Looking back at 2013, a number of topics seemed to dominate aviation safety–related discussions. Early in the year, we spent a lot of time talking about the aviation industry’s stellar 2012 safety record, particularly the shrinking accident rate in commercial transport operations. After the Asiana accident in San Francisco in July, the perceived decline in pilot stick-and-rudder skills and over-reliance on automation became frequent subjects, both within the industry and more broadly. In putting together 11 issues of AeroSafety World, and listening to speakers at the Foundation’s Business Aviation Safety Seminar (BASS) and International Air Safety Summit (IASS), upset prevention and recovery training, pilot fatigue and fatigue risk management, unstabilized approaches and the need for better adherence to go-around standard operating procedures were frequent topics. Of course, the top three accident types — loss of control–in flight, controlled flight into terrain and runway-related events — continued to be regular subjects for examination as well.
Looking ahead to 2014, we will hear more on all of the above as the industry continues to grapple with these issues. In addition, we will hear much more about a strategy/skillset that could play an important role in threat mitigation and improving the overall safety level of commercial and business aviation operations. That strategy is more effective flight path monitoring.
At the IASS in Washington in October, U.S. National Transportation Safety Board Member Robert Sumwalt and Helena Reidemar of the Air Line Pilots Association, International, closed out the conference with a sobering presentation on pilot monitoring.
“Failure to monitor is a factor we’re seeing over and over,” Sumwalt said in citing several accidents where lack of effective monitoring was either a causal or contributing factor. Among those examples was Colgan Air Flight 3407, when the flight crew’s “failure to monitor airspeed in relation to the rising position of the low speed cue” was cited as contributing to the accident.
According to Reidemar, effective monitoring is not easy or intuitive. Humans are not very good at sustained vigilance, and the brain is not really wired to effectively monitor instruments that rarely fail, she said.
The good news, according to the two, is that monitoring skills can be improved through more effective training. To that end, Sumwalt and Reidemar expect to publish “A Practical Guide to Effective Flight Path Monitoring” in early 2014 in collaboration with Flight Safety Foundation. Stay tuned for more details.