A flight crew ignore air traffic controllers’ pleas, forget to lower the landing gear, and ignore multiple cockpit warnings resulting in 97 deaths(above), while another crew landed their plane well down a rain-soaked runway in a storm with a tailwind, the resulting crash, miraculously, only killing three.
Just two of the dozens of accidents in the past five years that should never have happened.
The culprits? Declining pilot skills due to computer automation, cost-cutting, and substandard regulatory oversight in some countries.
That is the worrying tale of aviation safety today where automation, which should make flying safer, is deskilling pilots and leading authorities into a false sense that everything is safe, while some airlines slash their cost by reducing pilot’s simulator training hours to the bare minimum.
Now the chorus of concern about aviation’s failing report card has been joined by the world’s most respected body – members of the Royal Aeronautical Society (RAeS) Flight Operations Group with a new study that calls for better training and an urgent raising of regulatory oversight, as well as global standards.
As far back as 2009, just before the loss of Air France AF447, in the mid-Atlantic which claimed 228 lives, University of Southern California engineering professor and aviation safety expert Najmedin Meshkati said that the aviation industry and its regulators had become “star-struck by technological solutions”.
AF447 was an overnight flight from Rio to Paris and plunged into the Atlantic after a combination of automation failure and pilot confusion put it into a death spiral.
Prof. Meshkati warned at the time that he believed that all the wizardry of modern technology was masking a deterioration and de-skilling in basic flying ability and that the lessons learned by generations of pilots “may be lost to the new breed of pilots.”
Fast forward 12 years to 2021 and Captains John Leahy, Robert Scott, and Alex Fisher, assisted by other experienced members of the RAeS Flight Operations Group are issuing a similar blunt warning in their new study around air crashes.
“Airline Pilot Training – It is time to revisit the basics,” warns that “many recent airline accidents have shown clear evidence of a common cause, whether from fatal crashes or devastating hull losses without fatalities.
“That common cause is the inability of the pilots, in far too many cases, to cope with the situation they faced. Sometimes it was when the automatic systems failed, requiring them to fly manually. In others, they were trying to deal with what should have been a relatively benign situation and they simply did not cope.”
Tragically, the problem is not new.
In 1995 a NASA Research Centre study based on Royal Air Force Institute of Aviation Medicine data from more than 1,000 pilots from 20 airlines and aircraft manufacturers about pilots’ attitudes and experience with flight deck automation found that “safety is increased with automation, but automation may lend a false sense of security, particularly with inexperienced pilots.”
Very concerning was that pilots reported that there was a higher sense of “insecurity” during an automation failure and a general temptation to ignore raw information and “follow the green/magenta line (computer indicators).”
The most worrying aspect was that pilots said their colleagues were “becoming complacent and relied too much on automation but that was often because airline Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) mandated reliance on automation.”
And that aspect has not changed, according to a 2019 International Air Transport Association pilot survey, which found that only 36 per cent of respondents said that their airline policy supported manual flying without restrictions.
In its 2019 “Aircraft Handling and Manual Flying Skills” report, IATA said that “use of automation does not strengthen pilots’ knowledge and skills in manual flight operations and in fact could lead to degradation of the pilot’s ability to quickly recover the aircraft from an undesired state.”
The RAeS study expresses concerns that pilot training has changed greatly, particularly in the last two decades. They said in a recent interview with AirlineRatings.com “pilots need to be trained to fly on instruments once again, in all conditions of weather, ‘G’ forces and distracting illusionary factors, and have complete confidence in their ability to do this. That skill deficit is the one most in need of urgent reform.”
The RAeS study into recent air crashes claims that pilot training “is now shorter in duration, with less flight time on real aircraft, less exposure to the resultant stress of actual flight and much of it, computer-based.”
That claim is backed up by a former Airbus check and training captain who told Agenda that while airlines such as Cathay Pacific Airways will do “at least twice” the recommended training, others would do their own because they didn’t even want to pay for the basic Airbus training.
“Pilot training has suffered because of cost-cutting,” he said.
“And with the airline industry losing US$120 billion last year the problem is only going to get worse.”
And the ability to handle unforeseen events was front and center for the crew of Qantas flight QF32 led by Capt. Richard de Crespigny, which suffered a catastrophic failure of its number 2 engine shortly after take-off from Singapore in 2010.
The crew had to nurse their crippled A380 for two hours while dealing with over 50 system failures and a raft of confusing information before landing back safely at Singapore. The Australian Transport Safety Bureau which conducted the accident investigation noted that the well-trained Qantas crew had saved the A380.
The RAeS paper warns that there is a wide variety of training methods used globally and there isn’t universal agreement on which ones are better than the others.
“In some cases, culture influences the decisions on which ones to use, and in others, the decision can be financial or even based on the recommendations of regulators or plane manufacturers,” the study found.
Deep concern is also raised about poor training. “Many pilots are rushed through inadequate training courses with the emphasis on getting them through quickly and as inexpensively as possible,” the RAeS study claims.
“This environment does not encourage the development and maintenance of the skills and knowledge that are essential to safely and competently operating today’s complex aircraft, something that is borne out by the accident reports,” the RAeS study said.
This issue is highlighted in IATA’s 2020 safety report with Captain Rubén Morales, chair, of IATA accident classification technical group warning that “when we look at the contributing factors present in 2020 accidents, manual handling is at top of the contributing factors associated with flight crew errors. Other areas of concern are deficient safety management systems, regulatory oversight, and selection systems, all of them latent conditions present in the system before the accident happened. These latent conditions have been present consistently year after year, highlighting the need for improvement in these areas.”
