View Full Version : Airline pilots 'lack skills to handle emergencies'

Bally Heck
14th Aug 2001, 21:05
Surprised this one hasn't hit the PPRuNelines already. Article in yesterday's Independant about an address to the Royal Aeronautical Society by "one of Britain's leading air safety experts" Guess who.

Particularly liked the quote

"In a modern airliner, pilots preparing for a flight from Heathrow to Los Angeles in a jumbo jet would need only to taxi their plane into position, type in a code, press the "go" button and then sit back until they taxied the plane off the runway in California"

Anyway, here's the link chaps. Enjoy.

Oh..I can hardly wait. :cool:

14th Aug 2001, 21:19
As you say - an endless source of entertainment. Anybody got a large mallet??

Cheers all :D

Human Factor
14th Aug 2001, 21:31
Nice to know I went through all those selection tests for a reason ....... :D

14th Aug 2001, 21:36
The trouble here is that dear old Learmount
has got a point. Yes - I know that we don't
just press button A to take-off and press
button B to taxi off the runway X hours later
but it is a fact that increasingly the pilots
of commercial aircraft above and beyond a
certain size do get very little 'hands-on'
outisde of the simulator. This is all very
well for some of us who have been around for
a long-time and have a sound background in
the handling of larger commercial or military
aircraft - when it all goes wrong we hope that we have the instinctive reactions to
cope with a given situation notwithstanding
all the excellent training we may have in the

I have friends with BA/Virgin who may only
get one landing a month on long-haul - a fact
of commercial life I'm sure but desirable -
I don't think so. These former colleagues do
however have a strong background in aircraft
handling with lots of single/double engine-out practice. The new generation however are
less likely to get the same degree of pure
flying practice in a real aircraft of any
size simulating abnormal situations.

So it does seem to me that Learmount has a
valid point - not that any of us want to see
articles such as this in the newspapers. Being a simple chap I do not profess any
magic solution - any ideas out there ?

14th Aug 2001, 22:01
As a long-hauler, my actual hand-on flight time is pathetically small. Fact is, I'm far better at taxi-ing the aircraft than flying an engine out raw data approach. And I'd wager that that goes for most of us. Two immediate factors explain this - economy and technology. The first is self evident, automated flight being far more cost efficient. The second less so: Boeing and Airbus have created wonderful machines which rarely sh*t the bed, and which - in many instances - are "self-healing" defaulting to standby and backup systems. When they do go wrong though it gets quite hectic, and it is only then that you really perceive how far out of the loop we are. :p

14th Aug 2001, 22:14
I pressed the button for take-off, and then sat back. Being London TMA, I wasn't the only aircraft in the sky, and I had to intervene frequently as our ATC colleagues threaded me through all the others. One button? Perhaps he should get out of the editorial office more often and join the real world. Maybe "Flight" can persuade all the airlines to let us have an hour of circuits every month, the way the military used to do. (Co-pilot Continuation Training I think they called it). Perhaps the travelling public would like to bear the cost?

Positive Climb
14th Aug 2001, 22:19
Does anyone out there actually know what David Learmount's background is ? I for one am starting to get a little bit pi**ed off at seeing this muppet appear on TV or in the papers everytime there is any kind of aviation related incident.
I am sure someone is going to come on and tell me that he was some sort of 'Ace' Test Pilot in a former life, but even so does this give him the authority to comment on every kind of aviation topic ?
What exact qualifications does he have to make such statements about modern airline pilots ?
He comes across to me as a man who likes seeing his own face in the media just a little too much.

High Horse Dismounted. :mad:

14th Aug 2001, 22:21
I fly an ATR-72 and of course is mostly hands on for TO and Landing. Being former military, I am at the worst proficiency level ever because of the specific and generic profiles that I now fly. They are all the same (other that different airports). I agree that technology is a major player, but just the nature of the beast is making things very complacent. In some respects this is safer, and other respects, this can be disasterous. So what is the answer???

14th Aug 2001, 23:09
I think DL's 'impeccable' credentials werew discussed a while ago here, following another dimilar event. Try a 'search' for Learmount

15th Aug 2001, 00:21
Learmount has no commercial experience on heavy Jet a/c. He reads from his "Safe" arm chair. He knows very little.

I'll have that mallet in turn - just to make sure!

vertical speed
15th Aug 2001, 00:34
I would like to take David Learmount with me to work for a month. I fly "old" Boeing 733's and although we have the usual FMC's our database is far too small to cope with the number of possibilities that we face in the ad-hoc market!" I think he might be quite surprised by the workload we experience on a regular basis! I for one have been to 45 different airports with this employer in the past six months! Nothing as simple as just pushing a single button!

15th Aug 2001, 00:35
Someone mentioned Traffic, but what about thunderheads?

15th Aug 2001, 00:58
If you want to fly circuits and bumps, buy a Cessna.
Airline flying is about paying attention and energy management.
On long haul there are long periods of relative quiet but don't tell the guys flying for Ryanair, Easyjet etc that they only press a "go" button.
My working world is world-wide leisure oriented.
The amount of knowledge and experience required to do that is exactly what you would expect.
The customers come in and say, "Is it on automatic then?"
Yes it is, thank God, I'm busy thinking.

15th Aug 2001, 01:02
..so why did they ask, me if my stoole was black and tarry? And,"Thank you for flying American,American,American,American"

15th Aug 2001, 01:30
As some contributors to this thread have implied, it is not 'skills' that are lacking, but the opportunity to apply those skills regularly enough to keep them honed in operational situations.

This issue is a fundamental problem in human-technology interaction. The basic rule is that the more sophisticated the technology becomes the lower the frequency of critical incidents, but the higher becomes the proportion of critical incidents that have a disastrous outcome (result - not a great reduction in the number of disasters).

The reason for this is that the 'human monitors' (yes - I know, I know) become more prone to loss of situational awareness, partly because of monotony, partly because of a belief system which sees the technology as infallible (to say that a pilot just needs to press a button to fly a plane from LHR to LAX is indicative of a technological infallibility belief system. Belief systems are always to some extent mythical), and partly because of operational practices which seek to maximise the perceived commercial benefits of the technology.

