Jan. 31, 2014

Technology and the associated automation play an increasingly important role in the cockpits of transport-category aircraft, and a joint FAA/industry working group recently published a final report that includes more than two-dozen recommendations designed to mitigate the safety and operational risks associated with automated cockpits.

The report, titled “Operational Use of Flight Path Management Systems,” makes 18 recommendations that address its 29 findings based on worldwide data from accidents, incidents, normal operations and interviews with manufacturers, operators and training organizations.

The 267-page document is a product of the FAA’s 34-member Flight Deck Automation Working Group, which is part of the agency’s Performance-Based Operations Aviation Rulemaking Committee.

Review the report. (PDF)

Nat Iyengar, a member of the FAA working group and also a member of the NBAA Access Committee, led the effort of several NBAA committee members on this project. He urged all operators of transport-category jets and heavy turboprops to read the report and incorporate its applicable training and operational recommendations since pilots flying high-tech cockpits face the same challenges no matter what regulations – Part 121, 135, 91, 91K – govern their operations.

To mitigate safety and operational risks, in every phase of flight, pilots must think ahead of the aircraft’s flight path and know how the automation will behave, said Iyengar. They must be willing and able to intervene and take manual control of the aircraft when its automated systems do not perform as expected.

“If flight crews are proactive and have a high level of understanding of the automation and mode awareness,” when the airplane doesn’t perform as expected, “they won’t look at each other and wonder why,” Iyengar said. Instead, they will be ahead of the automation and intuitively be able to manage it.