FAA Study Points to better Pilot Training; might not OEM Design also add a Better, Long Term Solution?

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Pilots Rely Too Much on Automation, Panel Says

Many Aviators Have Difficulty Manually Flying Planes, Study Commissioned by FAA Finds


The term “ergonomics” received great prominence in the late 1970s as the aircraft manufacturers attempted to justify the reduction of the size of the cockpit and of the number of the pilots who worked there. The early B-737s and B-747s, for example, included space for an engineer who sat before a panel of instruments and who managed the systems of an airplane. The OEMs studied the level of work imposed on the pilots and attempted to prove that two crewmembers could perform the work of the previous troika. Their analysis included the use of better, more sophisticated monitors.

The cockpit dashboards of the next generations of aircraft have incorporated more complex monitors and systems which assumed increasingly sophisticated responsibility for flying the airplane. Today’s pilots truly manage the operation of the aircraft by computers. When functioning properly, these combinations of avionics, sensors and other mechanisms can and do perform at super human precision. However, when they fail catastrophically the situation is fraught with disaster.

Recent accidents enumerated in the Wall Street Journal show that the transition from relying on these automatons to humans resuming full control is a source of possible problems. The FAA’s recent rulemaking on pilot training addresses many of these deficiencies. The Journal article reviews a recent, extensive review of the precise problems.

Clearly the operators of these aircraft will design training programs which will expose pilots during initial and recurrent training to these trying events. The lesson will include, presumably, identifying the failed system, what its functions were, how its dis-integration impacts the plane and what the cockpit members must do to correct. Such education will immediately prepare these professionals for future such problems.

Systems designs might also be reconsidered to keep the human brain integrated while the systems are functioning properly. The science of ergonomics helped create mechanisms which minimized the loads on the humans; perhaps there are scientific analyses which would reinsert the pilots back into the constant aircraft operational loop to minimize the difficulties when an abrupt failure occurs. Under the current cockpit configuration there is a gap when some system fails and the human can reassert her/his control. Perhaps those human engineers, who helped create these networks, can devise an approach which minimizes the pilots’ disassociation from the plane’s flying

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