Have Pilots Forgotten How to Fly?

January 23, 2020

 

Aircraft are crashing because pilots have either forgotten how to fly or never learnt in the first place, according to the US aviation regulator. Over-reliance on automation has eroded basic skills and created a dangerous dependency on computer systems, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has said.

 

“When automation ceases to work properly, pilots who do not have sufficient experience of manual control and proper training may be hesitant or not have enough skills to take control of the aircraft,” the FAA said in a report to the International Civil Aviation Organisation (The TIMES – 8th October 2019)

 

Chilling isn’t it? But pilots in recent years have never had the chance to learn to fly a jet manually. Yes, the basics are done in initial training but after that, it’s up to you. Somehow you are supposed to know how to manually control an aircraft on a dark dirty night on one engine and do a raw data ILS to boot followed by a go around. If you’ve never practised it, then how on earth will you be able to do it in real life, sim check or at an assessment interview, often on a type you are not familiar with?

 

At Flight Simulators Midlands, where we have been doing assessment preparation training for over 7 years now, we have been very concerned about the level of competence of some of our candidates. This has been particularly true of the Thomas Cook pilots who have been coming recently. The Airbus has looked after them so well over the last few years that they have completely forgotten about power pitch couple and their scans have been seriously degraded. They have forgotten how to fly. But maybe they never learnt in the first place.

The crashes of the 737 MAX were in part due to poor crew situational awareness. “Fly the aircraft first”. As a captain with over 20,000 hours on 737’s I know the technical difficulties they faced were possibly insurmountable, but their basic flying skills were not up to the task. Boeing have been criticised recently for testing the aircraft (MAX) with highly skilled and experienced test pilots who do not represent the skill level of the average line pilot. Aircraft and systems have to be safe for the worst pilot, not the best.

 

And this is not new. BA stated that they were concerned at the degradation of basic skills due to the automation of the 747. And that was over 40 years ago.

 

So how do we overcome this international problem? If we look at CATIII operations, this has to be tested on every simulator check and with a record card which shows you have done at least 3 practice CATIII landings in the preceding 6 months. The same has to apply to manually flown approaches. Unless this becomes part of your motor memory, it will not be available to you when you most need it. It must be part of the simulator check and a recency card must be carried specifying where the pilot has done at least 3 manually controlled approaches in the last 6 months. This is the only way. Airlines and regulators have to grasp this nettle.

 

If you feel you need to practice your manual flying, procedures or have an assessment coming up, please contact us at Flight Simulators Midlands where we have a B737, 747 and A320, www.flyfsm.co.uk or ring us on 0800 999 7370.  -  Safe flying – Captain Chris Rigby (ex BA, Thomsons, easyJet, Ryanair).

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