This problem of loss of situational awareness is not solved by simulators because pilots enter the simulator expecting to deal with a critical incident. The state of heightened attention that a pilot enters a simulator with simply cannot be sustained day after day in routine operations.

The reason why such technological environments produce a higher proportion of disasters from critical incidents (although not necessarily a greater frequency because of the declining total number of critical incidents) is that critical situations compound more often because the deviation from the norm is not picked up quickly enough by people whose situational awareness has become debased.

Many people assume that the solution itself will be technological improvement which will eliminate the need for human intervention altogether. Chaos theorists like myself are deeply sceptical that this will prove the answer any time soon - if ever. Also Pareto rules here - the costs of achieving the last 20% of technological fallibility will almost certainly outweigh the commercial advantages of doing so. (Note: engineers and technologists will flame me for saying that, but I'll stick by the asserion and provide empirical evidence if required).

So, at least in the medium term, we can expect the situation described to endure. It will also deteriorate, at least for the next 20 years. This is because we currently have an aging workforce of pilots who learnt to fly and had lengthy operational experience in low technology environments, and for whom situational awareness is a residual habit, and critical incidents are occasions when they can easily and almost immediately access their deep level conceptual knowledge about the principles of flight.

Over the next 20 years as that group retires to be replaced by people who did not enjoy the benefit of such a grounded (so to speak!) knowledge of flying, alongside increasing technological mediation of the process, then accidents of the Gulf Air kind will increase.

My technosceptical view predicts that eventually the unreality of pilot elimination will lead to a degree of stepping back to old professional verities. But of course, by that time someone might actually have built the supersonic train tunnel under the Atlantic.

15th Aug 2001, 02:57
Can't the Aviation Industry get a gagging order on DL? He is such an A***. Does he really know anything about the Industry? I, like so many others in this job do so HATE seeing him being wheeled out to 'express his uninformed opinion on matters Aviation'. Yea, right, typical jerno, makes it up as he goes along.

Self Loading Freight
15th Aug 2001, 03:31
Has anyone offered to take DL out for a couple of flights? It's all very well saying he's out of touch and doesn't know what's actually going on on the flight deck, but I'd be surprised if he didn't habitually sit in on things in the jumpseat when flitting around. His business card would, I think, normally get him up front if he wanted -- and if he's any sort of journalist, I'd hope that's what he'd want.

Journalists are very easy to contact. It goes with the job. If you've got a beef with stuff that DL does, then for heaven's sake email him and say so. If he's missing something, then offer to show him what the truth is. If he still shows no sign of sense, then by all means barbeque the bugger... but I don't think he's that out of touch. He was at the last Gatbash I attended: hardly the act of someone who doesn't care about the business.

It sticks in the craw when people say "bloody journos, they make it all up, what do they know anyway?" if they don't have the nous to send an email to the journo concerned and make the same point. It gives me enormous pleasure -- and usually a great deal of useful info -- when someone involved in something I write about takes the trouble to take me to task about a cock-up I've perpetrated. It at least proves that someone's reading...

Journalism is a job. Those who sit in their armchairs at the front of a Boeing can be as out of touch with the way it works as people who write about aviation from their armchairs in the front room in Croydon can be out of touch with flying. Making sure both sides know what's going on is not a one-way street.


15th Aug 2001, 04:01
Apart from button A & B, DL is right in many ways. I have seen it happen with glass cockpit drivers being upgraded to the LH seat in a Classic. Not just lack of situational awareness but a lack of scanning skills that are required in a steam driven flight deck. Not insurmountable by any means but it does take a long time.

go with the flow
15th Aug 2001, 04:31
Rongotai: well said. Surprising and as a nonATPL involved in another sphere of systemic risk prevention how insular some of the posts here appear.

15th Aug 2001, 08:49
I'll be more than happy to take him on the J/S of my 1011 with no FMS/EICAM etc on a flight to POP!

where's that button again? ;)

15th Aug 2001, 09:53
I think The problem here is an airplane crashes and it's always the pilot's fault because that's the best scape goat. Years later it transpires that there was a chain of events that was out of the pilot's control, but after such a long while the media let alone the public could care less.

We need more exposure like in the book "Crisis on the flight deck" in the media, where the fit hits the shan and it turns out ok because of pilot skill, but if no-ones hurt then it's not news is it nowdays.

Take the BA flight to Kenya with the crazy causing loss of control. Lots said about the crazy and how he got into the cockpit, and the unusual attitude the aircraft went into but not much said about what type of flying skill was required to recover. Now if it had been a smoking hole in the ground I would put money on the fact that the pilots will take part of the blame. We need a level playing field thats all.

15th Aug 2001, 10:07
Mallard when the opportunity presents itself and the workload is low you should ecourage manual flight in the aircraft especially mordern types, there is much to be gained. I say this because you post indicates you do not agree.

Rongotai very intresting, do you think idealy avionic development should slow a little.

Best rgds

15th Aug 2001, 10:31
1. Don't shoot the messenger ie the Flight correspondent.

2. Apart from less manual skills an emergency can come as a shock(!) to pilots who have never had one. The systems are so reliable that failures are unusual.

3. Simulators do not induce panic .

4. Old style military aviators experienced an emergency virtually every trip.

5. How do we train new pilots for these eventualities?

15th Aug 2001, 10:37
Mmm, I ( situation permitting) never use the automatics below 10,000' on departure and disengage early on arrival. I am not the only one that does this by any means in the company I work for.

Why? To keep the flying skills alive for the base checks, I know it's crazy, I actuly use the real A/C to practise for the sim.

It is easy to get lazy and I found my standards were slipping and I was working harder than I needed to in the sim. Using the above regime, problem solved. IMO flying S&L is a no brainer and does not improve handling.

I find my life a whole lot easier now I just polish the skills, rarther than try to relearn every six months.

Edited coz the standards slipped again
:D :D :D

[ 15 August 2001: Message edited by: max_cont ]

The Guvnor
15th Aug 2001, 10:43
When I had the temerity to suggest in a thread a couple of weeks back that modern airline pilots were largely systems monitors with little in the way of hands-on flying, it went down like a pork sausage at a Bar Mitzvah. :D :D

However, the reality is that not only is that the case, but advances in technology mean that even the physical presence of pilots on the flight deck in future aircraft is not assured - with both Airbus and Boeing having produced design concepts for aircraft that would be ground and/or fully computer controlled.

