Accidents in recent years have brought glass panel training and operational excellence under the spotlight, and the industry continues to develop training and safe practices to keep up with the new technology.
“Within four months of the Air France 447 crash–May through October 2009–three additional A330s experienced high-altitude total loss of air data in convective weather above FL370,” according to Chris Lutat. “Why did these three crews recover while the Air France crew did not? Those three events became a footnote. Why aren’t we looking at what these pilots did correctly?” he asked rhetorically at Bombardier’s recent Safety Standdown event in Wichita. Lutat is an MD-11 check airman and a member of the Convergent Performance team that looks closely at human performance, especially for pilots.
“Almost two full decades of flight training on these airplanes and we finally have a repository of expert knowledge on glass [cockpit operations],” Lutat said. “Training was pretty much absent when we began operating these aircraft. Good judgment and safe practices simply do not come packaged along with new technology.”
Lutat echoed NTSB member John Lauber in arguing that the industry must define the relationship between people and technology and not let the technology define the people at the controls. “Glass-cockpit airplanes are still just airplanes,” he said. “The elements of discipline, skill and proficiency remain unchallenged as the foundation of professional airmanship. The technology has simply given us a new way–a lens–through which to view how the aircraft performs.”
Why is glass operational excellence so important? “Expert performance is required right after initial training,” Lutat said. “Complex systems fail in complex ways. Few training and evaluation programs provide [much of] a balance in developing proficiency flying with degraded automation.”
Recalling Qantas Flight 32’s uncontained engine failure in 2010, Lutat explained why automation competence has become a frontline skill. “That incident left the A380 crew with information they didn’t know what to do with, information they didn’t need and necessary information they couldn’t find.”