Voss Says Pilots Must Back Up Automation

AINsafety » April 23, 2012
Flight Safety Foundation CEO Bill Voss (photo by Frank Jackman, FSF)
Flight Safety Foundation CEO Bill Voss (photo by Frank Jackman, FSF)
April 23, 2012, 7:12 PM

“Five years ago we passed the point where automation was there to back up pilots,” said Flight Safety Foundation CEO Bill Voss at last week’s Flight Safety Foundation Corporate Aviation Safety Seminar in San Antonio. “Clearly today, the pilot is there to be the backup to the automation.” Voss told AIN  “This is simply a realistic assessment of the world today, except we are not training pilots to be backups to automation. We have to own up to the fact that we need develop new kinds of pilot training,” he said.

Voss added that human pilots too often lose the mental picture of the aircraft’s automation. “If pilots have no idea of what the automation should be doing, they also have no idea of whether everything they observe on the panel represents a normal operation. That’s what happened to Air France 447,” he said. 

“This is not just about better stick and rudder skills though,” he explained. “What you die from is not understanding what configuration will keep the aircraft in the air safely. If pilots don’t understand that level flight means two-and-a-half degrees of pitch and 93-percent N1, they have no way of manually controlling that aircraft if something breaks. But the training department can’t fix everything. This is also an operational problem out on the line.”

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Hank Kobulnicky
on April 24, 2012 - 10:13am

Hello, I was drawn to the feature because as a 757/767 Capt with UAL ( now retired) I complained to our training center they were not sending me pilots but simply computer operators who were satisfied with just monitoring the magic stuff.While they could program the FMS faster than me, I could out think and out plan them because they were "programed" by the training center to do it the technicians way rather than a pilots way. In other words, they fell under the spell of automation: they became like the guys who designed the magic rather than continue to be pilots who used the magic as an aid to basic airmanship. What is increasingly lacking is basic airmanship: both stick and rudder type and pre-magic pilot planning techniques. Nuf said. Have a good day.

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Gary Martoni
on April 24, 2012 - 2:29pm

Well said Captain Kobulnicky. As a 30-year corporate and former airline pilot now instructing in simulators for the most advanced glass cockpit/flight management system in corporate aviation I see this phenomenon all the time. The young pilots can't wait to get the autopilot on but then, as Cpt. Kobulnicky states, they lack the basic airmanship skills to have a sense of when things aren't going right and take over in a timely manner. This is not a comfortable situation. "Nuf said."

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Barry Carlson
on April 24, 2012 - 4:18pm

You all know about "breaking in" a horse!

Well, the pilot of today is that horse. He needs to not only understand the basic skills of flight and how to "save the day", but also a much deeper understanding of the dynamics of flight and how all the components have been incorporated into the sophisticated package that he commands and which provides most of the "get up and go to" automatically.

The AF447 accident has revealed in stark realism how a lack of understanding of how the Total Energy component essential to the safe progression the flight was bled off and with inevitable consequences. When the wrong response stops a Stall Warning and the pilot has no idea of the logic behind that result, then a glaring deficiency in both understanding and training has been exposed. That of course doesn't cover the reason for ignoring the original Stall Warning in the first place.

The automation works silently in the background and is ultimately credited with major advances in flight safety. However, when it throws its hand in because of dud Airspeed info, the pilot must understand that he/she is not only in control but must be able to provide actual control.

B787 pilots live in a more sophisticated world where the automatics provide Vsyn and GPS ALT when the Pitot/Baro system has an "ice attack".

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Robert P. Mark
on April 24, 2012 - 6:04pm

I had a feeling that story might start people thinking. When I heard Bill Voss begin this discussion last week, he certainly grabbed my attention.

While I know some readers might think this is an odd thought, I find myself thinking about The Terminator series every time this discussion of pilots vs. automation comes up. I especially think this discuussion relates to the second episode when John Carter makes the connection that the Skynet system won’t be able to repair the computer virus infecting the Defense Department’s computers because the evil Skynet IS the virus infecting the computers.

