In the wake of Air France Flight 447 in June 2009 and more recent accidents, a lot has been said and written about how pilots are trained and about what seems to be an erosion of basic flying skills. Many subject matter experts (SMEs) agree that airline flying today suffers from what some call “the curse of ubiquitous normalcy,” that is, a professional cultural expectation of low-stress operations in which high-risk problems are so rare as to need little attention. The more robust a system becomes, the more likely people are to become complacent. This is where important advances in upset prevention and recovery training (UPRT) will come into play.
Publication of the new International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Doc 10011-2013, Manual of Upset Prevention and Recovery Training — expected in mid-October — signals a major transition for the air transport industry from a four-year period of “expert talk” about mitigating loss of control–in flight (LOC‑I) to readiness for worldwide implementation of specific changes. It is not the first time the industry has addressed airplane upset recovery, and the validity of previous work (in which Flight Safety Foundation participated) has been an influential bedrock of the new 2013–2014 products.
Details of the transition over the next few years, and further steps for mitigating LOC–I, were discussed in September in London during the Royal Aeronautical Society’s International Airline Flight Crew Training Conference. The society’s 80-member International Committee for Aviation Training in Extended Envelopes (ICATEE) focused on practical solutions that will make a difference in LOC-I rather than pushing new technology, but the resulting solutions still require strong industry commitment and support. Several presenters said evidence is emerging that these LOC–I mitigations, where voluntarily adopted, already are working and leading to entirely new insights and paradigms for airline pilot training.
One captain said that “when you disconnect the autopilot is where technology becomes art,” advocating that regular practice of manual flying builds problem-solving resilience and a reserve of cognitive capacity to handle stall/upset situations. Traditional methods of repeatedly flying familiar maneuvers and scenarios in flight simulators are no longer enough, some SMEs said, because unforeseeable or extremely rare events — not to mention go-arounds, hand-flown visual landings and unreliable airspeed scenarios — today demand a higher level of skill, situational awareness and resilience than many safety specialists long had assumed, given the advanced state of automation.
Other issues include how to carve out adequate time in tight training schedules for UPRT and manual handling practice; ensuring that training addresses real-life survival; refinement of flight simulation training devices to provide highly accurate cues; UPRT instructor qualification; further work on technology-based LOC–I mitigation; further study of root causes of upsets; reaching agreement on contentious human factors issues, such as today’s long periods of pilots monitoring automation and managing systems; and optimal crew resource management during upset prevention, recognition and recovery stages.
There is more to LOC–I than just stick and rudder skills. Meaningful guidance compiled from many sources on the various components will be needed to effectively mitigate this threat. Flight Safety Foundation stands ready to facilitate new developments and to see that they are shared.