Before anyone says "that can't happen"; just think ... what happened to navigators, radio operators and even flight engineers? From a purely personal perspective, I don't think that this 'progress' is a good idea at all (as someone who prefers three to two person flight decks, preferrably with analogue instrumentation and more-or-less direct control linkages rather than this die-by-wire stuff) :D :D - but the bean-counters have the final say in these matters.

Whether we admit it publicly or not, at least let's be honest with ourselves. DL is right in much of what he says - CRM remains a major problem with many, many airlines (especially those in developing nations and where the culture does not permit the questioning of command decisions - Gulf Air and Singapore Airlines are two cases that immediately come to mind); and as we all know, when the time comes for you to earn your lifetime's salary in the space of a minute or two, the chances are it will not be something you've practiced on the sim - examples being the Gimli Glider and Sioux City. However, through sheer experience coupled with first rate flying skills, the crews of those aircraft got them down and saved the lives of many passengers. It's highly questionable that had younger pilots - who have not had the analogue 'old fashioned' flying experience - been in command, that the results would have been the same; and certainly there's no doubt that the level (and type) of skills required to fly an A320 are very different to those required to fly a 707. Ability to type at 80wpm isn't a necessity with the 707 for starters!! :D :D

gumbi - the L10 is a perfect example of an aircraft that you can fly from A to B at the press of a button or three!

15th Aug 2001, 14:08
There's another angle to this whole 'human out of the loop' debate. What about air traffic control? Now there's a sector which is becoming increasingly automated and the same concern applies -- notwithstanding the excellent job which our air traffic control colleagues do today.

Bally Heck
15th Aug 2001, 15:02
Flying a complicated SID out of a London TMA airport manually loads up the non-handling pilot to the limit. Likewise with a STAR, particularly at busy times. Even the offer of a cup of tea can cause a loss of concentration for a few seconds when the radio calls aree coming thick and fast. Not the time to practise manual flying skills. It's just a video game to the handling pilot, keeping the box over the cross hairs while the other guy's working like a one legged man in an ar$e kicking contest.

As for the benefits of taking the autopilot out in the cruise and playing the same but less challenging and more tedious video game. What exactly am I supposed to gain from that?

Simulators aren't perfect but they are all we've got for practising emergencies. Hand flying the aircraft has it's time and place at quiet times but please please not in the cruise.

Isn't it funny how the media (and us it would seem) concentrate on when it went wrong, but no one ever thinks about the millions of lives saved every year when airline pilot's got it right during emergencies.

15th Aug 2001, 15:30
Hand flying, a topic on which many disagree , especially the younger guys as they are so fond of the FMC doing all the work. I would advocate that airline flight ops management insist that, at reasonable times, hand flying is to be done, to help along some of the junior guys who have not had the the oppontunity in the more automated machines. Departures and arrivals hand flown accurately are quite a satisfying exercise. It would appear however that many do not agree. Ok, so it loads up the NFP to some extent. Good practice for him/her as well.

Tool Time
15th Aug 2001, 15:38
Blast! My primary flight control is worn out. :cool:

15th Aug 2001, 17:49
Company I flew for years ago had 737-300's. Short of crews for a few weeks we had to use two captains per trip doing leg for leg.
Arriving into average airport one cloudy day (base 800 ft viz 10Kms), and 8000 ft runway at sea level, I suggested to captain in left seat he carry out manual raw data ILS. He politely declined, citing preference for full automatics and that was because (he said) he was so rusty on manual flying that he did not want to embarrass himself and maybe upset the passengers.
At least he was truthful, but the real reason I suspect, was that he had lost confidence in how to fly. And that from a 12,000 hour 737 captain. The situation must be quite alarming when low hour graduates go directly into RH seat but with superb automatics skills. Says a lot for the reliability of glass cockpit electronics.

15th Aug 2001, 18:26
Maybe, Mr. Learmount read the book on' How to fly the big jets?'And thought their was not much more to it!
Maybe he should try long-haul for a couple months and see how he feel's then! :p

Pete Otube
15th Aug 2001, 18:35
Why long haul MPH? That's just routine and rather boring. Short haul would be more likely to impress him, if you make it look busy!

15th Aug 2001, 18:35
Ball Heck. Yes inappropriate manual flying will load up the PNF.

However I find that I can respond to tricky SID's out of london airports with a far greater accuacy than the AFDS. I even use...shock horror FLT level change at 1000' when a low level Alt Cap is a prospect. Why? because then, even if I catch the AFDS as the modes are just changing, I still know exactly what modes it's going to annunciate and you don't get a mad scrabble trying to sort out the AFDS.

Half the SID violations in our Company were due to us trying to force the AFDS to fly and respond smoothly to a flight regime that it could not handle. SID violations are now virtually none existent becuase we reverted to the "old" way of doing things, where required.

As mentioned before, inappropriate manual flying does create more work and thus, the time and place will depend on the conditions of flight and the ability of the Flt crew.


[ 16 August 2001: Message edited by: max_cont ]

Chimbu chuckles
15th Aug 2001, 18:43
And so rather than practice he just waited to embarrass himself in the sim every 6 mths?
There are plenty of opportunities to practice manual flying skills and those who protest otherwise are just lazy and not very interested in their careers, just the monthly pay packets.
At the start of my jet flying career I was flying 35 minute average sectors in an F28 with lots of NPAs and a practice ILS every time there was one pointing at the runway I was using. 9 out of 10 practice approaches were flown raw data and guess what? the 6 monthly sim rides were a doddle.
Now I fly sectors which average probably two hours in a jet with dual FMS/EfIS etc and still handfly to at least 10000' on departure and from 5 to 7000' on descent. A practice NPA whenever the opportunity presents(not that often in Asia) and at least 2 or 3 raw data ILSs a month...and still the scan rate is not what it was.
To do less than that is unteniable, I can still fly a nice Flight Idle NDB approach or manual/raw data DME arc onto an ILS but I definately work harder at it than I used to and it's only due less practice.
Flying manually and without FD in cruise gets your scan rate going flat out and teaches you a subtlety of control that pays big dividends in the sim, provided of course you challenge yourself to fly +/- nothing.
Depends what you want to be I suppose, a PILOT or a SYSTEMS MONITOR.


