FAA's Oversight of Pilot Automation Training Questioned

 - January 12, 2016, 10:12 AM
New pilot training provisions of an FAA pilot and crewmember training regulation become effective in November 2018. (Photo: Airbus)

The Federal Aviation Administration does not have processes in place to assess if airline pilots adequately monitor automated systems on the flight deck or maintain their manual flying skills, according to the Department of Transportation (DOT) office of the inspector general. The FAA “can and should do” more to ensure that airlines sufficiently train their pilots in these skills, the IG contends.

In a January audit report to Congress, the IG recommends the FAA define “pilot monitoring metrics” that airlines can use to train and evaluate pilots’ use of automated systems, and standards to determine if pilots are receiving the training they need to manually fly their aircraft. The IG notes that several recent accidents, including the July 6, 2013 crash of an Asiana Airlines Boeing 777-200ER on landing at San Francisco International Airport, “have shown that pilots who typically fly with automation can make errors when confronted with an unexpected event or transitioning to manual flying.”

The IG visited nine airlines and their respective FAA oversight offices while conducting the audit. It reviewed 19 simulator training plans, finding that only five specifically mentioned pilot monitoring, or a pilot’s ability to monitor an aircraft’s flight path, its systems and the actions of other crewmembers.

New procedures that make use of advanced automation to fly more precise flight paths, such as area navigation (RNAV) and required navigation performance (RNP), and to maintain a 1,000-foot reduced vertical separation minimum at altitude, provide pilots with fewer opportunities to practice manual flying skills, the IG said. The FAA to date has implemented more than 1,550 such automated procedures, the office added.

The FAA and industry “are continually working to modernize the National Airspace System and expect deployment and use of advanced procedures using flight deck automation to increase,” the audit report states. “As a result, the opportunities air carrier pilots have during live operations to maintain proficiency in manual flight are limited and are likely to diminish.”

The FAA published a pilot and crew training regulation in November 2013 that contains provisions to improve pilot training “for rare, but high-risk scenarios,” according to the FAA. Among new simulator training requirements, pilots will practice maneuvers for upset prevention and recovery; manually controlled arrival and departure; slow flight; loss of reliable airspeed; stall/stick pusher activation; and recovery from a bounced landing, the IG said. But the industry does not have to fully comply with the regulation until 2019.

In a response to the findings, the FAA said that it shared the IG’s “concerns about an over-reliance on automation and the importance of training pilots to handle unexpected events and manually fly the aircraft.” In January 2014, the agency formed an air carrier training aviation rulemaking committee to provide the industry a forum to make recommendations on training requirements.

The FAA added that the implementation date of the pilot training provisions of the 2013 regulation, “Qualification, Service and Use of Crewmembers and Aircraft Dispatchers,” is Nov. 30, 2018.