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Are Pilots Forgetting How to Fly?

701EV

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a lot
By KEVIN DOLAK

"Automated flight systems and auto-pilot features on commercial aircraft are causing "automation addiction" among today's airline pilots and weakening their response time to mechanical failures and emergencies, according to a new study by safety officials.

This dangerous trend has cost the lives of hundreds of passengers in some 51 "loss of control" accidents over the past five years, the report found.

Rory Kay, an airline captain and co-chairman of a Federal Aviation Administration committee on pilot training, told the Associated Press that pilots are now experiencing "automation addiction."

"We're seeing a new breed of accident with these state-of-the art planes," Kay said. "We're forgetting how to fly."

The technology behind the auto-pilot on commercial aircrafts only requires pilots to do approximately three minutes of flying -- during take-off and landing – which has contributed heavily to the number of "loss of control" accidents, such as the crashing of Air France flight 447, which nosedived 38,000 feet into the Atlantic in June of 2009.

As flight 447 soared through powerful storms over the Atlantic, the plane's autopilot suddenly disengaged and a stall warning activated. The senior co-pilot then said: "What's happening? I don't know, I don't know what's happening."

The pilots then pulled the plane's nose up, when the correct procedure during a stall is the exact opposite: nose down. The co-pilot was yelling "climb, climb, climb!" but was interrupted by the captain, who said: "No, no, no -- don't climb."


Frank Augstein/AP Photo
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The plane slammed into the ocean, killing all 228 on board. A report by France's Bureau of Investigations and Analysis indicated that there were no mechanical problems with the plane, which would not have crashed had the pilot responded correctly.

The Air France crash is one of over four dozen "loss of control" accidents that have occurred over the past five years. A new study by the FAA found that in two thirds of such accidents, pilots had trouble manually flying the plane, or made mistakes with automated flight controls. Though fatal commercial airline accidents have decreased dramatically in the U.S. in the past decade, hundreds have died in "loss of control" accidents.

In 2009 near Buffalo, N.Y., the pilots of a Colgan Air flight first entered the incorrect altitude data into the plane's computer, and then worsened a stall. Their plane crashed, killing 50. Two weeks later a Turkish Airways flight crashed in Amsterdam killing nine. Investigators described the three pilots' "automation surprise" when they discovered the plane was about to stall.

Kay's committee also found that airline pilots have little opportunity to maintain the essential skills of flying manually.

The new draft study by the FAA says that pilots often "abdicate too much responsibility to automated systems." It also found that in more than 60 percent of accidents pilots had trouble manually flying the plane or made mistakes with automated flight controls.

"They can get rusty if they don't be responsible and go back and manipulate the controls of that airplane manually once in a while so they can see how that airplane actually flies," said Kevin Hiatt of the Flight Safety Foundation. "You still have to have the living breathing pilot there to make sure that that airplane operating in as safe a manner possible."

Airlines and regulators discourage or even prohibit pilots from turning off the autopilot and flying planes themselves, according to the FAA committee.

The situation is even worse on commuter flights, where pilots only manually operate the plane for 80 seconds out of a typical two-hour flight.

The FAA's report recommends that pilots take control of the airplane more often in order to keep their skills sharp -- so they are prepared to react when the computers cannot"

I guess we all suck!
 

Andy

12/13/2012
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How about furloughee/nonfurloughee thread? I've already forgotten where the ignition switch is on the 75/767 for the key. I don't even remember how we got the airplane keys before a flight. :D
 

GuppyWN

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Andy,

As you recall, especially at UAL, the gate agent is in complete control. After you have bowed appropriately, he/she gives you the keys along with the final paperwork.

Gup
 

Andy

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ROTFLMAO! Thanks for reminding me of the proper preflight procedures.
 

densoo

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"The FAA's report recommends that pilots take control of the airplane more often in order to keep their skills sharp -- so they are prepared to react when the computers cannot"

Well, unless we're going to do unusual attitudes, stalls, and spin recovery when we "take control" I'm not sure what good it will do.

What the FAA needs to do is mandate an annual training event in which pilots go up in an aerobatic plane and get their air sense recalibrated as to how an aircraft operates on the edge of, and out of, the envelope.
 

jetstream

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Seems to me its more of a problem of automation complacency than automation addiction.
 

Jar Jar

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The government career types further justifying their livelihoods again..
 

igneousy2

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WHERE IS ALPA!

These kind of articles infuriate me.

In order for pilot skills to get rusty, YOU HAD TO HAVE HAD THEM IN THE FIRST PLACE!

What about the 300 hour wonders that airlines like Colgan hire because they are cheap...give them 2000 hours at FL250 in a turbo-prop, make them a Captain, then act surprised when there pilot skills don't magically appear at the OM when there airplane is stalled.

What about the MPL that allows "pilots" at the controls of 300 passenger jets that wouldn't be allowed to rent a 152 at their local FBO.

ALPA should be shouting from the highest mountain that we are on a trend line between Sully and Buffalo and if the FAA keeps caving to the airlines as they have been the safety record in the US will be no better than it is overseas.

WHERE IS ALPA?
 

labbats

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I wish I still cared enough to shout WHERE IS ALPA.

