you.

          • Re:In the SIMULATOR? (Score:4, Informative)

            by dunkelfalke (91624) on Thursday November 21, 2013 @11:17AM (#45481379)

            One of the more frequent causes for a deadly airplane crash is a spatial disorientation of the pilot. The vestibular system is distorted in flight and if the visibility is low, there is no chance for a human to determine the current position in space without instruments.

          • by dave420 (699308)
            Don't forget that a bunch of pilots have had that exact "benefit" of being able to judge speed screw them over when they refused to believe the instruments and didn't take action to prevent their plane slamming into the ground. It does work both ways. Planes are getting better and better, and pilots simply are not.
        • And what if the auto land system (on the ground) is off / not working right then what does the auto airline do?

          • GPS Landing (if available), go around, holding pattern, divert to another runway or another airfield. Depends on the amount of warning, the projected time to repair, and the availability of resources. Crazy thing is the airline industry has done a lot of work making sure that problems don't end with catastrophy. The problem would be if the system itself failed, but there have been times when the squishy flight controllers have all failed as well.
      • by I'm New Around Here (1154723) on Thursday November 21, 2013 @10:09AM (#45480771)

        Personally, I think we're just a few years away from a fully automatic flying experience.

        No, there will always be guild navigators. The spice must flow.

  • It goes both ways (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dunkelfalke (91624) on Thursday November 21, 2013 @09:16AM (#45480435)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aeroflot_Flight_593 [wikipedia.org]

    "Despite the struggles of both pilots to save the aircraft, it was later concluded that if they had just let go of the control column, the autopilot would have automatically taken action to prevent stalling, thus avoiding the accident"

    And reading this:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pulkovo_Aviation_Enterprise_Flight_612 [wikipedia.org]

    I'd rather have a computer flying the airplane I am sitting in, than a hairless ape.

    • That quote reminded me of Michael Crichton's Airframe. Was he basing it on that crash?

    • Re:It goes both ways (Score:5, Interesting)

      by nedlohs (1335013) on Thursday November 21, 2013 @09:45AM (#45480611)

      But then you have things like http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turkish_Airlines_Flight_1951 [wikipedia.org] in which the autopilot decided that 2000 feet high was a good place to do a landing flare, shortly followed by the expected plummet to the ground.

      What you should rather have is the computer flying the plane with a competent human pilot to save the day when something goes wrong (usually with the various sensors the computer it using). But of course, and it's what the article is about, if the plane is almost always under computer control how do you keep the human pilots competent. Since, as you're examples point out and my example points out, incompetent crews make things worse and don't save the day when the computer has issues either.

      • Well, it was really not a computer issue, but a broken sensor that, for some reason, was not replaced by the techs on the ground. Garbage in - garbage out.

        • by nedlohs (1335013)

          Rght, but sensors do break. At which point a human pilot is going to be preferable to a computer using garbage data.

          And some failures occur in flight without any chance for service techs to find and fix them, such as http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qantas_Flight_72 [wikipedia.org]

          Usually such failures just result in the autopilot turning itself off and the humans taking over - not really an option if you want to ditch the human pilots altogether.

          I'm not disagreeing with the basics though. A computer is much less likely to be

        • by tibit (1762298)

          Nope.

          Boeing has since issued a bulletin to remind pilots of all 737 series and BBJ aircraft of the importance of monitoring airspeed and altitude

          The pilots were not flying the fucking plane. Aviate first. They didn't. The results are always the same. No blaming computers on that one. Good that only 9 people perished, it could have been much worse.

      • Both computers and humans have shownthat they're able to fly planes. Ususally safely, even.

        The problem starts when computer and human can't agree on a manouver.

        We'd need an independant way to find out who of those two parties is screwing up and give full control to the other one. (Like the redundancy already built into an autopilot and into a pilot - it's called co-pilot there) but if those redundant systems are programmed or trained in a similar way, they tend to have similar failure modes.

        Redundancy preve

  • Pilots either need more control or we should admit that they're just safety technicians in case something goes wrong and train them accordingly - an air marshall for the plane itself who doesn't do anything under normal circumstances.
  • by Chrisq (894406) on Thursday November 21, 2013 @09:22AM (#45480477)
    In a crash the fact that is an airbus has to be mentioned. When an airbus behaves under dramatic conditions it becomes a "US Airways plane"!
    • For the Air France example, it mentions what model of aircraft was involved, the Airbus A330. For a another flight, it didn't bother mentioning the model of the plane. It was an Airbus model? Googleing reveals it was the Airbus A320-214, with 155 passengers. (For your information, I thought it was a smaller commuter flight with a dozen passengers, which is all the more interest I had in the story when it happened. Does that make me a bad American? Or even a bad citizen of the world?)

