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Pilot Handling Skills
Pilot handling skills can be equated to manual flying skills.
Manual Flying Skills are typically thought of as pure core flying skills, where manoeuvres are flown solely by reference to raw data obtained from the heading, airspeed, attitude, altitude and vertical speed instruments, and without the use of technology such as auto-throttles, auto-pilot, flight director or any other flight management system. This might extend as far as requiring manual trim inputs and navigation using basic systems.
Pilot Handling Skills will include all the above manual flying skills, but may also relate to combinations of manual flying, speed and directional control together with combinations of automatic speed and direction control and guidance. Such combinations may occur through pilot preference, operational or procedural requirements, or when some automated systems are no longer functioning.
Whereas commercial airline pilots may once have been assessed wholly on their manual flying (aircraft handling) skills, nowadays pilot assessment is predominantly based on Systems and Crew Management, where management of the automated systems and maintenance of situational awareness replace many of the traditional flying skills.
Pilots require handling skills in a variety of situations including:
- Visual approaches
- Circling approaches
- Instrument approaches (some precision and all non-precision)
- Missed Approach
- Reaction to ACAS/TAWS
- Recovery from unusual aircraft attitudes
- Rejected take-offs
- All phases of flight where aircraft flight control, management and navigation systems malfunctions dictate
There are many arguments suggesting that commercial airline pilot handling (flying) skills have become eroded since the growth in popularity of fly-by-wire, glass-cockpit, fully automated, system-designed aircraft. One could add to this the routine nature of many flight operations, the growth in controlled airspace and widespread availability of Instrument Landing Systems (ILS). Pilots flying with commercial airlines will typically only fly manually for the first and last few minutes of each flight. If a pilot logs 900 hours in a single year, fewer than 5 hours may involve manual flying. Also, more and more pilots flying today have never experienced an Industry where flying manually was, or is, the norm, unlike older pilots where these skills became “hard-wired”. This can further dilute the overall levels of pilot handling skills within an airline.
The majority of fatal, and non-fatal accidents, continue to occur during landing and go-around phases of flight, and loss of control (in-flight) continues to be the predominant category of fatal accidents. Other areas of safety concern, for the Industry, include unstabilised approaches, runway excursions, heavy landings, tail-scrapes, level-busts, and engine and airframe exceedance of parameters. Each of these phases of flight and accident categories (above) would appear to involve pilot handling skills. Whilst it would be wrong to identify lack of manual flying skills as the cause to all of these, especially where loss of situational awareness, system malfunction, environmental factors and poor Crew Resource Management were involved, it nonetheless does indicate that effectively applied pilot handling skills may help prevent accidents and reduce the consequences of errors.
Therefore, any arguments suggesting that commercial airline pilot handling (flying) skills have become eroded should be examined seriously.
The increased sophistication and use of automation has improved safety by reducing the workload on pilots, allowing them greater capacity and time to make forward judgements and decisions as well as “manage” better the aircraft systems and crew. Pilots learn to fly (i.e. their core manual flying skills) by correcting aircraft flight parameters based on their predictions to a projected forward goal – i.e. straight and level flight, or touchdown. However, with multiple levels of automation and flight modes it is very difficult for pilots to predict what the consequences of various failures will be in every given situation. Part of the necessary response to automation failures is to apply manual flying (handling) skills. Increased reliance on automation by flight crews has created a risk that crewmembers may no longer have the skills required to react appropriately to either failures in automation. Therefore, operators should ensure that training programmes include means and standards to be met regarding the interaction of human performance and limitations with changes to the normal operation of the automation.
Training and Practice
Basic flying training is predominantly focused on manual handling and becoming proficient in core flying skills. By the time a pilot completes professional training the emphasis is on system and crew management. During a pilot’s professional career as a commercial airline pilot he/she will be required to demonstrate regularly proficiency in certain handling skills, and under certain conditions, i.e. conducting a safe take-off with the loss of one engine, or, flying an ILS approach to go-around at decision height, also with one engine inoperative.
It is important for airlines to monitor the skill levels of pilot handling, perhaps through flight data monitoring programmes and line flying and simulator observations; then to use this feedback to adjust training syllabi. It is also important for airlines to integrate automation use and degradation into training to reflect operational conditions involving manual handling skills – automation not just a theoretical subject.
It may be necessary to provide pilots with additional flight simulator training specifically aimed at addressing pilot handling skills deficiencies.
Accidents & Incidents
Events in the SKYbrary database which include Manual Handling as a contributory factor:
- A109, vicinity London Heliport London UK, 2013 (On 16 January 2013, an Augusta 109E helicopter positioning by day on an implied (due to adverse weather conditions) SVFR clearance collided with a crane attached to a tall building under construction. It and associated debris fell to street level and the pilot and a pedestrian were killed and several others on the ground injured. It was concluded that the pilot had not seen the crane or seen it too late to avoid whilst flying by visual reference in conditions which had become increasingly challenging. The Investigation recommended improvements in the regulatory context in which the accident had occurred.)
- A306, East Midlands UK, 2011 (On 10 January 2011, an Air Atlanta Icelandic Airbus A300-600 on a scheduled cargo flight made a bounced touchdown at East Midlands and then attempted a go around involving retraction of the thrust reversers after selection out and before they had fully deployed. This prevented one engine from spooling up and, after a tail strike during rotation, the single engine go around was conducted with considerable difficulty at a climb rate only acceptable because of a lack of terrain challenges along the climb out track.)
- A306, vicinity JFK New York USA, 2001 (On November 12, 2001, an Airbus Industries A300-600 operated by American Airlines crashed into a residential area of Belle Harbour, New York, after take-off from John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York. Shortly after take off, the aircraft encountered mild wake turbulence from a departing Boeing 747-400.)