The role of each country’s regulator, which oversees their airlines, is coming under much greater scrutiny with the global compliance of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) audits ranging from only 56.32 per cent for Aircraft Investigation to 81.23 per cent for Airworthiness with an overall average just 69.8 per cent.
ICAO is the UN governing body of aviation and there are eight audit areas: Legislation, Organisation, Licensing, Operations, Airworthiness, Accident Investigation, Air Navigation Services, and Aerodromes.
Incredibly 23 countries were below average for all eight audit criteria, while a further 22 only achieved one or two above-average passes.
Again cost-cutting is to blame with many countries starving their regulator of the required funds to properly oversee their airlines.
Even in the US, the Federal Aviation Authority has suffered because of Congressional cuts over the decades.
These dismal results are played out in the IATA 2020 safety report which found that over the past five years in fatal accidents Safety Management at 71 per cent and Regulatory Oversight at 65 per cent were the leading latent factors.
Flight crew errors and manual handling/flight controls were the top contributors at 56 per cent and 50 per cent.
These poor regulatory issues are also a major factor in the European Union and US Federal Aviation Authority banned lists, with 98 airlines from 24 countries blacklisted from European skies and all airlines from 24 countries barred from the US.
Capt. de Crespigny, who with his colleagues, landed QF32 safely, said that many pilots have lost confidence in flying manually because automation has taken much of their hand flying skills away.
He says that pilots of older aircraft such as the 707 and 747-100/300 series had excellent flying skills.
“They usually flew their approaches and landings without using autopilots and auto thrust because these systems were often too inaccurate or unreliable. These pilots built a mental body model that included their aircraft – they wore and manipulated their aircraft like it was a fitted glove,” Capt. de Crespigny said.
Is there a solution?
The authors of the RAeS study urge:
Some industry regulators need to review and raise their standards.
CEOs and boards of airlines must review their own standards and not hide behind poor regulation.
The chief pilots and training managers must speak up and be heard by the chief executive.
Some training colleges need to improve training standards.
The pilot training establishment needs to wake up to the lack of basic instrument flight capability and take immediate steps to correct it.
Airlines need to understand that just passing a flying training exam doesn’t prove that a pilot is totally up to the standard they demand.
Capt. Robert Scott of the RAeS Flight Operations Group is blunt on the problem.
“Over the last two decades, we have seen what can only be described as a ‘Dumbing Down of the Airline Pilot’. The intellectual and physical skills once required of the pilot have largely been replaced by an emphasis on soft skills and automation management. The pilot who once cynically challenged sources of information now readily accept information from a variety of sources, many computer-generated, without question. We know from bitter experience that when this information is flawed it is often not recognized as being useless to safe flight path management.”
Some pilot mishandling and loss of control accidents
Aug 7, 2020: Air India Express 737 lands well down the rain-soaked runway at Calicut and plummets down a cliff. 21 of 190 occupants die.
May 22, 2020: Pilots of Pakistan Airlines A320 ignore multiple warnings and ATC instructions, land with undercarriage up but then take-off before crashing killing 98.
Feb 5, 2020: The pilot of a Pegasus Airlines 737 lands in Istanbul in a storm and tailwind, and the aircraft slides down embankment killing 3 and injuring 180.
Feb 23, 2019: The Pilot of Atlas Air 767 freighter became disoriented after automation failure killing all three crew.
May 5, 2019: The pilot of Aeroflot Superjet made a landing at too high a descent rate after a lightning strike, killing 41.
Feb 18, 2018: Pilots of an Iran Aseman Airlines ATR 72 attempted a landing at Yasouj airport in Iran in bad weather against company policy. Killed 66
Jan 23, 2018: Pilots of Pegasus Airlines 737, overran the runway at Trabzon in Turkey in bad weather. Miraculously all 168 on board were uninjured.
March 19, 2016: Pilots of a FlyDubai737 set an incorrect aircraft configuration and suffered a loss of situational awareness at night. All 62 aboard died.
Cockpit automation is leading to airline industry complacency warns a new study from the Royal Aeronautical Society Flying Operations Group, which says many crashes would never have happened if pilots were just capable of basic piloting skills and standards were higher.
As the 12th anniversary of AF447 looms, the chorus of concern over the lack of progress on the degradation of flying standards has now been joined by the highly respected RAeS flying group, a body hardly noted for exaggeration, with a study that calls for skill-based training and an urgent raising of regulatory standards and oversight, and the application of uniform standards of compliance. They are not alone in this view.
In 2009, just before the loss of AF447, University of Southern California engineering professor and aviation safety expert Najmedin Meshkati suggested that the aviation industry and its regulators had become “star-struck by technological solutions”. He surmised that this was due to the fatality-free record at that time of aircraft such as the A330 and 777 in commercial service.
“We have become complacent by thinking that technology will solve all the problems,” he said just four days before AF447 plunged into the mid-Atlantic.
Meshkati warned at the time that he believed that all the wizardry of modern technology was masking a deterioration and de-skilling in basic flying ability and that the lessons learned by generations of pilots “may be lost to the new breed of pilots.”