      Maybe the way it is writ

    • Airbus is mentioned I think because Airbus simply has put in more automation in their planes and thus some pilots prefer to fly them.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      In a rare surge of honnesty the Discovery Channel reconstruction of the Hudson miracle concedes that a the fact that the pilot had activated the APU meaning that the advance anti stall protection on the A320 was active clearly contributed to the miracle.
      At the time of hitting the water the plane whas flying slower and with a higher angle of attack than a human would safely be able to do...

  • by Jay Maynard (54798) on Thursday November 21, 2013 @09:26AM (#45480491) Homepage

    There are a couple of parts of the flight where the pilot is required to use the automation. The biggest is during cruise in what's known as RVSM airspace, where the vertical separation minimums are reduced from what was standard before RVSM was implemented. There, if your autopilot quits, ATC will send you down below the RVSM floor. RVSM is in use above some altitude in the 48 states and on transAtlantic routes. (I don't recall the exact altitude.)

    The other is in flying an instrument approach to very low altitudes, known as a category III approach. IIRC, those must be flown on autopilot in order to continue below category III minimums.

  • The majority of plane crashes are caused by pilot error, either in isolation or in response to equipment failure and/or adverse environmental/weather conditions. Flight systems were automated to help avoid or minimize those errors by reducing the mental workload required to manage the plane in those scenarios. Great pilots utilize that automation to improve the overall safety of their flight operations. Bad and lazy pilots use automation as a crutch for their poor airmanship. In the absence of automation ba
    • Of course!

      usually human action is only neccessary when the machines already failed.

  • by jobsagoodun (669748) on Thursday November 21, 2013 @09:29AM (#45480509)
    Especially when you park your DreamLifter at the wrong airport [cnn.com]
  • The Airbus helped (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jfdavis668 (1414919) on Thursday November 21, 2013 @09:29AM (#45480511)
    When Capt Sullenberger landed on the Hudson, the aircraft software worked to prevent his stall. But his flying skill is what safely landed the plane. His knowledge of what the aircraft can and cannot do was critical. He even realized he needed the APU for the computers to continue operating, and turned it on early in the emergency. His actions showed that he understood his plane and how to fly it. Some pilots are forgetting the "fly it" part.
  • by Loundry (4143) on Thursday November 21, 2013 @09:30AM (#45480517) Journal

    My son is 13 years old and has been training to be a pilot since he was 11. He has taken off and landed a small airplane (with the PIC in the airplane with him, of course) quite a few times. It just goes to show that landing an airplane isn't as difficult as some people think it is ... it just requires focus and passion. Both of which my son has in spades when he's flying an airplane.

    This news story struck me as wonderful news. My son has wanted to be a pilot since he was three years old. If you are one of the lucky few (I am not) who knew what he wanted to be for his whole life, then I envy you as much as I envy my son for having a singular great dream. The notion of drones and computerized pilots scares me because it threatens that dream. Stories in which autopilots and drones are slandered make me happy.

  • The autopilot functions similar to password fill-in on your web browser. It makes it much more convenient for you to login to all of your sites without having to remember all those passwords.
    The autopilot failing is like when your computer crashes, and now neither your browser, nor you, remember your passwords.
  • The Problems (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 21, 2013 @09:37AM (#45480557)
    I'm a manager at a world leading flight training company targeting major airlines all around the world, we train cadets from scratch on small aircraft and flight simulators in order to develop these basic skills and beyond (eg: ATPL and HPAT, type specific training etc.). I assist with developing syllabi and ensuring their compliance with numerous safety authorities all over the world. We looked into the Air France disaster to see how we can improve out syllabi to give students the skills to handle these atypical situations. To make a long story, the growing trend for airlines to want to cut costs on training and even remove what they call "unnecessary" training from syllabi is what is leading to this problem. The MPL is the prime example of this, this is my solution:
    - Stop treating us like a factory, each student is different and can they can take longer to learn certain concepts. Fixed length integrated courses don't work if they don't have good margins for this.

    - English is the language of aviation. If you bring us cadets who can't speak it, we have to teach them english within your timetable which degrades outcomes.
    - Redo the MPL and bring back spinning, hand and feet skills etc.
    - Whilst the MPL has a heavy focus on simulators, it needs to be a much bigger part of their renewals and professional development in order to re-enforce what they learnt during early stages of their career and training when they start working.
    - Some airlines have poor quality control in their recruitment phases, is susceptible to corruption or have too many "token" cadets. Some people just aren't cut out to be pilots, identify this early not late.
    - Airline and safety authority audits are a joke, Standards/QA Manager(s) should be mandatory, I've seen our competitors teach students very bad techniques because of a bad instructor or two and it poisons entire batches of students. Auditing needs to be proactive, integrated into systems and workflows and not just a visit a few times a year. to look through paper records or merely reactive in the case of a safety incident.
    Remember, the training doesn't stop when the student is finished their course. Operators and manufacturer (Airbus, I'm looking at you) need to stop treating pilots like bus drivers and focusing only on fuel optimisation.
    - This is minor but still important. Shock material. We aren't allowed to show students the imagery of air disasters any more. They can be and usually are gruesome by statistically effective, safety incidents in classes that were shown this material were halved compared to classes that weren't.

