Industry Turns To Self-Help For Improving Pilot Monitoring

By Sean Broderick
Source: Aviation Week & Space Technology

In May, the FAA issued new certification standards based in part on the recommendation. “Until now, little or no guidance has existed to show the applicant how they may address potential flight-crew limitations and design-related errors,” the agency explained. The new standards require manufacturers to factor human abilities and limitations into their designs.

FAA's standards and a nearly identical set adopted by the European Aviation Safety Agency in 2006 are the clearest example of regulators mandating human factors elements into certification requirements. While the changes are big steps, it will be years before they make a dent in the 20,000-plus global airliner fleet. Sumwalt is advocating for bigger changes, sooner.

CRM taught industry that a pilot's core competencies can't be limited to hand flying, Sumwalt explains. In his mind, monitoring's importance means it too should rank as a core piloting skill. “Yes, pilots have to have good stick-and-rudder skills, and yes, they have to have good CRM skills, but they also have to have good monitoring skills,” he says. “That's the paradigm shift we're looking for.”

The APM group will present qualitative data to establish inadequate monitoring as a widespread problem. Its report will break new ground by presenting results derived from nearly two decades' worth of real-world observations from Line Operations Safety Audits (LOSA).

The audits, used by nearly 50 carriers, place an observer in the jumpseat to record specific pilot performance aspects on routine flights. LOSA's widespread use means trends gleaned from the data are more likely to garner attention than examples from a small set of accidents.

APM's conclusion is head-turning. LOSA data reveals pilots with poor monitoring skills are at least twice as likely to make a mistake as are pilots that monitor effectively.

“Most airline managers use data to drive operational changes,” says Dempsey. “In simplistic terms, we'd like to get each airline manager to admit, 'I have a problem at my airline and if I choose to ignore this problem, at some point, I'm two to three times more likely than my competitor to make an error.' I'm confident the data in this report will get us there.”

The report's deliverables are recommendations and ready-made training aids. The recommendations are not about ideology; they are about saying, “do this,” Dempsey says. The aim is to make them “very specific” and easy to implement.

One example: a sterile cockpit policy for the last 1,000 ft. of any altitude change. Altitude deviations are the most common flight-crew errors observed. Encouraging pilots to set aside non-essential tasks and focus on leveling off could help to eliminate the problem.

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