Fast forward 12 years to 2021 and Captains John Leahy, Robert Scott, and Alex Fisher, assisted by other experienced members of the RAeS Flight Operations Group are issuing a similar blunt warning in a new paper. They emphasize that now is the moment for decisive industry action, given the COVID pause – a period of much-reduced aviation activity
Their study, Airline Pilot Training – It is time to revisit the basics, warns that “many recent airline accidents have shown clear evidence of a common cause, whether from fatal crashes or devastating hull losses without fatalities. That common cause is the inability of the pilots, in far too many cases, to cope with the situation they faced. Sometimes it was when the automatic systems failed, requiring them to fly manually. In others, they were trying to deal with what should have been a relatively benign situation and they simply did not cope.”
It adds that “pilot training is currently a combination of learning basic handling skills and the ability to manage complex automated systems but with an ever-increasing emphasis on the latter. So, although management of automation has improved, much less time is now spent on developing and maintaining the basic skills that are so necessary when automation fails or causes confusion.”
The problem is not new
Tragically, the problem is not new and reflects the findings of a 1995 comprehensive NASA Research Centre study based on Royal Air Force Institute of Aviation Medicine data by Dr. Marianne Rudisill who surveyed more than 1,000 pilots from 20 airlines and aircraft manufacturers about pilots’ attitudes and experience with flight deck automation.
The strength of that study was that most respondents had flown aircraft from basic cockpit types like 727s through to Glass 2 types such as A320s and 747-400s. It found the general consensus was that “safety is increased with automation, but automation may lend a false sense of security, particularly with inexperienced pilots.”
Very concerning was that pilots reported that there was a higher sense of “insecurity” during an automation failure and a general temptation to ignore raw information and “follow the green/magenta line.” The most worrying aspect was that pilots said their colleagues were “becoming complacent and relied too much on automation but that was often because airline SOPs mandated reliance on automation.”
And that aspect has not changed since, according to a 2019 International Air Transport Association pilot survey, which found that only 36 per cent of respondents said that their airline policy supported manual flying without restrictions.
In the same survey 92 per cent of respondents said they believed that training should put more emphasis on the unexpected transition from automatic flight to manual flying and vice versa.
In its 2019 Aircraft Handling and Manual Flying Skills report, IATA said that “continuous use of automation does not strengthen pilots’ knowledge and skills in manual flight operations and in fact could lead to degradation of the pilot’s ability to quickly recover the aircraft from an undesired state.”
It added that “poor manual techniques are flagged by a number of accident analyses that cite inappropriate or erroneous control inputs by the flight crew in response to abnormal events. Although the overall Loss of Control in Flight (LOC-I) accident rate has decreased, this accident category continues to outpace other factors as the leading cause of fatal accidents. A number of these accidents may have had a different outcome if the pilots had shown a higher level of monitoring and manual flying skills. Poor manual techniques may also lead to other events such as hard landings, unstable approaches, runway excursions, and others.”
A tragic example is the loss of the Atlas Air Boeing 767-300 at Trinity Bay Texas in February 2019 where the NTSB found that the probable cause of this accident was the inappropriate response by the first officer as the pilot flying to inadvertent activation of the go-around mode, which led to his spatial disorientation and nose-down control inputs that placed the airplane in a steep descent from which the crew did not recover.
It added that contributing to the accident was the captain’s failure to adequately monitor the airplane’s flight path and assume positive control of the airplane to effectively intervene. Also contributing were systemic deficiencies in the aviation industry’s selection and performance measurement practices, which failed to address the first officer’s aptitude-related deficiencies and maladaptive stress response.
The RAeS paper expresses concerns that pilot training has changed greatly, particularly in the last two decades. They said in a recent interview with AirlineRatings.com “pilots need to be trained to fly on instruments once again (IF Skills), in all conditions of weather, ‘g’ forces and distracting illusionary factors, and have complete confidence in their ability to do this. That skill deficit is the one most in need of urgent reform.”
The RAeS paper states that pilot training “is now shorter in duration, with less flight time on real aircraft, less exposure to the resultant stress of actual flight and much of it, computer-based. Full Flight (Level 4) simulator time is reduced in many cases to the minimum required to satisfy regulatory requirements.”
That concern is supported by the president and CEO of GHS Aviation Group, LLC, George Snyder, who is troubled by “the dichotomy between OEM’s suggested automation use and the need for operators to ensure that flight crews are equally proficient in both manual flying and use of automation”.
Mr. Snyder, former chief pilot at US Air and responsible for turning Korean Air’s flight standards around just over 20 years ago adds “I am now seeing it show up in the General Aviation sector, most notably in flight schools. I brought out my E6B (circular computer) in front of some primary students recently and it was like they were looking at a fossil. I understand the need for enhanced use of automation and technology, but a balance remains a critical flight safety issue,” Mr. Snyder said.
Of particular concern says the RAeS paper is the high percentage of the accidents that fall into the LOC-I category. “Often this has nothing to do with extraordinary and demanding circumstances but instead the pilots’ failure to cope with the most fundamental activity, that of being capable of using the aircraft flight controls to manage the flight path of the aircraft when the automation fails them. Although the actual loss of control was sometimes triggered by external factors such as adverse weather, it was often compounded by human factors such as poor decision making, technology mode confusion, and inadequate communications between the pilots. In most cases, LOC-I resulted in a non-survivable accident.”
“The fact is LOC-I has been the number one cause of fatalities in aircraft accidents for many years, yet the training required to address this most fundamental pilot activity is obviously not being carried out to the extent that it should. A strong safety culture with an emphasis on pilot performance excellence must be supported at the highest level in any airline, whatever the perceived financial costs.”
One reason says Captain Fisher of the RAeS group is “maybe that accident reports rarely get to the fundamental problem of the pilot’s inability to fly on instruments. Instead, they ascribe the loss of control to ‘sensory illusions’ and “g forces”. But overcoming such illusions is the number one task of any instrument-rated pilot; blaming LOC-I on sensory illusion is like blaming the crash on gravity.”
