Airline Pilots incapacitation leading to pilot error
Dear friends I have been reading many posts, and watching many reports referring to accidents involving pilot incapacitation to react to situations that eventually led to disasters when these could have been avoided or at least mitigated with proper training.
Last but not least, the Air France Rio crash, leading to a never ending debate, which fails to adress the root of the problem, i.e. how to cope emergency situations which involve some skills that are no longer instilled, in a profession which creates a breed of pilots who are procedure oriented system managers rather than "airmen" in order to deal with their automated fly by wire 21st century machines.
I wish not to criticize or point at anyone, but rather to debate about the issue that comes up now and then for the need for proper unusual attitude training.
Following are some excerpts taken here and there - Sorry cannot trace the authors anymore- which should give us a basis for discussion.
"Unfortunately, the story gets bleaker when we consider the reality of a typical pilot’s LOC-I skill. The assumption that pilots already have a safe level of measurable skill in dealing with upset scenarios outside their small flight-envelope/attitude comfort zone, is not supportable by statistics or formal research. In many ways, pilots need to be taught fundamental all-attitude flight skills as the core focus of upset recovery training as they do not have any experience whatsoever to fall back on. Even worse, in threatening upset situations, as pilots quickly become overwhelmed and start panicking on the flight controls, they tend to go with what they know. Typically, the panicking pilot has no idea their 20,000 hours of flight skills and learned flight control instincts are predominantly invalid when dealing with the loss of control in-flight threat beyond certain parameters.
Today’s aviation training marketplace does not currently offer a tangible solution to dealing with Loss of Control In-Flight (LOC-I) using readily available assets and knowledge resources. This is primarily due to the perceived risk of thorough upset recovery training, the limited accuracy of full-flight and in-flight simulator fidelity in extreme flight conditions, and the stark absence of instructor knowledge to effectively teach all-attitude all-envelope recovery procedures. In fact, most upset recovery providers either don’t understand what true all-attitude all-envelope upset recovery training involves or dismiss the concept entirely and just stick an ‘upset recovery training’ sign on their ‘aerobatics course’. This is tragic but not really the training provider’s fault as the industry, generally speaking, is in the long drawn-out process of scrambling together masses of concept approaches to attempt to mitigate the LOC-I threat.
Although pilots in general are excellent students of aviation, they have not been forced to receive the right kind of training to be armed to deal with the loss of control in-flight threat. It isn’t their fault, as they are simply learning what they are expected to learn by the industry. For pilots to be truly prepared to recognize, avoid and (if necessary) recover from life-threatening airplane upset scenarios, we need to start their training from knowledge of the demonstrated fact that they have very little skill at all.
Recovering most any type, class or category of fixed wing aircraft from most airplane upsets involves straightforward manipulation of primary flight controls in a manner and order that maximizes the pilot’s ability to resolve the situation to recovery. Technically, the process of applying the core recovery strategy is not difficult. On the other hand, the skills required to do so are counter-intuitive to the pilot who has virtually no all-attitude flight experience of any kind. It is not a complex issue when we’re just talking about identifying the steps necessary for a pilot to recognize, avoid and, if necessary, recover an airplane from an upset. There is more to it than that.
The vast majority of skills that can be transferred are already being transferred. The problem is the skills that need to be transferred cannot be transferred because pilots do not have them to begin with. The primary issue in the industry’s task to produce pilots with skills necessary to address loss of control in flight is to give them the skills that they don’t have. When it comes right down to it, “Transfer of Skill” is the easy part as long as the “Core Skills” are taught properly, generically and simply.
LOC-I has been appropriately noticed but, for the most part, dismissed since the beginning of aviation history and will continue to be ignored as it has been accepted that an easy solution does not exist. A solution does exist and only requires a few days of specialized training. Similar to the few hours of training mandated to receive high performance, tailwheel, complex aircraft and high altitude endorsements, a regimented requirement for all commercial pilots to have an upset recovery endorsement could potentially be aviation’s largest leap forward in history related to the improvement of safety of flight.
Pilots must receive specialized training to be given the fundamental tools to be able to recover any fixed-wing aircraft from a wide variety of stalled flight, unusual attitudes, upsets, control failures and wake turbulence situations. Similar to an Instrument Rating, the core concepts of how to recover a fixed wing aircraft remain relatively constant.
Pilots must be given more than just practical skills to deal with a wide variety of airplane upsets. They must be instilled with the mental discipline to not be overwhelmed by the threatening nature of an airplane upset, be able to contain panicked over-response (i.e. contain the startle factor) and have a trained ability to draw upon counter-intuitive skills in a high-stress life-threatening environment.
Making a measurable difference in a pilot’s ability to address LOC-I requires a specialized combination of the right kind of academics, threat assessment, decision-making, and skill development through repetition to proficiency and recurrent training. Making a minor change to how training is currently accomplished, although likely keeping regulators and training organizations comfortable will have minor results. Regulated intervention is required.
Change will need to be mandated by the regulators and insurance agencies. Airlines, training departments and individual pilots will not use their own initiative to take skill-altering steps to address LOC-I."