Is there more in the ASRS database that should have precipitated an earlier FAA response to the Cockpit Man/Machine Interface?

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ARTICLE: ASRS Suggests Crews Focus Too Much on Automation

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The headline from AIN Online is a bit misleading; a more accurate title might be “Good Reporter finds Evidence in ASRS to Support that Pilots Rely Too Much on Automation.” Veteran aviation journalist, Robert P. Mark knows how to research the NASA database and found the episodic data that proves that the man/machine interface was causing problems in the cockpit.

The “back” story is perhaps more important: The intent of creating ASRS and the other resources filled with voluntarily submitted information about incidents. The information collected there should produce analyses which indicate that there may be problems that need to be addressed. The NASA and FAA managers, who are responsible to review these data-rich sources, are expected to identify potential problems and most importantly, begin to design responses to these emerging deviations.

It seems as though some of the initial calls for reexamining the integration of the cockpit crew and the array of computer dials came from other sources. Bill Voss, then of Flight Safety Foundation, was one of the first to identify this problem. The NTSB made qualitative criticisms about the deterioration of pilots’ ability to react due to overreliance on the machine. The FAA commissioned a third-party group to assess the situation.

The basic principles of SMS and its analytical tools are premised on careful review of ASRS to find “fissures” before they become “cracks.” A superficial review of this history suggests that the report found by Mr. Marks should have triggered an investigation of this and other ASRS incidents. That same supposition would also conclude that the FAA team would have used that predictive trend to begin to develop responses.

Again, without internal information, it is unfair to claim that the system failed. But superficially, it would APPEAR that a reactive review would be beneficial to determine what was known about the undue pilot reliance on automation, what was the complete ASRS record on such incidents, and why the SMS protocols did not result in earlier efforts to respond.

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