PS. A fellow ex PX F28 mate recently did B717 type rating training at Long Beach and reported that they wanted virtually EVERYTHING done on the automagics, assy ILSs etc, just press the off button for the landing. When he proceeded to fly them beautifully manually they were all most impressed....he just thought it was normal to expect a Jet Captain to be able to do that. It's a disgrace that 'the system' tries to take away the very best oportunity to practice the skills we all bemoan the loss of

[ 15 August 2001: Message edited by: Chimbu chuckles ]

15th Aug 2001, 19:26
Hi Pete Otube, Long haul, because after a couple of months, he probably wished he had never touched the subject! ;)

Wig Wag
15th Aug 2001, 19:58
In my experience David Learmount is part right and part wrong.

I used to fly a glass cockpit heavy on long haul and landed the aircraft perhaps once a week. Whilst this wasn't a problem I do wonder how I might have coped with a complex problem in a busy terminal area. Certain combinations of failure can be very taxing -as we all know - particularly if you are very tired.

Now I fly the LHS of a B737 and its a very different scenario. Plenty of practice at everything including technical problems on high density routes. I enjoy this job much more; its hands on and all my basic flying skills are employed.

The solution for the long haul EFIS pilot is more regular SIM practice. Say an hour a month of circuits.

This won't happen until the regulatory authorities decide its a problem.

With regard to David Learmount I know he sometimes doesn't get it quite right from out point of view but I am sure his heart is in the right place. I.E. the safety of the general public.

After all, I can't talk to the press about safety issues; my airline would sack me.

[ 15 August 2001: Message edited by: Wig Wag ]

15th Aug 2001, 20:57
:mad: :mad:

Might I suggest we all re-read the article in The Independent. I have to say this kind of simplistic claptrap really makes my blood boil.

I would agree that as professional airline pilots we can debate the merits of hands-on versus automatic flight.

But to my mind the question this thread poses is why a self-styled "safety expert" can denigrate our professionalism in such an offhand and perjorative fashion, with no comeback?

If manual flying skills are so bad, I'd love to know who's flying the sodding aircraft on a dark, wet night with a slippery runway and a nasty gusting crosswind right on limits? How come millions of flights go on every year in horrible weather without incident?

As for the future, as a short haul jet trainer I've seen many low time pilots whose handling skills develop very quickly to the required standard and beyond. Those who don't won't have a job. Simple.

Yes, equipment is changing, the F-16 was designed to be more pilot friendly than the Phantom. The A-320 has a different design philosophy to the B-737. What is important is that the pilot's skills and training match the needs and demands of the specific aircraft type. This invalidates Mr Learmount's simplistic observation. I would suggest the examples he cites are more to do with CRM issues than handling skill deficiencies. Not much point in doing a perfectly flown manual ILS if it leads to a big smoking hole in the ground because neither pilot noticed the wrong QNH was set.

The challenge for the future is to make sure that the training and checking systems in place complement the specific equipment being used. Ironically, it was not a lack of manual flying skills but inadequate training and understanding of the pitfalls of FMS that led to accidents such as Cali and some of the early Airbus incidents.

Remember, only we can protect our professional reputations. Constructive criticism within the industry is welcome and healthy, but when it comes from an "expert" who doesn't actually do the job, and implies that all we do is push a button to get from A to B, then I for one switch off to anything of value this man might have to say.

For goodness sake Mr Learmount, as a former RAF transport pilot you of all people must know the misconceptions and untruths spewed forth daily about pilots. Why you chose to reinforce these prejudices I'll never know, suffice to say it does nothing for your own professional standing in my humble opinion.

The vast majority of us are too modest about this job. We work bloody hard, we have huge responsibility, and yes, we are skilled. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.
:mad: :mad: :mad:

[ 15 August 2001: Message edited by: Maximum ]

[ 15 August 2001: Message edited by: Maximum ]

[ 15 August 2001: Message edited by: Maximum ]

15th Aug 2001, 21:19

provided there's an ILS at every A/P you're operating at!!!

15th Aug 2001, 21:22
Right On Maximum!

15th Aug 2001, 22:32
I do wonder how DL has become a "leading safety expert".

Has he been a member of the AIB?
Has he done an in depth course on the Microsoft Flight Simulator?
Does he appear on TV every time there has been a tragic accident and give the viewers his instant view of the cause?

I think we should be told.

16th Aug 2001, 00:39
Here, here Maximum! Well said. Maybe not modest but purely professional? :)

16th Aug 2001, 01:01
He has certainly got the edge [DL] on the rest of us, as he knows what caused the GF crash! The rest of us can only guess [and probably come to the same conclusion] but he has already put it in black and white.

However I do believe that he has it wrong about the GF crash as I do not believe that the emergency began until the Captain took control! :mad: :mad:

Big Buddha
16th Aug 2001, 01:19
There I was over the Bay of Biscay, the autopilot tripped out........ and luckily someone was there to make the machine keep on flying, close call if he had been on board but for the sake of everybody else on board we decided to complete the flight.

16th Aug 2001, 01:32
David Learmount does seem to be quite badly out of touch with reality, and does seem to need to spend much time on the jump seat of long and short-haul types in order to equip himself with the knowledge that he already professes to have.

He does however talk considerably more sense than the John Guntrip who the BBC insist on producing each time there is a major incident. His claim to fame? Well, he used to fly Britannia's old 737s (and in a leather jacket and shades aged 60!) Mr Cool? Well, he thought so.

16th Aug 2001, 06:58
Gumbi,sky9,MPH,Hogwash,Big Buddha and Scimitar you all make very valid points.

Excuse me if I rant some more, but as I said the type of rubbish characterised by this article in The Independent and reinforced by the likes of Mr Learmount do get right up my nose.

A couple of points I just can't let slip by without comment.

Rongotai, with all due respect, I'm sure you're a very talented and much respected consultant as your wordy and erudite posting would obviously imply, but you contradict yourself! You state that over the next 20 years as the well trained and experienced "hands-on" guys retire, then accidents of the Gulf Air kind will increase. Did it ever occur to you that the commander on this flight was of the very age group that you're holding up as an example of "the good old days" of wonderfully experienced, incredibly skilled aircraft handlers?