The RAeS paper asks the question. “How is the [safety] risk evaluated and thus the amount of training which is considered appropriate?’ It would appear that, in some airlines, senior management equates the industry’s low accident rate to low risk and thus any training that extends beyond satisfying regulatory requirements and the recommendations of the airplane manufacturer is an unnecessary expense. This completely overlooks the fact that this decision may then restrict the knowledge and skills of the pilots concerned to a narrow range and make it extremely difficult for them to cope with unforeseen events.”
And the ability to handle unforeseen events was front and center for the crew of Qantas flight QF32 led by Capt. Richard de Crespigny, which suffered a catastrophic failure of its number 2 engine shortly after take-off from Singapore in 2010.
The crew had to nurse their crippled A380 for two hours while dealing with multiple system failures and sometimes confusing information before landing back safely at Singapore.
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau which conducted the accident investigation noted that the well-trained crew had saved the A380.
Discussing that event and wider training issues with the author in a 2011 interview, Captain Dave Evans, who was checking another check captain on that flight noted that some young prospective pilots lacked basic skills because they “learned to fly” using Flight Simulator and had not used rudder pedals and thus their flying skills once they got into the real world were degraded.
Flight Simulator with a single screen also narrowed their perspectives and they lacked “peripheral skills,” Capt. Evans noted.
Those disturbing observations resonated with Captain Robert Sumwalt III, former Chairman, Human Factors and Training Group Air Line Pilots Association International, and now Chairman of the NTSB who co-authored a 2002 paper Enhancing Flight-crew Monitoring Skills Can Increase Flight Safety which found that “effective crew monitoring and cross-checking can literally be the last line of defense.”
At the time Sumwalt cited NTSB’s examination of 37 accidents which found that 84 per cent involved inadequate crew monitoring or challenging of the fellow cockpit crew.
“The NTSB has found that lack of monitoring of instruments is still a major factor in accidents,” Sumwalt said.
An example of this was the loss of Pakistan International Airlines A320 at Karachi in May 2020 and 97 souls where the preliminary report found multiple failures by the crew.
A Wide Disparity in Standards
Another area of concern in the RAeS paper is that on the one hand, many airlines, for example, Qantas, Cathay Pacific Airways and British Airways (as just three examples) have an excellent safety record acquired over many decades while on the other, far too many do not.
“It is the view of the group that this is not just a matter of luck. It is abundantly clear from our many years of working in the industry that some airlines set a high standard that far exceeds the minimum required by the regulations. This may include such measures as only recruiting superior candidates from the best training colleges, and training them to the highest standards, not only at the entry stage but on an ongoing basis during their time with the airline.
That claim is backed up by a former Airbus check and training captain who told Airlineratings.com that top-line airlines such as Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines “would often double the required training hours for their pilots, whereas other airlines, would not even pay for basic ‘Airbus’ training because it was too expensive.”
The situation is complicated says the RAeS paper by the fact that “there are different training methods in use globally and there isn’t universal agreement on which ones are better than the others. In some cases, culture influences the decisions on which ones to use, and in others, the decision can be financial or even based on the recommendations of regulators or OEM’s. A wide variety of modern advanced training tools and techniques (such as AQP, CBTA, MPL and EBT) are popular in the industry but have gained different traction in different operating environments.
The authors of the RAeS paper are concerned about the “wide disparity in safety standards of airlines, and of their pilots, together with a similar disparity in regulators and regulatory oversight. Alignment of training methodology on a global scale would lead to better exchanges of ideas and understanding of each other’s operational challenges and an overall increase in operating standards.”
It warns that “as the accident rate is relatively low compared to the past it could be assumed that all is well in the industry. However, it is not the number of accidents that is the concern, it is the cause and the severity of them. The lack of essential skills and handling ability that have led to many recent accidents is evidence of a low proficiency of some of the pilots currently flying public transport aircraft.
“A major factor is poor training. Many pilots are rushed through inadequate ab initio training courses with the emphasis on getting them through quickly and as inexpensively as possible. Thus, they are poorly prepared for the challenges of converting on to larger, more complex aircraft in an airline setting, carried out in accordance with a significantly reduced training model.
“This environment does not encourage the development and maintenance of the skills and knowledge that are essential to safely and competently operating today’s complex aircraft, something that is borne out by the accident reports.”
This issue is highlighted in IATA’s 2020 safety report with Captain Rubén Morales, Chair, of IATA Accident Classification Technical Group warning that “when we look at the contributing factors present in 2020 accidents, manual handling is at top of the contributing factors associated with flight crew errors. Other areas of concern are deficient safety management systems, regulatory oversight, and selection systems, all of them latent conditions present in the system before the accident happened. These latent conditions have been present consistently year after year, highlighting the need for improvement in these areas.”
The IATA safety report also states that “for effective Safety Leadership in aviation, airline executives should set a leadership mindset that enables safety-focused behaviors to embed a positive organizational safety culture. Applied globally, this should be supported by clearly defined safety accountabilities to enable an effective safety culture to exist within each, and every, aviation service provider around the world.”
The role of the regulators is coming under much greater scrutiny with the global compliance of the ICAO country audits ranging from only 56.32 per cent for Aircraft Investigation to 81.23 per cent for Airworthiness with an overall average just 69.8 per cent. The eight audit areas are Legislation, Organization, Licensing, Operations, Airworthiness, Accident Investigation Air Navigation Services, and Aerodromes.
