Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Simulator training flaws tied to airline crashes

Article in USA Today by Alan Levin 31 August 2010

According to the paper's analysis, "Flaws in flight simulator training helped trigger some of the worst airline accidents in the past decade. More than half of the 522 fatalities in U.S. airline accidents since 2000 have been linked to problems with simulators".

One problem is that in rare but critical instances simulators can trick pilots into habits that lead to catastrophic mistakes. For example, many simulators make difficult take offs, such as in gusty cross-winds, seem far easier than in the real world. But people may not be told told that simulators are inaccurate.

According to Kevin Darcy, an aviation safety consultant "It's really important to know how that data is programmed and where the holes are. Otherwise you are fooling yourself."

Simulators are only as good as the data used to program them. Current simulators aren't accurate when a plane goes out of control, which has prevented their use in training for the leading killer in commercial aviation.

Simulator training was cited in some of the deadliest accidents in the past decade. Among them:

• After a Colgan Air plane went out of control and 50 people died near Buffalo on Feb. 12, 2009, the NTSB found that airline simulators needed to be improved to give pilots better training in such emergencies.

• On Nov. 12, 2001, an American Airlines pilot's aggressive use of the rudder caused his jet to break apart, killing 265 people. The NTSB found that a American simulator exercise had given pilots a false sense of how the rudders worked.

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