Archive for March, 2010

Glass Cockpits – Easy to be Hard?

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

TAAThis week I attended the NTSB’s conference on glass cockpits and whether they improve the safety of  GA aircraft.

ASF conducted our own study on Technologically Advanced Aircraft (TAA) several years ago and reached the conclusions that glass, or technology alone, does not a safe aircraft make. It all depends on how it is used!

NTSB’s study confirmed  several of ASF’s findings:

1. Cross country aircraft are far more likely to be involved in weather related accidents.

2. Cross country aircraft are more likely to be equipped with glass.

3. Weather related accidents are much more likely to be fatal.

4. That there is a steep learning curve to get to the promised land of greater situational awareness via glass. Training and practice are essential.

Bottom line: Glass per se does not necessarily make an aircraft safer.

NTSB recommended specific training but noted that this is not easy to do with the variability of hardware. I naively offer a humble suggestion that ASF made about 15 years ago when there were five (5) IFR GPS navigator manufacturers all vying for market share. The field has thinned considerably. How about standardizing core IFR functionality?

In that way, any pilot trained on one model could manage basic IFR operation in another. I recall that we came up with 5 areas. Be able to fly from A to B using the flight plan function, modify the plan, execute an approach, missed approach and be able to hold. Everything else would be open to whatever the manufacturers wanted to do. Granted, that is a lot but the industry would help the pilot community tremendously by making it easier. And if you haven’t noticed – the community is getting smaller rapidly. One reason we’ve been told is due to complexity.

As is often the case, we try to bend humans to technology rather than designing it to conform to the human. I grant you that that is a tall obstacle with some people but build for the bottom half of the bell-shaped curve and you might be surprised at well the average person does.

What are your thoughts?

We don’t need no Stinkin’ Knowledge Test..

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

writtenexamMea Culpa from last week: Before getting to this week’s topic. I owe you an apology for not checking Google Earth last week to see that Palo Alto airport was NOT in the midst of a housing development, relating to a Cessna 310 that crashed into a house during an IMC takeoff. Any fool can see that the airport is in a relatively open area. Appreciate the correction!

Now – Do we need a knowledge test? There has been discussion in various groups about what purpose the FAA’s knowledge test serves. That conversation has been running longer than MASH or Seinfeld reruns combined.  It came to light again as the only two testing companies, CATS and Laser Grade decided to arbitrarily raise their testing fees by $50 to comply with some new FAA requirements – AOPA appropriately objected and we’ll see where that goes.

Your thoughts would be welcomed, however, on the broader topic beyond the economics involved. The written test used to be just that – a multiple choice form that was filled out with a number 2 pencil and a separate test booklet with charts appended.  Along comes the computer and the test had to be renamed and re-engineered for electronic delivery.

I’ve written in the magazine (and engaged with some of the FAA staff) that some of the questions were designed more to play gotcha with pilots than to accurately assess their understanding of a particular concept. The interpolation of time, fuel consumption  and takeoff distances are a few areas where the degree of precision demanded by the test was overreaching when compared to the operational realities.

But do we need a test at all? Some say that the testing could be managed by designated pilot examiners (DPE) when the applicant comes in for the check ride. I’m not so sure. The population of DPEs is not entirely standardized so the “Executioner” could give a 6 hour oral while the” Santa Claus” might be happy after 20 minutes.

The alternative view is that there is a place for knowledge testing and we might acknowledge that it will not and can not assess all the areas at all the depth that a pilot should know. Do pilots and the test prep industry use rote learning and memorization? Yup and that’s no different then most other introductory learning processes.

However, to pass,  learning must take place  and standardization is essential to deal with the numbers of applicants. Knowing the basic FARs, airspace and charting  is something the test does well. Good decision making and learning the nuances of weather is much harder to assess and we should be realistic in our expectations. You probably won’t get a real view of someone’s ADM abilities until they’re in the real world and think no one is watching.

So, what are your thoughts? ASF will be having the discussion with FAA in some detail later  this spring.