A disturbing 23 countries were below average for all eight audit criteria, while a further 22 only achieved one or two above-average passes.
These poor results are played out – and underscored the RAeS paper’s concerns – in the IATA 2020 safety report which found that Regulatory Oversight was a major latent factor in aircraft accidents at 45 per cent contribution just behind Safety Management at 47 per cent.
With Flight Crew errors for 2020, manual handling/flight controls topped with a 39 per cent contribution with SOP Adherence/ SOP Cross Verification at 29 per cent.
Disturbingly the five years figures are much the same.
Far worse, however, is the role these latent issues played in Fatal Accidents over the last five years with Safety Management at 71 per cent and Regulatory Oversight at 65 per cent.
Again, Flight Crew errors and SOP Adherence / SOP Cross Verification and Manual Handling / Flight Controls were top contributors in Fatal Accidents in the past five years at 56 per cent and 50 per cent.
These regulatory issues also play out in the EU and FAA banned lists, with 98 airlines from 24 countries banned from European skies and all airlines from 24 countries banned from the USA under the FAA’s International Aviation Safety Assessment program.
Prof. Meshkati considers the aviation industry’s exuberant blind embracement of more automation is promoted for the sake of more efficiency and cost-saving, without considering its serious unwanted consequences and contingencies for ‘what if it fails’ and ‘what to do next’, as a “rendition of Faustian bargain”.
He has an additional and equally serious concern that when an utterly unexpected, unfamiliar, non-routine event occurs, which was unforeseen by the automation system designers, then the flight crew, having exhausted all options by trying all emergency operating procedures, has to resort to problem-solving (instead of simple decision-making) and improvisation.
In this phase, in order to save the day, the crew has to have a shared mental model of the situation, be equipped with a good technical knowledge of interacting subsystems and their safety margins, and finally has to be able to operate at the “knowledge-based level”, according to the late Professor Jens Rasmussen’s taxonomy of levels of cognitive controls.
Prof. Meshkati cites the 2009 emergency water landing and safe evacuation of US Airways Flight 1549, as a great example of a successful improvisation in the face of no more emergency operating procedures. “This shows particularly in the non-verbal communication between Captain Sullenberger and First Officer Jeff Skiles, who although they ‘did not have time to exchange words’, they knew that they were on the same page through ‘observation’ and ‘hearing’. At the NTSB hearings, Captain Sullenberger mentioned the critical role of a dedicated, well-experienced, highly trained crew that can overcome substantial odds, working together as a team,” Prof. Meshkati said.
In his article Resilience – Recovering pilots lost flying skills about the industry in general, Capt. de Crespigny said that many pilots have lost confidence in flying manually because automation has taken much of their hand flying skills away.
Capt. de Crespigny says that pilots of older aircraft such as the 707 and 747 had excellent flying skills. “They usually flew their approaches and landings without using autopilots and auto thrust because these systems were often too inaccurate or unreliable. These pilots built a mental body model that included their aircraft – they wore and manipulated their aircraft like it was a fitted glove,” Capt. de Crespigny said.
He warns that “modern cockpit designs insidiously induce pilots to focus on just the green and magenta targets (airspeed, attitude, altitude, and track) at the expense of awareness of the underlying raw data.”
He stresses that it takes more effort to operate modern jet aircraft than the older jets. Capt. de Crespigny asserts that the benefits of automation come at the expense of learning these complex mechatronic systems. “Pilots must have a deep understanding of the core systems on their aircraft. Because when these automated systems fail, and they will fail, the pilot must be able to land the aircraft with the remaining systems.”
Pilots of today’s computerized aircraft must understand complicated software logic rules and procedures. If you don’t it could be a disaster. You never want to fly an aircraft that takes control away from you. So, you must know when to trust automation and to respect its limitations, when to be skeptical and when to reject it and take manual control.”
Captain Robert Scott of the RAeS Flight Operations Group sums up the situation like this:
“Over the last two decades, we have seen what can only be described as a ‘Dumbing Down of the Airline Pilot’. The intellectual and physical skills once required of the pilot have largely been replaced by an emphasis on ‘soft skills and automation management. The pilot who once cynically challenged sources of information now readily accept information from a variety of sources, many computer-generated, without question. We know from bitter experience that when this information is flawed it is often not recognized as being useless to safe flight path management.
“It seems hardly surprising, therefore, that many pilots lack the technical knowledge of their forbears and may thus feel they are on the periphery of the operation, rather than in charge of it. Regrettably, events often indicate that improvements to human skills have not matched improvements in technology, and until they do, the human operator will continue to make mistakes due to a misunderstanding of the technology, or, more commonly, complacency due to over-reliance on the automated systems.
“An editorial comment in a major aviation publication laid the blame on regulators for the current problems. However, this is an inaccurate and unfair comment. Many CEOs, Directors of Operations, and Flying Training Managers have been seduced by the idea that modern aircraft are so reliable that traditional skills and knowledge can be reduced to the absolute minimum and replaced by mere management of the automatic systems. Consequently, pilots often receive the minimum amount of training, which is borne out by some recent accidents. Regrettably, while the names and reputations of the pilots involved in some aircraft accidents will always be associated with incompetence, the people who bear much of the responsibility for their lack of skills, the CEOs, Directors of Operations and Flying Training Managers will enjoy comfortable anonymity.” The RAeS paper states that the days are now over where the senior management team can avoid scrutiny.
Is there a solution?