All the people of the U.S. can do is try to stay one step ahead since they have no idea what Skynet’s next step will be.

While I don’t believe our aircraft automation systems are evil and are out to annihilate aviators, there is a bit of a similarity of result even if it does sound a tad like an over-generalization at first read.

Don’t computers possess the ability to take human life because we don’t honestly understand what they’re really doing, especially when they throw pilots a curve ball when they shut down and toss control of the aircraft back at the crew like they did with Air France 447?

Rob

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Mark Morgan
on April 30, 2012 - 6:56am

I agree on backing up automation. As both and Instructor for 22 years and a Captain flying the Global Express it is critical to back up FMS data. The Honeywell FMS recently had a problem with it dropping data on Departures when doing 180 degree turns. This was the problem with London Luton departures.

Our company policy is to back up at least a needle on VOR data and have the initial turn memorized for RNAV departures. This saved us in Luton. Also for missed approaches it is good to back up the basics. In the old days we were able to fly without the automation. Now a Departure or Missed Approach seems like a struggle without the automation.

It is good sometimes to go back to the basics and practice.

No Avatar
Mark Morgan
on April 30, 2012 - 6:54am

I agree on backing up automation. As both and Instructor for 22 years and a Captain flying the Global Express it is critical to back up FMS data. The Honeywell FMS recently had a problem with it dropping data on Departures when doing 180 degree turns. This was the problem with London Luton departures.

Our company policy is to back up at least a needle on VOR data and have the initial turn memorized for RNAV departures. This saved us in Luton. Also for missed approaches it is good to back up the basics. In the old days we were able to fly without the automation. Now a Departure or Missed Approach seems like a struggle without the automation.

It is good sometimes to go back to the basics and practice.

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tony
on April 30, 2012 - 3:45pm

Mr. Voss's comments betray the reality of our times....In 30 years flying I have witnessed the downfall of American Airmanship from the perspective of both the guy at the local airstrip and the Command seat of a big jet flying passengers overseas for an airline you have heard of......the flying colleges stalwartly defend their practices as we teach multi-generational ineptitude. The pilots we train locally at the little grass airports one at a time we still do night all weather training adding onto acrobatics and formation and low altitude tactical navigation and train to a level not seen in decades....these kids are nothing like the flight school contemporaries and the job offers they get show that. The Piper Cub is still made in USA in Texas and is the plane that taught America to fly into WWII and still stands ready to serve again.
Once the cadet has a solid core we can teach them to really fly and do anything....that is not done at the flying colleges.....Nor is that done at the USAF...anyone doubt that can talk to the folks who are there and live this life.

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Arthur Dijkstra
on May 5, 2012 - 4:40am

I don't think pilot training is the remedy agaist automation design flaws. Automation that is not adquately designed for visibility and coordination is taking away the posibility for the pilots to intervene and correct the flightpath.
Please have a look at: http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Donald_Norman
and a Cognitive Systems Engineering view : http://csel.eng.ohio-state.edu/woods/distributed/CG%20final.pdf

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Robert P. Mark
on May 6, 2012 - 5:26pm

To Arthur’s point, no effective system can be designed from only a technological standpoint.

We can all sit back now and talk about whether the sidestick on the A330 should or shouldn’t move. I can tell you though from having sat in that cockpit at night, I doubt it would have made any difference at all. The sidestick sits in a shadowy area next to the pilot’s hand.

Under IFR conditions, especially in turbulence or one in which the crew seems to be losing control, I doubt anyone would even think to look over at the other pilot’s hand movements.

And in a digital airplane today, the movements of the stick itself are actually so slight, that also might have prevented any notice by the other pilot.

So when we talk about what could have occurred had this been a Boeing, where the wheel is right in front of your eyes, versus an Airbus where the sidestick is not nearly so visible, we really are mixing apples and oranges.

Rob

 

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