Saturday, March 30, 2013

It's Official: Don't Forget to Fly the Plane

The FAA recently released a Safety Alert for airline operators reminding us that "maintaining and improving the knowledge and skills for manual flight operations is necessary for safe flight operations."

The alert continued: "Modern aircraft are commonly operated using autoflight systems (e.g., autopilot or autothrottle/autothrust). Unfortunately, continuous use of those systems does not reinforce a pilot’s knowledge and skills in manual flight operations. Autoflight systems are useful tools for pilots and have improved safety and workload management, and thus enabled more precise operations. However, continuous use of autoflight systems could lead to degradation of the pilot’s ability to quickly recover the aircraft from an undesired state."
In other words, click it off and fly the plane on a regular basis, so that when the magic isn't working, you're able to!

The alert urges airlines to incorporate emphasis of manual flight operations into both line operations and training (initial/upgrade and recurrent), and develop policies that ensure there are opportunities for pilots to exercise manual flying skills at appropriate times.
Of course this is in addition to the admonition I've delivered to my students many times: "If it isn't doing what you want it to, click it off and make it do it!" But now we're not just talking about when the autoflight system isn't doing what you want, or what you thought you told it to do.
When you do hand fly, work on those skills. Do you always land on the centerline? How's your instrument scan? Can you still hold a heading, altitude, and airspeed without the flight director? When you go to the simulator,  if your airplane's crosswind limit is 40 knots, then why are you only practicing them at 15?
Will your hand flying skills be ready on your next flight when it's dark and bumpy, you're half tired, and things start breaking?
Automation's great, but don't be automation dependent.

1 comment:

Karlene Petitt said...

Interesting tidbit... the day I took my 757 type rating, I was told to keep the automation on. The only time I removed it was to do the airwork...steep turns and stalls. When I was done with the check ride I told the FAA examiner, "This was the easiest checkride I have ever taken in my life. And the mandating of automation is going to come back and haunt us. We should continue to train and check pilots skills without the automation."

He laughed and said, "The reliability on these planes is too great for the probability of failure. This is the future. There won't be a problem."

I said, "Never say never."

And here we have it...

Thanks for a great post!