The authors of the RAeS paper believe there is, and moreover, now there is a once-off opportunity to do it. Capt. Leahy says “This unique period of relative inactivity provides what is probably the last chance to make a major correction in the trajectory of this juggernaut of an industry; the objective must be to get pilots back to a level of skill that permits them to understand and oversee the automatics, yet still be able to take over when they fail. This chance should not be wasted.”
So now that we know the problem, is there a realistic solution?
The RAeS authors say the list is long, but they suggest six immediate actions;
Some Industry Regulators need to review and if applicable, raise their own standards, and comply with mandated standards from ICAO. The current bar is set too low in places, and enforcement is too patchy.
CEOs and Boards of airlines also need to review their own standards and never hide behind poor regulation. They now have a massive incentive: – If they fall short, they may well be held accountable for the next accident(s) as was Boeing and their CEO after the two Max disasters. Boeing was found as culpable as the FAA. That is something completely new that should promote a whole new way of thinking at the very top.
The Chief Pilots and Training Managers must speak up and be heard by the CEO. They usually know where the problems lie but are often unable to convince the financial people of the need to improve. It’s hard to prove a payback to a hard-pressed CFO since there seems to be no definitive evidence. This paper, and many like it in the past, show that there is a great deal of evidence and it is being ignored.
Some training colleges need to train to a raised standard, not to simply get their cadets to pass a list of “check box” items to achieve a CPL aimed at squeezing lucrative fee-paying cadets into airlines that will accept them.
The pilot training establishment needs to wake up to the lack of basic instrument flight capability and take immediate steps to correct it.
And of course, airlines need to understand that just passing an ATO college final exam doesn’t prove that a candidate is totally up to the standard they demand. That has to be established by a rigorous personality interview and ‘capability testing’ prior to starting the Type Rating course.
If those six were to be addressed, it would make a massive difference to the quality of future generations of flight crew say the RAeS authors.
The last words go to Capt. de Crespigny in his book QF32 when he warns; “There is one potential problem with automation: that it will be accompanied by complacency and ignorance.”
Vietjet has resumed regular international flights connecting Vietnam’s major hubs with Bangkok, Tokyo, Seoul, and Taipei, starting from April 2, 2021.
Specifically, flights from Ho Chi Minh City to Bangkok are scheduled to depart every Friday. The service from Hanoi to Seoul (Incheon International Airport) is scheduled to depart on April 15, 2021.
The flights from Hanoi to Tokyo (Narita International Airport) are scheduled to depart from April 6, while the services from Hanoi to Taipei are scheduled to depart from April 11, 2021.
Specific information on flight schedules and ticket booking are available on Vietjet’s official sales channels at website www.vietjetair.com, Vietjet Air mobile app, official Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/vietjetvietnam (section “Booking”), ticket offices, and official agents.
All services from Vietnam will only serve the passengers, who meet the immigration regulations of the arriving countries and territories. They are usually Vietnamese people studying, working, or visiting relatives overseas and/or foreigners returning home from Vietnam.
The airline says passengers should actively seek detailed information at the embassies and diplomatic agencies of related countries to complete required procedures and papers to make the immigration process faster and more efficient on arrivals.
As a member of IATA, Vietjet has also cooperated with Vietnamese and international authorities to implement the IATA Travel Pass or “vaccine passport” to ensure the safety of passengers while effectively controlling the pandemic.
New research backs rapid COVID-19 testing to open up air travel says the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
IATA has urged governments to accept the rapid antigen tests in fulfillment of COVID -19 testing requirements following the publication of new research by OXERA and Edge Health.
The OXERA-Edge Health report, commissioned by IATA, found that antigen tests are:
Accurate: The best antigen tests provide broadly comparable results to PCR tests in accurately identifying infected travelers. The BinaxNOW antigen test, for example, misses just one positive case in 1000 travelers (based on an infection rate of 1 per cent among travelers). And it has similarly comparable performance to PCR tests in levels of false negatives.
Convenient: Processing times for antigen tests are 100 times faster than for PCR testing
Cost-efficient: Antigen tests are, on average, 60% cheaper than PCR tests.
Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO said “restarting international aviation will energize the economic recovery from COVID-19. Along with vaccines, testing will play a critical role in giving governments the confidence to re-open their borders to travelers. For governments, the top priority is accuracy. But travelers will also need tests to be convenient and affordable. The OXERA-Edge Health report tells us that the best-in-class antigen tests can tick all these boxes. It’s important for governments to consider these findings as they make plans for a re-start.”
IATA says testing requirements are currently fragmented, which is confusing to travelers. Moreover, many governments do not allow rapid testing. If the only options available for travelers are PCR tests, these come with significant costs disadvantages and inconvenience. And in some parts of the world, PCR testing capacity is limited, with first priority correctly given to clinical use.
“Travelers need options. Including antigen testing among acceptable tests will certainly give strength to the recovery. And the EU’s specification of acceptable antigen tests offers a good baseline for wider international harmonization of acceptable standards. We now need to see governments implement these recommendations. The goal is to have a clear set of testing options that are medically effective, financially accessible, and practically available to all prospective travelers,” said de Juniac.
The OXERA-Edge Health report presented the following analysis says IATA:
The cost of PCR testing can completely alter the economics of travel. A family of four traveling from the UK to the Canary Islands will take a total of 16 tests at a total cost of around GBP1,600 or EUR1,850 – a premium of 160 per cent on top of the average airfare.
A typical London-Frankfurt business trip sees a cost increase of 59 per cent with the PCR test requirement.
