December 03, 2012
Credit: Photo Credit: Aviation Performance Solutions
John Croft Washington
Several small steps in simulator and flight-training methods could soon lead to giant leaps in airline safety.
Working under the auspices of the Royal Aeronautical Society, a group of more than 80 specialists worldwide have developed improvements to airline pilot flight training, in an effort to prevent loss of control (LOC) accidents in the future.
The group was created in June 2009 at a flight simulation conference during which LOC incidents loomed large. The Colgan Air Bombardier Q400 crash in Buffalo, N.Y., had occurred in February that year, as did the Turkish Air Boeing 737-800 crash in Amsterdam. In both cases, improper pilot inputs had led to stalls. Then, on the first day of the conference, Air France 447, an Airbus A330, crashed into the Atlantic Ocean on a flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris, an accident later attributed to loss of control.
“There was a huge interest in the growth of LOC problems,” says Sunjoo Advani, an aerospace engineer who was tapped to run the nascent International Committee for Aviation Training in Extended Envelopes (Icatee) group. “There was a growing concern already at the time of pilots losing their abilities in manual flight control.”
Results of more than three years of work by the group, including a training matrix and an upset prevention and recovery manual, will be forwarded to the International Civil Aviation Organization this month for review, says Advani. Once approved, the manual will be available to all member states potentially by mid-2013.
The group identified a variety of training shortcomings, including the limited envelope that pilots are exposed to in training, simulator reality at the edges of the envelope, g-force awareness, and difficulty in creating a “startle and surprise” environment in a simulator. “Very simple improvements to how we use existing simulators can achieve 75% of our goal,” says Advani.
Per licensing requirements, it is mandatory that pilots learn cues for an aircraft in its normal envelope, with pitch less than ± 30 deg. and ± 60 deg. of bank. “As it turns out, one of the biggest problems is startle and surprise during unexpected and unforeseen events,” says Advani. “LOC exposes [the pilots] in such a way that they have to go from a low state of arousal to a quick and effective response; and those responses can be counterintuitive.” Included are psycho-physical responses such as pulling on the yoke after being startled, even though a stickshaker or stickpusher is attempting to reduce angle-of-attack to avoid a stall.