Honestly, I used to say things like that but now I'm so used to inaction it's hard to conceive anything from them. I'm pro-union but at best ALPA is the only and worst option for many of us.

Lastly I agree with many of the above posts. You can't forget what you never had. Learning to fly a jet as fast as possible is just the same as learning to cook as fast as possible. You miss a lot of the nuances that may be called upon someday. Yet the dollar leads the way to our current standards. That should be addressed.
 
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waveflyer

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Great point igneousy. Very much agree.

But I actually do agree with the article. Once a trip, handfly down from 180 or 10k into a large busy airport. Get configuration changes and multiple level offs- land raw data in a semi low ceiling- as you get more comfortable take it to lower weather. Practice vsi flying. Right turn hdg 170, descend to 4000, slow to 180, now do it at 1000fpm-

Most of us absolutely are not great hand flyers anymore- when I do this -80% its a rolled on landing.

The debate is real- does hand flying do anything for us? I think yes- I've had instructors tell me not to be a hero and keep the autopilot on. I believe that if hand flying is a distraction then you aren't up to standards and are flying way too complacent.

IMHO
 

EatinRamen

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I think there are weak pilots, and then there are good "stick and rudders." Pair a couple of weak pilots together, and when the brown stuff hits the fan, bad things happen. I've seen weak 50 year old pilots with thousands of hours of flight time get pencil whipped through training, so it's not just the 200 hour wonders that you need to worry about.

It's those weak pilots that rely on automation too much. I don't think encouraging them to hand fly more often is gonna help much if they freeze up when something unexpected happens. We just need to kill the "good old boy" system of checkrides, or the "I'm sure they'll do better once they get online" mentality.
 

frqntflyr

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I tend to agree with the article as well. It is way too easy to fall into the automation complacency trap. Not just with hand flying, but with the math as well. I find myself guilty of the latter more than anything. Thankfully the automation on our 737s is so uncomfortable at times that I hand fly through transition speed on climb almost every leg. Then the handful of MDW departures keep me engaged with level offs, turns, and speed changes. Lastly I am fortunate to still enjoy flying enough to want to hand fly. Not sure how much longer that will last!

I will probably make some enemies with the next opinion, but the pilot factories that tend to be in warm climates are creating airline pilots who have never even seen snow, and have one season each under their belt. The largest aircraft flown being a seneca. Foreign carriers send guys off to these schools and then they are flying in the right seat of an airbus full of automation with 300 hrs. That's nuts IMHO.

I am also a huge believer in aerobatic instruction. Not necessarily to teach 8 point rolls or tumbles, but once you are comfortable being upside down it never leaves you. When you hit wake that is strong enough to leave you past 90 degrees this training will most certainly help the outcome. We had a dual spindle failure at very low altitude that was handled successfully because of the pilot's aerobatic skills, of course that is just my opinion.

Lastly, I think that our PCs and PTs do not focus near enough on real world "loft" type scenarios. We need more practice doing RAs, and instrument failures such as iced (or taped) over pitot/static, automation failures, windshear, etc. We all know the progression of these training sims so well that we are ready for the next failure. Mix it up. If pilots cannot handle this stuff then they shouldn't be flying paying passengers. Period.
 

Dumb Pilot

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The days when pilots learned how to fly in a/c's that required skill are long gone, the new generation of pilots think that partial glass is "old school" these individuals are not forgetting to fly they never did learn in the first place, this new generation thinks that the right seat of an RJ is the first stage of their careers and having barely ATP minimums is the right time to go to the left seat, entitled little prima donnas that think that because they can strike the next key in the FMS faster than the next page is displayed on the CDU that equates to having aviator skills. :puke:
 

Bambam

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As a bus Capt, I can tell you that the overuse of automation is an inticing elixur. We have people who are afraid to turn off the automation at my company because they have never done it. God forbid if some day the automation fails and they have to fly an ILS to cat I mins.

Flying is a perishable skill that you must practice to be good at. If you haven't done a raw data ILS in a while, try one with no flight directors and no auto anything. It may surprise you how much you have come to rely on the "magic" to get you where you are supposed to be.

Fly safe

Bambam
 

IBNAV8R

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Seems like we've recently had this debate. There are those who firmly believe that it is less safe to hand fly and, that it is unprofessional to "practice" with paying passengers on board.

I suggest this: If you cannot fly the airplane as smoothly and safely as the autopilot, you have no business in the front office. No - I'm by no means a super-pilot, I just practice.

I guess I'll choose being "unprofessional" than being dead when the SHTF. Oh, and I'm willing to bet my passengers will appreciate that too.
 

waveflyer

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IB- +100%

EatinRamen- I also agree that nothing replaces talent. But you know the difference between Allen Iverson and Michael Jordan besides the 6 championships- one didn't practice.
We all need practice. I'd rather have an average pilot who practices and keeps his discipline than a great talent who doesn't keep that talent up to speed.
The autopilot doesn't need practice- we do. And I'd say that mentality of trying to have no weaknesses is the defining factor in "great pilot"
I will say that there are also a whole lot of pilots who need to study and practice the automation- who click it off BECAUSE it overwhelms them- I'd say that's just as bad.
 
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