Recently we have been involved in providing evaluations and coaching addressing the safety impact of policies and procedures related to pilot use of automated systems in a large international airline. One of the first questions typically raised in this type of project is:
How can we reduce the possibility of pilots losing their manual flying skills when they routinely use automated systems to fly the airplane?
In other words, we are often asked for strategies an airline can use to address the complex web of trade-offs associated with the consistent, economical, and safe routine operation of transporting passengers and the potential for unexpected situations in which pilot expertise, judgment, and skills are necessary for a safe outcome.
This is a balancing act that must be performed by each airline within their own unique blend of national, corporate, and safety cultures. Unfortunately, one solution does not work for all companies. But, some strategies are a good starting point for most of them.
Manual Flight Operations SAFO
One excellent step in that direction is a Safety Alert for Operators (SAFO) addressing manual flight operations released in January by the FAA.
SAFO 13002 suggests that solutions reside in a combination of thoughtful policies, procedures, training, and checking:
“Operators are encouraged to take an integrated approach by incorporating emphasis of manual flight operations into both line operations and training (initial/upgrade and recurrent). Operational policies should be developed or reviewed to ensure there are appropriate opportunities for pilots to exercise manual flying skills, such as in non-RVSM airspace and during low workload conditions. In addition, policies should be developed or reviewed to ensure that pilots understand when to use the automated systems, such as during high workload conditions or airspace procedures that require use of autopilot for precise operations. Augmented crew operations may also limit the ability of some pilots to obtain practice in manual flight operations. Airline operational policies should ensure that all pilots have the appropriate opportunities to exercise the aforementioned knowledge and skills in flight operations.”
The SAFO recommends that “Directors of Operations, Program Managers, Directors of Training, Training Center Managers, Check Pilots, Training Pilots, and flightcrews should…work together to ensure that the content of this SAFO is incorporated into operational policy, provided to pilots during ground training, and reinforced in flight training and proficiency checks.”
This SAFO was developed through the hard work of many people at the FAA who used information developed by the Flight Deck Automation Working Group and other research.
We continue to be involved in the efforts of the Working Group and have conducted or contributed to much of the other automation-related research. I am very pleased with the resulting SAFO on manual flight operations. I believe it will provide a foundation for addressing one of the very challenging safety issues that every airline faces: “maintaining and improving the knowledge and skills for manual flight operations.” We will be making it a cornerstone of the work we continue to do in this area.