In Face of Growing Autonomy, Pilots Remain Key

 - November 13, 2019, 8:56 AM

Despite rapidly changing technology, pilots remain the most important factor in the flying environment and they must continue to strive to improve and adapt, safety expert Chris Lutat of Convergent Performance said yesterday at the 23rd annual Bombardier Safety Standdown. He acknowledged the advances that have occurred in the flight deck over the past few years have fundamentally changed how aircraft are operated, particularly at lower altitudes. Lutat said this has caused him to learn new technologies and procedures in his own flying, changing the way he looks at the environment.

Younger pilots have a better command of the increase in technology, he added. But, arguably, “what has [diminshed] is the connection of that to the big picture of operating a large aircraft in a constantly changing [environment].”

Lutat further contended, “A completely automated future is more science fiction than science…We tend to overestimate technology in the short term and underestimate technology in the long term.”

Considerable attention has been given to autonomous transportation, but he said this technology is not yet ready. “The science is elusive and progress is less present than we thought it might be,” Lutat said. And despite the thousands of hours of research that has gone into automation technology, he said, “the human brain is the best organized, most capable, most flexible, and most adaptable three pounds of matter.”

While there are limited applications of automation technology, “We [pilots are] still are the most important component in this whole equation.”

As such, he challenged the pilot audience that they must look at a better “future self,” continuously learn, and adapt to evolving technology. He pointed to accidents such as the 2013 crash of Asiana Flight 214, in which the investigation report found that the pilot flying might have had an “inaccurate understanding of some aspects of the airplane’s autopilot system.”

Lutat said there a number of suggestions that help keep up to date with the changing technology: learn something new about the aircraft with each flight; read FAA advisory circulars on PBN and RNP; put the aircraft FMS manual somewhere visible and readily accessible; write a training lecture on the autoflight control system; recite the company’s stabilized approach criteria as part of every approach briefing; rehearse go-around strategy; and hand-fly the first and last 10,000 feet of altitude.

These will provide precision inside the routine, he added.