Another quote from you - these older pilots can "easily and almost immediately access their deep level conceptual knowledge about the principles of flight." That will be of great help in an Airbus with an engine fire on take off.

I could keep going on this one but I'll resist.

Go with the flow, you say "surprising and as a non ATPL involved in another sphere of systematic risk prevention how insular some of the posts here appear". To be honest, I'm not sure what your point is, but it sounds to me very like "I always knew they just pushed buttons, when will they own up to the fact that they're simply overpaid bus drivers?"

Self Loading Freight, you say "it sticks in the craw when people say bloody journos...."etc. So let me get this straight...The Independent print what I believe to be a complete load of hogwash spouted by Mr Learmount, denigrating my and my colleagues professionalism, but you're the one feeling aggrieved because some of us chose to criticise this imprecise piece of second rate journalism? You then go on to do exactly the thing that gets our backs up in the first place - I quote "those who sit in their armchairs at the front of a Boeing....", once again perpetuating this myth that we're sitting in luxury at the front, dozing quietly in the warm comfort of sheepskin, pressing the odd button now and then, all the time reassured by the soft glow of the lights as the autopilot speeds us on our way. The reality is a sore arse from spending the last eight hours with a Boeing strapped to it, a sore gut from too much coffee drunk to keep the eyelids open after weeks of getting up at four in the morning for earlies, in dire need of a sh*t from crappy airline food but not wanting to use the far from private toilet, which is now awash with unmentionables after a long charter and whose noxious fumes fill the cockpit. Meantime there is the constant chatter of ATC in my ear while I try to brief the approach, and in the other ear the cabin crew have just told me they have a medical problem with one of the passengers. Finally their is the prospect of a diversion on arrival as the weather is closing in, followed by a hand flown approach in winds gusting to 50 kts with minimum fuel. A very strange armchair....Oh, and by the way, it seems to me an aviation journalist should have an expert knowledge of his field, in the same way he would expect me to have an expert knowledge of mine.

And then we get to The Guvnor. Guvnor, again with all due respect, you state that when the time comes for us to earn our lifetime's salary in the space of a minute or two, the chances are it will not be something we've practised in the sim.....well, sorry to disagree, but quite obviously, statistically, it will be. Events like Sioux City do happen, but they are statistically insignificant. It is testimony to the success of modern training and the skills of pilots that the more likely events such as engine failures and depressurisations are dealt with successfully in the majority of cases when they occur. Of course these do not make good news copy.

You also state that it's highly questionable if, in your words, "younger pilots" had been at the controls, whether the outcome of Sioux City would have been as favourable. It seems to me this is a red herring - if they have experience of this type, then who knows? If flying new equipment, then they will have the skills to cope in that.

I feel drained now.........ho hum


Ignition Override
16th Aug 2001, 07:55
I just found this topic and due to fatigue only scanned part of it.

411A and numerous others stated that we must hand fly very often, or at least steer the autopilot knobs, using vertical speed and steering knobs-not just push an autopilot button while pushing VNAV, LNAV, execute buttons etc.

How much of YOUR Aircraft Operating Manual, which describes checklist "flows", and normal procedures etc, is written by pilots who rarely fly "the line"?

If each aircraft Fleet Program Manager flew very often, maybe fewer would recommend using all of "the magic" all of the time, with the exception on our 757s. They wanted us to do one autoland per month (to check systems in case of the need for a Cat 2 or 3), but guys rarely used it: hand flying the plane was more rewarding.

Back on a "steam-gauge" airplane, few passengers might realize that any smooth flight is partly the result of careful use of the control yoke and the autopilot knobs (which WE move), along with the manual pushing/pulling of the throttles. We pilots here in the US almost never call them power levers, but the so-called "industry experts" who are often quoted in the media actually think that they understand what we do and say.

And some of the public still believe that many airliners have navigators. On the Gulf Coast we do have 'gators, so they are partly correct.

16th Aug 2001, 09:04
Thankyou for your response, Maximum.

I, in turn, am slightly puzzled by what you say, feeling it to be contradictory.

I made no comment on who or who was not flying the Gulf Air flight. I merely said that accidents of that type are likely to increase as a proportion of all accidents.

Nor do I believe in 'the good old days'. It is certainly the case that 'good old pilots' are likely to have more problems adjusting to glass cockpits than young pilots who have known nothing else. If I confused that issue by the way I wrote, then I apologise.

However I stand by my proposition that regardless of the technological level of the aircraft, deep level knowledge of the principles of flight are an essential asset -including and possibly especially when an Airbus experiences an engine fire on take off.

I agree entirely with you, and disagree entirely with the Guv'nor, on the subject of pilots viewed as 'systems monitors'.

But the main problem for me is not that. While I understand what is involved in navigating into a busy TMA (I have jump seated into Gatwick on 6 occasions, and my son does it 10 times a week from the LHS)that is a normal expectation of the job.

For me what defines the professionalism of pilots is what they hope never to need to demonstrate operationally - the management of critical incidents which exceed the technical capabilities of the aircraft to self correct. And for those, purely technical competence is not enough by definition. Such occasions will never be totally eliminated by technical solutions because the cost of eliminating the last few scenarios is too high. Hence - no planes without pilots when there are passengers aboard.

Given the foregoing I never want to be a passenger on an aircraft where the pilot's training is such that s/he can do everything in the manual perfectly, and can handle everything that the simulator can throw up, but can't improvise when all else fails. It does not matter to me that such occasions are becoming statistically less common.

16th Aug 2001, 12:05
The guts of the argument is, When passengers are prepared to fly on aircraft knowing that there are no pilots up front, then and only then will pilots be redundant.
Secondly the likes of the gentleman mentioned will only continue to be quoted by the media because the media are unable to do their own in depth investigations and gain the required knowledge and experience to be accepted. It is more an indictment of the media than an acceptance of the importance of the aforesaid "gentleman". :D

The Guvnor
16th Aug 2001, 12:35
Maximum - I'm differentiating between the 'normal' emergencies which one trains for as a matter of course - such as depressurisations, system and engine failures (which frankly come as part of the job) - and the much rarer emergencies such as Sioux City, the Gimli Glider and the Aloha 'convertible'. In the latter cases, the lack of sim training for such emergencies means that it is only those with the best flying skills that would be able to get the aircraft down safely ... and, as I'm sure you will agree, much of that does come from long experience. In those cases, the pilots do indeed make their lifetime's salaries in a matter of minutes - because they are venturing into the unknown and they have nothing, other than their experience and skills, to get the aircraft down.