The modeling shows that based on five routes studied (London-New York, London-Frankfurt, UK-Singapore, UK-Pakistan, and Manchester-Canary Islands) the cost impact of PCR testing will reduce demand by an average of 65 per cent. Replacing PCR with antigen testing would still have a cost impact on demand but at 30 per cent.
IATA warns that financial barriers will dampen traveler sentiment which already displays some weakness. In a February poll of travelers, 58 per cent said that they will travel less for leisure once the pandemic is contained. The same poll saw 62 per cent of business travelers say they would be traveling less.
Michele Granatstein, Partner at Oxera and Head of its Aviation Practice said that “when international travel reopens testing is likely to remain part of the strategy for controlling COVID. The type of testing regime chosen will make a difference in how quickly the travel industry recovers. The choice of a rapid test would be a real boost to the global travel and international business community, and our research shows it can be as effective as other testing regimes and as effective as a ten-day quarantine.”
After a year of talking to a computer, Kiwis are leaving the office to re-connect with their clients, suppliers, and staff says the national airline.
New figures released by Air New Zealand show that domestic business and corporate travel has defied global trends by returning to 90 per cent of pre-COVID levels.
Air New Zealand chief customer and sales officer Leanne Geraghty said that the airline has been stunned by the swift recovery, particularly since the last alert level change.
“Our initial hopes were a return to 70 per cent next year, so to recover to near-normal levels this quickly really reinforces the strength of our domestic network and the desire of Kiwis to reconnect in person.”
Ms. Geraghty said that in response to the increased demand, Air New Zealand has added more seats, more business-timed flights, and bringing on more crew.
“We’ve planned a schedule that enables business travel through increased frequency and connectivity, and are also regularly reviewing opportunities to add capacity, such as deploying our larger A321 aircraft on strongly booked flights,” Ms Geraghty said.
When the trans-Tasman bubble is launched, possibly later next month, the airline anticipates massive demand from Australian travelers.
One of the stand-out airlines and a leader in COVID-19 safety is Qatar Airways which is one of the very few international airlines to fly right through the pandemic.
And that is so important at a time when your health has never been so important and thus the cleanliness of your travel experience critical to your safety and peace of mind.
Both the airline and its hub airport HIA were recently awarded a 5-Star Covid-19 Safety Rating by rating agency Skytrax and the airline also has achieved AirlineRatings.com’s seven-star COVID-19 Safety rating using different criteria.
The excellent safety standards onboard include crew being supplied with PPE for every flight and passengers being required to wear masks throughout the flight.
Plus, the airline regularly deep-cleans its aircraft and their entire fleet have hospital-grade HEPA filters onboard which filter out 99.97 per cent of contaminants.
Recently Qatar Airways became the first global airline to offer passengers 100 percent Touch-Free ‘Zero-Touch’ In-flight Entertainment Technology as part of its COVID-safety measures.
Qatar Airways has more experience in transporting international passengers than any other airline because it didn’t stop flying through the worst of the pandemic.
The airline has altered its meal service to eliminate contact and also has social distancing in the terminal and onboarding.
And Qatar Airways is one of the few major airlines trialing the “digital passport” – containing proof of your vaccination in order to travel.
Qatar Airways is also growing its network with over 130 destinations across the globe. That network is set to rapidly expand as restrictions are lifted.
All the airline’s flights transit the Hamad International Airport (HIA) at Doha recognized as one of the world’s best.
While your health is critical so is flexibility and Qatar Airways excels in this area.
Flexible booking options have been front and center at Qatar Airways and the airline is offering guaranteed flexibility for travel until December 31, 2021, if booked by April 30, 2021.
But of course, people are wary of planning travel right now and Qatar Airways recognizes this and designed policies to give maximum flexibility and options.
Qatar Airways has unlimited date changes and fee-free refunds for all tickets issued before April 30, 2021, for travel completed by December 31, 2021.
The airline’s latest enhancement to its industry-leading flexible booking policy has been designed to continue providing customers with peace of mind that they can change their plans with ease.
The airline is also making the option to exchange tickets for a travel voucher with 10 per cent additional value a permanent feature for all customers booking travel via qatarairways.com. The process for redeeming a travel voucher is quick and easy – passengers apply online and receive the voucher within 48 hours.
Qatar Airways Group Chief Executive, His Excellency Mr. Akbar Al Baker (below), said: “Throughout 2020, we have provided customers the ability to modify travel without penalties as a result of the disruption to global travel caused by COVID-19. As we look forward to the possibilities of traveling again in 2021, Qatar Airways will continue to be by our passengers’ side, offering continued flexibility throughout 2021 as the airline they can rely on.”
Southwest Airlines, the giant US low-cost carrier has ordered up to 255 Boeing 737 MAX aircraft – made up of 100 firm orders and 155 options.
Southwest said that it had completed the multi-year evaluation of the successor aircraft to its Boeing 737-700 model, with the selection of the Boeing 737 MAX 7 aircraft. The first 30 are scheduled to be delivered in 2022.
As part of the agreement, Southwest also converted 70 MAX 8 firm orders to MAX 7 firm orders and added 155 MAX options for MAX 7 or MAX 8 aircraft for the years 2022 through 2029.
The airline says that these order book additions and revisions result in a new total of 349 MAX firm orders (200 MAX 7 and 149 MAX 8) and 270 MAX options for MAX 7 or MAX 8 aircraft for the years 2021 through 2031.
