Automation Under Scrutiny: More Oversight is Coming, But Why Wait?

We are barely into the new year and already it looks as if we have one of the prime drivers of this year’s safety agenda (well, actually, it’s going to be longer than that).

On January 7, 2016 the FAA’s Office of Inspector General issued its Audit Report on the “…hazards associated with increased use of flight deck automation.” If you haven’t seen it or read it, we encourage you to download it for yourself. We don’t intend to summarize the entire report (21 pages including appendices). But we will help you not only make sense of it, but also exceed any new minimum requirements. In this posting, we’ll tell you first what it might mean for your operation, and in our next post, we’ll make some suggestions on how you can take action now to decrease and eliminate the hazard the IG has identified, well in advance of when new oversight regulations may come into effect.

We’ve provided detailed analaysis of accidents and incidents related to advanced flight deck automation in many forms for over a decade; in this space, at industry forums and symposiums, and in our 2013 book, Automation Airmanship. There’s no need to repeat here any of those events, some of which have caused the FAA to initiate the IG’s report. But the IG’s report makes the case for not just the new training requirements (due for implementation in 2019), but also for additional steps that the FAA can take through its oversight (read: inspection) arm. How this is going to play out is not clear as of this writing. But we do suggest that all operators who have not already done so adopt permanent practices that will propel their performance well above any new minimum standards that the FAA plans to implement in the future.

As with any worthwhile improvement to modern airmanship, our position has always been, Why wait?

Here are six training requirements that the FAA plans to implement beginning sometime in 2019:

  1. Upset Prevention and Recovery;
  2. Manually Controled Arrival and Departure;
  3. Slow Flight;
  4. Loss of Reliable Airspeed;
  5. Recovery from Stall/Stickpusher Activation;
  6. Recovery from Bounced Landing.

The IG report recommends that the FAA go even further than these planned changes, by providing additional focus on developing and measuring both monitoring and manual flying skills. Specifically, the report says that, “While [the] FAA has taken steps to emphasize the importance of pilots’ manual flying and monitoring skills, the Agency can and should do more to ensure that air carriers are sufficiently training their pilots on these skills.”

Again, why wait for new minimums when we can all improve to a level of performance that exceeds all the minimums applied to our profession?

In general, especially in aviation, we belive that minimum standards encourage minimum performance. Just put the word “minimum” in any search engine, and you’ll find a definition like this near the top of the results page: “the least or smallest amount of quantity possible, attainable, or required, as in “technical difficulties have been kept to a minimum.” Synonyms include words and phrases like these: lowest level, lower limit, bottom level, rock bottom, nadir; least, lowest, slightest.

I don’t want to speak for anybody else, but I never left any training flight or simulator session congratulating myself for achieving the “minimum.”

In the time between this and our next post, think about how you and your organization can reduce the hazards related to flight deck automation—that relate to monitoring and manual flying skills—and in the meantime we’ll do the same. We can meet back here in a couple of weeks and compare notes. We’ll bring a list of things you can do, and ways to implement them, that you can use beginning now (if you’re not already).

Think about it.

Until our next post, fly safe, and always, fly first


Office of Instpector General. Audit Report: Enhanced FAA Oversight Could Reduce Hazards Associated With Increased Use of Flight Deck Automation. FAA. Report Number: AV-2016-013. January 7, 2016.

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