If anyone other than Al Haynes had been commanding the United DC10, it's highly unlikely that anyone would have survived. After the incident, United replicated it on their simulators - and as I understand it, no-one was able to get the aircraft down.

Equally, with the Gimli Glider, if Bob Pearson hadn't been a top-ranking glider pilot - and Maurice Quintal hadn't known the location of Gimli - then it's also highly unlikely that the aircraft could have been landed in one piece.

My view is that it's only really those pilots that have had extensive hands on flying experience with both light aircraft and especially the older generations of airliners - the pistons and the early jets - that really have learnt the advanced flying skills that will save their lives along with their fellow crew members and passengers when the chips are down.

The latest generation of FBW aircraft are entirely dependent on computers to keep them in the air - not the pilots. If all of the computer systems fail, there's not a chance that the aircraft can be brought down safely because - regardless of what the manufacturers claim - you can't fly an aircraft without any control surfaces or power (don't forget that the engines are FADEC controlled). A number of the military aircraft around today - such as the F117A - are inherently areodynamically unstable and again it's thanks to the computers that the aircraft gets from A to B.

Next, I'm still not too sure why some people, such as Rongotai (to pick someone at random - sorry mate!) - view the description of 'system monitors' as being somehow derogatory. It isn't - it's simply a factual description of what the overwhelming majority of a flight is spent doing.

The reality is that as our skies get more and more crowded, then computer systems will be delegated more control because they can react much faster than humans can. And, at the end of the day, that means that the Captain and First Officer will go the way of the Navigator, Radio Officer and Flight Engineer.

We've already come a trememdous way, when one considers that powered flight is still less than 100 year old (Kitty Hawk was 1903). If we've come this far in 100 years, imagine how far we can go in the next 100?

And hopefully nothing will go wrong ... go wrong ... go wrong... :D :eek: :D

Marko Ramius
16th Aug 2001, 12:41
When flying into CFU on a bad night CB's everywhere, 30 deg offset approach folowed by a circle to land, 10 other aircraft in the area, the automatics are a godsend.

DL should be on the jumpseat then, and then he will realise that there is alot more to flying aeroplanes than being able to hand fly.

In fact, if all you had to do was fly then it would be an easy job but the hard part is the flight deck management. The use of automatics make that a lot easier and SAFER.

There are relatively less accidents now than there used to be so things must be moving in the right direction.

Iron Hen
16th Aug 2001, 13:35
I think DL got it right, my boyfriend only has to press one button and I'm flying!

Must fly

16th Aug 2001, 14:22
The latest generation of FBW aircraft are entirely dependent on computers to keep them in the air - not the pilots. If all of the computer systems fail, there's not a chance that the aircraft can be brought down safely because - regardless of what the manufacturers claim - you can't fly an aircraft without any control surfaces or power (don't forget that the engines are FADEC controlled). A number of the military aircraft around today - such as the F117A - are inherently areodynamically unstable and again it's thanks to the computers that the aircraft gets from A to B.

That piece is not factually correct. On the A340, you could lose all 5 Flight Control computers...Prim 1,2,3 and Sec 1,2...and still put the a/c down gently onto a runway. Airbus calls it "flight with Mechanical Backup" i.e. with manual trim and rudder only. It's quite easy, really...on a clear cloudless day. On worse days, it can be a handful, but i would have earned my salary for life if i landed the 'bus in a howling 28kt crosswind and 350m RVR, with that config. As for DL, i have a padded room ready for him....

16th Aug 2001, 14:39
It seems to me that, whether or not we choose to face up to it, David is right on the button here. An excellent example of the verisimilitude of his claim can be found at the following AAIB website:

I do not post this to in any way criticise the crew in question, merely to illustrate that it has become increasingly difficult in today's environment to maintain certain basic flying skills and to employ them when under extreme pressure. Which is, of course, the real point made by DL. :)

Marko Ramius
16th Aug 2001, 15:00

The incident has nothing at all to do with basic flying skills. I do not see its relevence in this discussion.

The Guvnor
16th Aug 2001, 15:18
Marko Ramius - I suspect that what Tilii's talking about here is the fact that although the crew did a good job, they lost the plot a bit which led to the problem in the first place - as is confirmed in the 'Conclusions' section of the report:

Following the initial restriction of elevator movement, probably due to ice accretion on the servo capstan, which was overcome by the use of extreme force on the control column, the crew de-selected AP2. Both crewmembers remained unaware of the subsequent inadvertent selection of AP1. When the AFCS components, were removed from the aircraft and tested no defect was found that would have caused the AP1 to engage without normal selection by a crewmember. Whilst the crew had initially experienced a genuine control restriction, at a critical time of flight in a busy terminal area, the selection of AP1 with the apparent continuation of control difficulties increased their concerns and workload. The information on the status of AP1 was available on the PFD, but the pilotsí preoccupation with trying to maintain control of the aircraft meant that this was not noted. This is not altogether surprising since human factor studies have shown that, at times of heavy workload and in emergency situations, it is possible for pilots to be unaware of both visual and aural alerting devices.

Locgreen - and what happens when the FADEC computers fail as well due to nil interface with the main systems? I suspect that things might go rather quiet!

[ 16 August 2001: Message edited by: The Guvnor ]

16th Aug 2001, 15:23
One thing can clearly be abstracted from all this. Which is: We need more training. I dos not have to be in the aircraft, the simulator is quiet capable. But what is not normal is that, at least in my case, I only go to practice emergencies in the simulator once every 5 or 6 months for my LPC. Its ridiculous. We should train in the simulator at least once a month. At least you would have the confidence of being able to handle any situation. I guess that this might be to much to bear for the airlines.

16th Aug 2001, 15:44
I agree! We could do with more sim time, even if it's to play in and experiment a little with the aircraft.

re Hand flying. There's a time and place for that- certainly not in the London TMA. Autopilot in 1000AGL thanks!

