Surviving Loss of Control Requires Manual Flying Skills

 - April 30, 2012, 4:30 PM
Airbus Captain Jacques Drappier (photo by David Malley, Halldale Media)

Robert Barnes, president of the International Association of Flight Training Professionals and a frequent presenter at the World Aviation Training Conference (WATS) alerted AIN to an important presentation on aircraft handling at the WATS event in Orlando last week (while AINSafety was attending the Corporate Aviation Safety Seminar in San Antonio).  According to Barnes, Captain Jacques Drappier, Airbus Senior Advisor Training, focused on the changes to aircraft control systems and the skills required of pilots who operate new-generation aircraft.

Captain Drappier, as quoted by Barnes, said, “Today we have fly-by-wire, automated planes, where the pure handling skills needed in daily life are very limited…But handling skills, [although] less demanding than before, are still needed. And proficiency can only be achieved through training and practice.”

To which Barnes, a former U.S. Air Force T-38 instructor, added, “We have to understand how automation is really functioning and we don’t. Plenty of pilots believe automation is a natural evolution, because aircraft are becoming so complicated. But pilots can’t surrender to the black box. We still have the responsibility to understand the implications of the automation in relation to the flying task at hand. We shouldn’t give the automation designers a free ride on this issue either. They must realize how automation affects the pilot.”

As an example, Barnes brought up the Air France 447 accident in 2009, the Airbus A330 that crashed en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris killing all board. He said the crew received conflicting information and was unable to regain control of the A330 after the autopilot disconnected.

“The airplane should help by telling pilots the state of the airplane at the handover, such as ‘level at FL410, two degrees pitch at this power setting,’” Barnes said. “When I understand the status of my airplane, I can control it. If the computer just starts ringing alarm bells and flashing warning messages, how do you think the pilot’s going to react?”