Thursday, December 04, 2008

Simulation will increasingly be used to train pilots for optimum operations

Very interesting article by David Learmount from Flight International, published on the Flight Global website on 25 November 2008

It refers to an analysis of global airline safety data by the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) that said "pilot judgement, decision-making and/or handling are key factors in 75% of catastrophic accidents, whereas technical failures tend to be causal in the less serious events." This is despite advancing technology and improved aircraft, and is expected to remain the case for the foreseeable future. However, the article does say "It is important to note that this [statistic] does not imply that the pilot was at fault or to blame, because it is now well-established that 'pilot error' cannot continue to be the scapegoat for the many and various factors that can lead to the error occurring."

Quality pilot training at all levels remains the critical factor in preventing the most serious accidents. Whilst some airlines are beginning to use simulation to improve crews' wider operational and flight management skills there is a danger that this is at the expense of getting "raw" flying practice, which get less of operationally because of high degrees of automation. Apparently ongoing studies "show that handling skills degrade with time, while cognitive skills are less time-sensitive, and that recent manual flying practice does improve manual flying performance."

The CAA data "highlights the crucial importance of pilot performance in safety, and therefore reminds us to invest resources in anything that might support it - [for example] training and simulation facilities - and to minimise influences that might adversely contribute, [like] time pressure, fatigue, and distraction."

An interesting development is that airlines are using simulators not only to train pilots to fly and manage aircraft, but to fly procedures specific to their own requirements to reduce costs and increase the operational efficiency of the airline. An example is Emirates, who are looking beyond using simulators to meet regulatory requirements, employing them also to hone crew decision-making skills in situations where there are operational options purely from the safety point of view, but where one of the outcomes will be the more efficient.

It is seen that "tier-two" airlines are bringing more training in-house, and are getting quite sophisticated in the business case analysis they are undertaking with respect to their operations. They don't have this barrier to change that the tier-one airlines do. I'm sorry but I haven't seen, for example, British Airways, innovate when it comes to this stuff - they just won't.

Andy Brazier

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