If DL think it's all about sitting back pressing buttons- he should see just how hard we can work- especially under Italian ATC!

Shaggy Sheep Driver
16th Aug 2001, 16:07
The Guv'nor said:

"We've already come a trememdous way, when one considers that powered flight is still less than 100 year old (Kitty Hawk was 1903). If we've come this far in 100 years, imagine how far we can go in the next 100?"

Actually, I don't think we've come that far in the last 50, certainly not when compared with the first 50. By the end of the first 50 years we had jet fighters and a 4-engined jet transport - the Comet - which cruised at speeds and levels not dissimilar to todays, err, 4-engined jet transports (Concorde apart - but that was a 60s aeroplane anyway).

Sure, modern airliners are much more reliable, cheaper to run, and more environmentally friendly. But these and the other differences are just development, not basic innovation.

To go from Kittyhawk to the Comet in less than 50 years is nothing short of amazing. To go from the Comet to where we are today is.... nothing like as amazing IMHO.


Porky Speedpig
16th Aug 2001, 16:15
You're right Shaggy. We also went from Kitty Hawk to Outer Space in 60 years but not much further since. At the same rate of progress I should have been posting this from Alpha Centauri by now!

David Learmount
16th Aug 2001, 17:16
Sky9 and others

For your background info, Barrie Clement, the Independent journalist who "quotes" me didn't speak to me at any stage. I didn't even know he was going to publish the article.

He based the article, perfectly legally and validly, on a brief presentation that I gave to a Royal Aeronautical Society flight simulation and training seminar way back on 13 May. My main question to him is: what took you so long?

Most of what he says is a reasonable representation, given that he was writing for for a non-aviation audience, of some of what I said. Inevitably, however, other things that Mr Clement says are his interpretation of the issue.

For example I didn't say at any stage that pilots push a button at the beginning of the take-off run and sit back with arms folded until the landing. Nor did I say anything remotely like that.

My theme was the challenges facing those who manufacture simulators and those who use them for the pilot training task.

The presentation looked at what simulators can do and what they can't. It also looked at the different needs in today's (and the future's) pilot recurrent training as flight decks become progressively more automated and aircraft become more complex, giving pilots less hands-on time but demanding more - not less - systems knowledge and understanding.

At no point was I denigrating pilots and their skills. On the contrary, I was pointing out that in today's world with today's equipment the task is actually becoming more complex, and that pilots' training needs to reflect this.

I could go on, but if you're really interested you'll get the stuff from the RAeS anyway.

Sky9 (you made your request for a reply on the neighbouring thread about Flight), thanks for giving me the benefit of the doubt. It's clear that not everyone who commented on this thread stops to think, as you did, that even a journalist can be either misinterpreted or misquoted by another journalist.

And finally, I'm not slagging off Barrie Clements. The message, as a whole, was well reported, given the medium he was working in.

David L

16th Aug 2001, 17:28
It may be of interest to you that just a few years ago a certain South Asian airline (with wide-body aircraft)requested their Training Captains to ensure that all of the F/O's had adequate hand-flying skills, and this included the London TMA. These were guys with around 1500 hours total flying time, and when the training was complete, they had no dificulity at all with the exercise. And, the NFP was not all that overworked.
Why then do you, with presumably a lot more flying experience, find it so difficult? Or undesirable?

David Learmount
16th Aug 2001, 20:17
Amazing how quiet it goes when the whole truth comes out and there's no-one left to pillory.

The Guvnor
16th Aug 2001, 20:24
Nice one, David! :D :D :D

Actually, I think it's more a case that the overwhelming majority of people here recognise the underlying truth of the article even if there were some errors in it (including one which I'm most surprised wasn't picked up where it was inferred that the A310 had a common rating to the A320); with the vocal minority on their usual 'journo hunt'.

16th Aug 2001, 21:44
Rest assured, Dave, the Foot & Mouth Brigade will soon find a new victim before it's your turn again!

Bally Heck
16th Aug 2001, 22:51
Quite so David.

I have to admit that I spottted the remark about pushing a button wasn't attributed to you, and indeed didn't infer it was in my original post. However it was a good controversial comment, and in true journalistic fashion I reasoned that the facts shouldn't get in the way of a bloody good thread. :cool:

Having said that the ensuing debate has produced some interesting points and highlighted some intertesting attitudes. Carry on chaps. :)

17th Aug 2001, 01:56
Marko Ramius

You said: The incident has nothing at all to do with basic flying skills. I do not see its relevence in this discussion. The Guvnor was partially right in what he says. To add a little more, I must say I found it a little surprising to read that pilots of the experience level referred to in the AAIB report apparently had some considerable difficulty with understanding that the aircraft's attitudes were persistently in direct opposition to manual control inputs (e.g right turn and right-roll aileron deflection despite left rudder input). Naturally, this is explained by the unacknowledged, and uncorrected, AP1 selection, but it does not explain why the crew took so long to understand this. In fact, it is not clear from the report whether they ever understood until after the flight was successfully concluded.

Again, it is important that all should understand that I do not in any sense point a finger at these pilots. I can, of course, imagine what this crew suffered during those few ghastly minutes and I would never wish to find myself similarly challenged. Further, I am not a contributor to simple 'pilot error' theory and one of my favourite books is 'Pilot Error' which advances the theory that there is essentially no such thing because all human factors accidents can be traced to a causal chain of failure, usually of the entire system that places the human in these predicaments in the first instance. :D

[ 17 August 2001: Message edited by: tilii ]

Stan Woolley
17th Aug 2001, 12:40
The 'truth' may be out here on pprune but the fact remains that the article maintains the myth about how effortless a task it is to operate a modern airliner.

Mr Learmount if your message to the society was not denigrating pilots and their skills, the article fails by a mile to convey these views to the reader.How then can you say the message was well reported? People will remember the absurd paragraph about the 'go button' and not much else, because thats what they believe already.I don't think it builds your credibility as an expert at all.These are complex issues that are not easily explained, articles such as this do not help.

I think that for the ultra long haul pilots there can be a problem with currency and handling practise.All the others only have themselves to blame if they don't practise occasionally - NOT in the London TMA.As 411A said, by the end of their training they could do it without a problem - What about the first time they tried, I could easily be the poor sod a thousand above!