    This opinion is my own and doesn't reflect that of my employer, doing it anonymously because our media policy prohibits these types of comments. I'd love to hear people's feedback on how training could be furthered improved, it's what gets me up in the morning, trying to fight the system.
  • I read the /. piece, then I came across this news item [cnn.com]. Even with automation, how do you land at the wrong airport?

  • There's a somewhat lengthy and hard to find (too lazy to look now) article on the Internet where some magazine did essentially a minute by minute recap of what the black box told about the infamous Air France crash. That happened basically because (inexplicably) the captain put the most junior of his 2 co-pilots in charge when flying through some very bad weather. After the crash it was determined that the co-pilot was not properly trained for the conditions he encountered and Air France has made changes
  • Disagree (Score:4, Interesting)

    by DaMattster (977781) on Thursday November 21, 2013 @11:16AM (#45481367)
    Actually, I have several friends that are Airbus 330 and 321 captains that actually would like to have more control over the plane and less automation. To some degree, they are hamstrung by the company, Airbus Industrie, that is relegating to pilots to "flight management" duties instead of actually "stick and rudder" flying. Most pilots I know lean towards type A and would much rather have control over their plane then hand it over to avionics and flight management systems.
  • by jcdr (178250) on Thursday November 21, 2013 @12:57PM (#45482437)

    First sorry for my English.

    Automation work very well in fully tested conditions and bring many advantage in term of safety, cost and comfort. The problem is that the real life is not always contained into the fully tested conditions, and that even with an massive and continuous development effort, this assertion will never be proved false.

    The current state of the aircraft operation is that basically the human endorse the full responsibility to engage the automation, monitor his work, disable it in case it is not appropriate, and manually operate the aircraft. This is manly because the today automation level don't include the capabilities to replace the human for those meta-tasks. But there is technically no reason to not includes them, and I believe that the future automation will take this direction. The consequence is that the human will have even less opportunities to operate an aircraft in sustainables conditions and that the remaining out of tested condition case will be so unmanageables situations that only a few exceptional pilots will eventually be able to survive. Until this extreme level of automation is in operation, we will inevitably see pilot error due to untrained operation like in the AF443, like in Kazan a few day ago, like many others accidents...

    What is important to understand here is that the concept of "untrained operation" (or not enough) for an human is not so different from the concept of "untested condition" for an automatic system. From the aircraft essential operations like aerodynamic and motors, this make no difference if the action (or inaction) in from a human or from a computer. The point is to how to know what is the good action to do at each time in the operation. The only solution here it to have a very very depth knowledge in a lot of specific fields, a massive quantity of information to choose from, and a very quick reaction time to analyse all of them. Human brain can archive fantastic things from the eyes of others humans, but have still several hug limitations. He is specifically unable to focus on a task for a long time, sensible to external stress, limited in his precision and repeatability, and usually slow and error prone in untrained operation. An automation yield better result for most of those metrics, but is completely unable to handle untrained operations (out of tested conditions).

    Did you get the idea ? Having a slow and error prone human trying to resolve untrained operation is better than having only an automation that will do nothing relevant at all. This is what we commonly call intelligence: trying to solve something new. Just a note: while our human body have evolved to integrate some basic survival action generator in case of emergency situation, there are really not effective for an today aircraft operation; don't mix them with the required intelligence. At this stage you maybe feel the problem: Out of the automation tested conditions, automation is for nothing, and human is a mediocre performer, but we have no other choice yet. Having the pilot trained to replace the automation working into tested conditions is not the solution, because the real problem don't lie into the tested conditions, but outside of them.

    Now a level higher. Training a pilot on a unexpected situation is a long process. From a very general point of view, you can decompose this process into some basic parts: 1) recognize the situation; 2) select the appropriate action; 3) do the selected action. In practice this is implemented into a written procedure and the pilot train this procedure. What is important to understand here is that this way of training the pilot is to make an unexpected situation managed more by his experience than by his intelligence, because experience is fast, while intelligence is slow. We essentially try to extend the "tested condition" manageable by his brain, much like we can extend the tested condition of an automate. I predict that in the future, the computers will be less limited than the human brain in the extension of the teste

How many NASA managers does it take to screw in a lightbulb? "That's a known problem... don't worry about it."

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