An international group of stakeholders, brought together by the Royal Aeronautical Society, is leading the way in combating the Loss of Control in Flight incidents (LOC-I) – now identified as the No1 commercial aviation safety issue.
[caption id="attachment_5472" align="alignnone" width="333" caption="The Colgan Air crash in 2009 saw 50 people lose their lives in the US. (NTSB)"][/caption]
The first day of the Royal Aeronautical Society’s Annual International Flight Crew Training Conference, once again provided a must-attend forum for those involved with and interested in the issues of aviation safety and flight crew standards. A truly international meeting of experts, it has brought delegates from over 19 countries together to debate the latest in aviation safety.
One of the highlights was a presentation (video below) from Dr Sunjoo Advani, co-Chairman of the International Committee for Aviation Training in Extended Envelopes (ICATEE,) a stakeholder body created by the Flight Simulation Group of the Royal Aeronautical Society (RAeS).
ICATEE which is made up of over 70 members, (including aircraft manufacturers, airlines, regulators, accident specialists and pilots) work is focussed on the current number one safety threat in commercial aviation – loss of control in flight (LOC-I). Recent fatal aviation accidents including Air France AF447 and Colgan Air in 2009 have demonstrated how even trained pilots can get into unrecoverable situations – if quick action is not taken to prevent LOC.
In particular Dr Advani presentation notes that nearly 30% of LOC-Is were caused by ‘stall’ – a basic aerodynamic condition that is not limited by speed, or by attitude of the aircraft. Avoiding stalls is one of the first things drilled into the cadet pilot. So what is going on? First current systems in modern automated airliners have taken the focus away from recovering from a stall. Secondly in an emergency situation, when the pilot (or crew) are psychological ‘startled’ they may try instinctively to put in ‘normal’ control inputs (eg. pulling the stick back in a dive) but which may be inappropriate for the current condition (eg the aircraft is inverted). Finally the diminishing pool of pilots with high-G experience or aerobatic skills (coupled with a great demand for new pilots) is, some fear, creating a generation of pilots unable to cope with the very rare situation when an aircraft enters the extended envelope.
[caption id="attachment_5473" align="alignnone" width="166" caption="KLM Flight Academy has selected APS Emergency Maneuver Training to help prepare its students for LOC-I. (APS)"]
However work by the ICATEE has shown that a combination of academic training, manoeuvre and upset prevention and recovery training (in a high performance aerobatic aircraft) and simulator recurrency may be enough to instil anti-LOC-I skills in a pilot. This gives them exposure, awareness and the experience of being at the edge (or even slightly over it) the envelope so that they develop skills to quickly and safely recover out of a LOC-I. This upset prevention and recovery training would be incoporated from all levels of training from ab-initio, to type rating, to recurrent training for pilots. A major part of this is 'prevention' in the first place - assessing and analysing the flight conditions that could see the aircraft enter a stall or upset flight situation.
There are now signs that this research and work is bearing fruit. Already KLM Flight Academy has mandated
a form of upset recovery training for its ab-initio trainees with Phoenix -based APS. Other airlines too could follow. Regulators too are moving to adoptthese findings in the US and through ICAO.
However – it is more subtle than ‘just give airline pilots aerobatic training’ since that is not the intent. In fact, that could be counterproductive as airline pilot with some (but not enough) aerobatic training could bring an over confidence into the airliner cockpit and (unwittingly or not) be tempted into drifting towards the edges of the envelope.
Instead the upset recovery training in an aerobatic aircraft is designed to give exposure and for the pilot to recognise the danger indicators before it happens (e.g. stall buffet) – and then quickly recover. It need not be a perfect, silky smooth recovery – but just enough to break out of the danger area.
One other question about this extra training is cost. However experts at the conference noted that insurance companies would be more than willing to reduce hull premiums for airlines or organisations that had adopted this training.
It still has some way to go – but this vital international co-operation, facilitated by the RAeS, looks set to eventually conquer this outstanding aviation safety issue.
Other presentations during the day were on best practice and professionalism, a pre-employment global pilot qualification, as well as the Global Professional Pilot Certificate- a potential personal CV that a pilot would use to record their hours and experience – wherever they might work. Finally the last session focussed on the challenges of rotary-wing simulation and training.