- A306, vicinity Nagoya Japan, 1994 (On 26 April 1994, the crew of an Airbus A300-600 lost control of the aircraft on final approach to Nagoya and the aircraft crashed within the airport perimeter. The Investigation found that an inadvertent mode selection error had triggered control difficulties which had been ultimately founded on an apparent lack understanding by both pilots of the full nature of the interaction between the systems controlling thrust and pitch on the aircraft type which were not typical of most other contemporary types. It was also concluded that the Captain's delay in taking control from the First Officer had exacerbated the situation.)
- A30B, en-route, Bristol UK, 2000 (On 27 June 2000 an Airbus A300-600 being operated by American Airlines on a scheduled passenger service from London Heathrow to New York JFK was being flown manually in the day VMC climb and approaching FL220 when a loud bang was heard and there was a simultaneous abrupt disturbance to the flight path. The event appeared to the flight crew to have been a disturbance in yaw with no obvious concurrent lateral motion. Although following the disturbance, the aircraft appeared to behave normally, the aircraft commander decided to return to London Heathrow rather than commence a transatlantic flight following what was suspected to have been an un-commanded flight control input. An uneventful return was made followed by an overweight landing 50 minutes after take off.)
- A310, Irkutsk Russia, 2006 (On 8 July 2006, S7 Airlines A310 overran the runway on landing at Irkutsk at high speed and was destroyed after the Captain mismanaged the thrust levers whilst attempting to apply reverse only on one engine because the flight was being conducted with one reverser inoperative. The Investigation noted that the aircraft had been despatched on the accident flight with the left engine thrust reverser de-activated as permitted under the MEL but also that the previous two flights had been carried out with a deactivated right engine thrust reverser.)
- A310, Khartoum Sudan, 2008 (On 10 June 2008, a Sudan Airways Airbus A310 made a late night touchdown at Khartoum and the actions of the experienced crew were subsequently unable to stop the aircraft, which was in service with one thrust reverser inoperative and locked out, on the wet runway. The aircraft stopped essentially intact some 215 metres beyond the runway end after overrunning on smooth ground but a fuel-fed fire then took hold which impeded evacuation and eventually destroyed the aircraft.)
- A310, Ponta Delgada Azores Portugal, 2013 (On 2 March 2013, the crew of an Airbus A310 mishandled a night tailwind touchdown at Ponta Delgada after a stabilised ILS approach had been flown and, after an initial bounce, the pitch was increased significantly and the main landing gear was fully compressed during the subsequent touchdown resulting in a tail strike and substantial related structural damage. The mishandling was attributed to deviation from the recommended 'light bounce' recovery technique. The absence of an instrument approach to the reciprocal (into wind) direction of the runway was noted and a recommendation that an RNAV procedure be made available was made.)
- A310, vicinity Abidjan Ivory Coast, 2000 (On 30 January 2000, an Airbus 310 took off from Abidjan (Ivory Coast) at night bound for Lagos, Nigeria then Nairobi, Kenya. Thirty-three seconds after take-off, the airplane crashed into the Atlantic Ocean, 1.5 nautical miles south of the runway at Abidjan Airport. 169 persons died and 10 were injured in the accident.)
- A319 / B744, en-route near Oroville WA USA, 2008 (On 10 January 2008, an Air Canada Airbus A319 en route over the north western USA encountered unexpected sudden wake vortex turbulence from an in trail Boeing 747-400 nearly 11nm ahead to which the pilots who then responded with potentially hazardous flight control inputs which led to reversion to Alternate Control Law and aggravated the external /disturbance to the aircraft trajectory with roll up to 55° and an unintended descent of 1400 feet which with cabin service in progress and sea belt signs off led to cabin service carts hitting the cabin ceiling and several passenger injuries, some serious.)
- A319, Casablanca Morocco, 2011 (On 8 August 2011 an Air France Airbus A319 crew failed to correctly identify the runway on which they were cleared to land off a visual approach at Casablanca and instead landed on the parallel runway. ATC, who had already cleared another aircraft to cross the same runway, did not notice until this other aircraft crew, who had noticed the apparently abnormal position of the approaching aircraft and remained clear of the runway as a precaution, advised what had happened. Investigation was hindered by the stated perception of the Air France PIC that the occurrence was not a Serious Incident.)
- A319, Copenhagen Denmark, 2012 (On 21 September 2012, an SAS A319 which had just landed normally under the control of an experienced pilot left the paved surface when attempting to make a turn off the RET at a taxi speed greater than appropriate. The pilot was familiar with the airport layout and the misjudgement was attributed in part to the fact that the pilot involved had recently converted to their first Airbus type after a long period operating the DC9/MD80/90 series which had a different pilot eye height and was fitted with steel rather than the more modern carbon brakes.)
- Automatic Flight - A Guide for Controllers
- Flight Control Laws
- Flying a Manual Go-around
- Go-around Execution
- Line Oriented Flight Training
- Recovery from Unusual Aircraft Attitudes
- ^ a b Flight Safety Foundation Increased Reliance on Automation May Weaken Pilots’ Skills for Managing System Failures.
- ^ Boeing Statistical Summary of Commercial Jet Airplane Accidents 1959 – 2012
- ^ EASA Annual Safety Review 2012
- ^ Airbus Flight Operations Briefing Note: Preventing Tailstrike at Landing.
- ^ Airbus Flight Operations briefing Note: Preventing Tailstrike at Takeoff.
- ^ A332, en-route, Atlantic Ocean, 2009
- ^ EASA Automation Policy: Bridging Design and Training Principles. Version of 14 January 2013.