One of the unfortunate but unavoidable facts of aviation is that accidents happen. While investigators work to determine why, and attorneys debate over who is responsible, in nearly every case there is a tragic human element involved-families of victims, who suddenly have their lives torn apart. It is a situation no one wants to be in.
Air France Flight 447
Paul Comtois knows why safety is a tough business for some people to comprehend: “Because it’s difficult to prove that what you’ve implemented actually had any effect.” Comtois, a former fighter pilot, is director of advanced pilot training programs at ETC, a Southampton, Pa.-based training company focused on upset prevention and recovery.
As experts struggle to identify why the crew of Air France 447 lost control of their A330 over the South Atlantic Ocean nearly four years ago, the industry is also still struggling to develop the precision data needed to accurately reproduce a stall in a Level D simulator. The lack of accurate stall data limits entry and recovery practice because the computers running the simulators have no idea how the aircraft will actually perform.
International flight crews share a never-ending need for a good night’s rest. Now there’s a proven link between exercise in moderation and sleep quality. A new report from the National Sleep Foundation studied 1,000 adults between ages 23 and 60 and found that those who exercised in the seven days before the survey reported better quality of sleep than those who did not. Surprisingly, both groups averaged about the same number of hours of total rest–just short of seven.
What if technology could help pilots recover an airplane when it is clear (to the software) that the pilot’s actions are trending toward an accident?
At a time when aviation has achieved an extraordinarily high level of safety, regulators and safety organizations are pushing for more improvements in pilot training to preempt future accidents and ensure that new pilots entering the ranks start off with the right approach. One of the key areas receiving extensive examination is stall training, both in the early stages of ab initio training and how it is taught later to pilots who are flying sophisticated high-performance jets.
By all accounts, the 1996 genesis of Bombardier’s Safety Standdown, an event that now regularly draws nearly 500 aviators to Wichita annually, was rather humble. Bob Agostino, director of Bombardier’s Flight Operations at the time and a trained accident investigator, asked his pilots for their thoughts after a particularly difficult accident investigation. One of them, Air Force veteran Dave Sullivan, explained how the military dealt with similar issues.
The International Committee for Aviation Training in Extended Envelopes (Icatee) published an article this summer in the ICAO Training Report that said, “The number-one cause of commercial jet transport fatalities…[is] loss-of-control-in-flight (LOC-I).” Icatee chairman Sunjoo Advani said, “[The problem] cannot be simply solved through technology or through current pilot training paradigms.” Coincidentally, Boeing’s statistical summary of commercial jet airplane accidents worldwide operations 1959–2011 showed more fatalities caused by LOC-I accidents than by any other.
The largest threat to aviation safety is loss of control (LOC) and it stems mainly from inadequate pilot training, according to the International Committee for Aviation Training in Extended Envelopes (Icatee). The group was created in June 2009 as an arm of the UK-based Royal Aeronautical Society and tasked specifically with suggesting training alternatives to reduce LOC accidents.
The final report on the crash of Air France Flight 447 is giving ergonomics specialists food for thought. One area of particular focus has been the stall warning, which the report says the crew ignored.