Southwest says it expects delivery of 28 MAX 8 aircraft in total this year (19 from Boeing and 9 from third-party lessors), as well as 17 737-700 retirements, ending 2021 with 69 MAX 8 aircraft and 729 total aircraft.
Southwest said that today’s announcement “reinforces the Company’s confidence in the 737 MAX as the future of the Southwest fleet. This cost-effective order book with Boeing allows the Company to maintain the operational efficiencies of an all-Boeing 737 fleet to support its low-cost, point-to-point route network.”
The airline was the launch customer of the MAX 8 and is scheduled to be the launch Customer of the MAX 7 after also launching prior 737 generations, including the -300, -500, and -700 series.
“Southwest Airlines has been operating the Boeing 737 series for nearly 50 years, and the aircraft has made significant contributions to our unparalleled success. Today’s commitment to the 737 MAX solidifies our continued appreciation for the aircraft and confirms our plans to offer the Boeing 737 series of aircraft to our Employees and Customers for years to come,” said Gary Kelly, Southwest’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer. “We are proud to continue our tradition of being the world’s largest operator of an all-Boeing fleet.”
“The MAX aircraft, with CFM International’s LEAP-1B engines, enable exceptional operational efficiencies such as a 14 percent lower rate of fuel burn that reduces carbon emissions, quieter engines which benefit the communities we serve, and excellent dispatch reliability to support our on-time operations,” said Mike Van de Ven, Southwest’s Chief Operating Officer.
Stan Deal, president, and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes said: “Southwest Airlines has long been a leader and bellwether for the airline industry and this order is a big vote of confidence for commercial air travel.
“As vaccine distribution continues to pick-up, people are returning to the skies and fueling hopes for a full recovery and renewed growth across our industry. We are deeply honored by Southwest’s continuing trust in Boeing and the 737. Their fleet decision today brings more stability for our biggest commercial program and will ensure that our entire 737 family will be building new airplanes for Southwest for years to come.”
They may be almost 90 years apart but the Lockheed Vega of MacRoberston Miller Airlines (MMA) and the A320 of QantasLink have two things in common – extraordinary performance and the same registration – VH-UVK.
Western Australia’s harsh climate is what demands extraordinary performance from aircraft to defeat the great distances and blistering summer temperatures says Network Aviation’s chief operating officer Nathan Miller, who forged the link with WA’s aviation heritage.
“When we were looking for a new set of registrations for our latest A320s we operate for QantasLink, we were delighted to see that the UV series was available,” Mr Miller said.
“We saw it as a great opportunity to honour WA aviation and the legendary Horrie Miller, who founded MacRoberston Miller Airlines.”
Mr Miller, an aviation tragic and not related to Horrie Miller, added that MMA, later to be absorbed by Ansett, set up the WA air route network we know today.
In 1934 Horrie Miller was attracted by the six-passenger Lockheed Vega, designed by aeronautical genesis Jack Northrop and Gerald Vultee, with its speed of 266km/hr and range of 1,167 km – almost double that of the airline’s ten-passenger de Havilland Dragons.
While stunning in its day the Vega’s capabilities pale beside the A320 which cruises at 870km/hr, flies 6,000km with up to 180 passengers.
The A320 is used by both Qantaslink and Virgin Australia, mostly to support the booming resource industry’s FIFO requirements.
The Vega had smashed records across the globe and arrived in Perth in 1935. Its first commercial service was on October 13, 1935, when she departed Maylands at 5.15 am bound for Adelaide with two passengers under the command of the famous Capt. Jimmy Woods who would later form his own airline flying holidaymakers to Rottnest.
Capt. Woods reached Parafield in Adelaide after just 7 hours 55 minutes with stops at Kalgoorlie, Forrest and Ceduna for fuel.
That was an impressive performance compared to the two full days flying for West Australian Airways DH.89 Rapides which required a night stop at Forrest on the same route.
And demonstrating the Vega’s amazing performance shortly after the record-breaking trip to Adelaide Capt. Woods won the Perth Aerial Derby air race with the Vega beating a RAAF Hawker Demon fighter!
According to aviation historian Geoff Goodall, Capt. Miller then settled the Vega down into her specialised role for the airline of charter work and fast communication flights between his MMA bases in Perth and across the network.
The Vega ranged far and wide across WA and in 1938 set another record flying from Perth to Darwin in just 14 hours 20 minutes with stops at Geraldton, Port Hedland, Broome, Noonkanbah, Fitzroy Crossing and Wyndham.
When WWII broke out the Vega was transferred to the RAAF but after hostilities ended, the regulator of the day the Department of Civil Aviation insisted that she be broken up due to alleged instability problems, an issue hotly contested by Capt. Woods who wanted to acquire her for his planned Perth to Rottnest airline.
Capt. Woods had to be satisfied with two Avro Ansons which plied that air route from 1948 until 1962.
Fast forward to 2021 and VH-UVK is the 8th A320 to wear QantasLink colours and she joins a Perth-based fleet of 17 100-seat Fokker 100s to support the fast-growing resource industry.
QantasLink’s fleet of A320s is due to grow to 11 this year.
Network Aviation Chief Pilot Rick Heaton says the Airbus A320 is a remarkable aircraft and the perfect solution for WA’s “demanding environment of long distances and very hot temperatures.”
The Airbus A320 is now the world’s most popular commercial jet with over 15,499 sales since the first entered service in 1987.
The design has been constantly upgraded and Qantas has over 100 of the latest version, the A320neo, on order for the group.
We saw it as a great opportunity to honour WA aviation and the legendary Horrie Miller, who foundered MacRoberston Miller Airlines.
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