By the way the GF pilot misjudged the approach in the first place, which he then failed to correct either manually or on automatics.Some of the best pilots I have flown with were not exceptional handlers, but their brainpower kept them out of trouble.

By the way good onya for at least answering direct here on pprune.

17th Aug 2001, 15:15
I know what you are saying that its the systems that keep the aircraft in the air, when managed by the pilot, and one cannot operate fully without the other. But you are taking it a little out of context. The mulitiple failures you talk of are statistically very rare, and indeed unlikely. The systems are very necessary and are in all forms of aircraft, and their malfunction could cause a similar outcome. If in a PA28 that lost the linkage to the elevator, most pilots would struggle to maintain control.
In fact you can take this kind of conversation out of aviation. At the end of the day, if you are travelling downhill on a peddle cycle at 30mph, and the frame breaks (a very unlikely, but not implausible failure) you are similarly fooked! Lets face it, there's a risk involved in every single activity.
The whole issue of safety in modern airlines is risk management - risk and cost are indirectly proportional to one another, and you have to balance the two the best you can. With your business venture, I think this is something you of all people should understand; the need to return a profit while keeping the operation as safe as possible.
Anyway back to the thread. With regard to manual flying in the london TMA, I don't think its a bad thing. As long as both of you can recognise overload and stick the autopilot back in if you start to make a balls of it! If you can't do it at a demanding time, you'll never improve... I think there has been one or two similar threads like this before!
I think the fact that airline pilots now have less chance to practice the traditional flying skills, yet can still use them at a demanding time with a high degree of success is probably a credit to them, and the aircraft design. However, more handling practice is never a bad thing! :cool:
By the way guv, have you stole my username for your signature? ;)

17th Aug 2001, 19:26
Not being a check airman I am not in the business of teaching but inclined only to help the F/Os when asked, or when otherwise operationally necessary.

Remembering my frustrations with a few captains who always tried to lead and micro manage their F/Os' performance, I am mindful of not becoming a left seat bully.

My F/Os are entitled to develop their own technique. Most are eager to the challenge of hand flying the jet below FL 100. But some consistently hug the A/P for everything, including Autoland, regardless of IMC or VMC. Their prerogative! :cool:

The Guvnor
17th Aug 2001, 20:19
Whats_it_doing_now - you're absolutely right; these incidents are statistically very rare (as indeed is the chance of being involved in any sort of an major aircraft incident) but the fact remains that they still do occur.

And again, you're right - there's no way that every possible scenario, no matter how wild, can be catered for in training.

However, my point was this - when the unexpected (and untrained for) happens; whether that's the loss of all hydraulics following the disintegration of one of your engines; or suddenly having your engines flame out; or having half your fuselage disappear it's the pilots with the first rate flying skills and above all the experience that will be likely to get the aircraft and its occupants down in as few pieces as possible.

Which is why I can't understand those that ant pilots to hang up their hats at 55. That wealth of experience will be lost to the younger guys who have not flown DC3s; 707s or CL44s - perhaps the aircraft are no longer relevant in today's high-tech noise sensitive environment, but the skills required to operate the aircraft and keep them flying most certainly are.

PS - does a beer (or two) take care of the user name/signature copyright issue? :D :D :D

17th Aug 2001, 23:04
29th December 2000 BA2069 incident. The aircraft was recovered using text book and simulator recovery methods.

When the chips were down the flight crew Capt William Hagan, SFO Phil Watson (at the controls at the time) and SFO Richard Webb certainly knew what to do for which I for one am eternally grateful as I would not be posting this now!!


17th Aug 2001, 23:29
On the other hand, this might be useful ammo against all those NIMBYs who want to stop budding PICs out there from learning their trade.....

Like, get down to your local airfield and do some real flying in your spare time. ;)

18th Aug 2001, 18:11

In the American system, the FAA refuses to implement CRM in the cockpit, hence we have such as AA-1420 and Alaska-261.

In the typical American carrier, the pilots are told that the operations manual suffices for the regulations and the provisions of the Operating Specifications - and the unions go along with it.

That gives us Alaska-506 type incidents.

The American carriers are getting quite famous for being able to cover up a high percentage of incidents, so the 'word' never gets out when a generic problem such as electrical fires becomes a major threat.

The American cabin crews and pilots are very poorly trained to evacuate an aircraft, hence we have incidents such as the American Airlines flight attendant getting killed.

In all of the blatant safety issues - nobody in all of America either knows or cares.

A typical American type-rating is 12 hours of training in a simulator. How much professionalism versus resourcefulness can one expect out of the American pilots?

Check -
www.webpak.net/~skydream/ (http://www.webpak.net/~skydream/)

- for a sampling of the 'rule' versus the theory of the situation. It gets worse, not better, by the day.

Capt Homesick
18th Aug 2001, 18:47
Porky, there are a few posters on this site who are already posting from Alpha Centauri... :rolleyes:

18th Aug 2001, 22:31
Skydrifter quotes ...
"In the typical American carrier, the pilots are told that the operations manual suffices for the regulations and the provisions of the Operating Specifications - and the unions go along with it. That gives us Alaska 506 type incidents...."

Skydrifter: There is a little statement in our operations manual on Page ONE and it says something to the effect that:
"...Procedures, Regulations, Operating Specifications and Company Policies may not issue explicit guidance for all cases or inflight events. This manual is not intended to limit the captain's Emergency Authority or to constrain good judgement and common sense...."

In the AK-506 incident the crew obviously had performed their preflight checklist in a negligent manner as both had failed to check and to set the pressure bleed switches to the "On" positions. Missed first during the preliminary set-up "flow" and missed again during the actual reading of the checklist.

But that's not the reason why the pilots were crucified.

The serious lack of crew judgement was when they continued the flight and climbed to FL
410 after oxygen masks had dropped and had been used by passengers.

Once the masks had dropped the integrity of the oxygen supply was breached and neither the cabin crew nor the cockpit crew could positively assertain how much oxygen, if any, would be available for the remainder of the flight.

Although the copilot questioned the captain about returning to PDX, he was not assertive enough to influence the captain's bad decision to continue the flight, and of all things, to climb to FL410.