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Pilots Brains

Old 23rd Apr 2021, 13:39
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Pilots Brains

From Aviation Week, thought it may generate some discussion given the accidents referred to, perhaps add the Indonesian 737-500.
Do Multi-Function Displays Disengage Pilot Brains? Ross Detwiler April 16, 2021
While we are focusing on the problem of not disengaging automatic systems and flying the airplane, we may be failing to ask a more significant question. That is: Why aren’t we disengaging those systems completely, or, why have we still lost situational awareness when those systems have been disengaged and we think we’re flying manually?

I conjecture that the answer may be in that MFD (multi-functional display) screen in front of the pilot that shows a perfect, even when not yet flown, approach and arrival.

Two of these three accidents occurred in clear weather, with the airport in sight out of the windscreen. All the pilots had to do was grab hold of the airplane then land, execute a missed approach or, in the Karachi scenario, execute an easy descending orbit and continue with the approach from the proper altitude.

All three accidents occur while a part of an automated system is not doing what the pilot thought it would do; not getting him to the position he wanted at a given time in the approach or yelling at him that he is doing something wrong (too low or too fast). Things aren’t working, but the pilot in all three instances didn’t heed the warnings coming from outside the screen, or perhaps those warnings and cues didn’t even penetrate the pilot’s consciousness.

I’m not an expert in video presentations, but I can read and I’ve read several methods that a video sales person described to capture and hold a viewer’s attention. Of course, she was doing it for the purpose of selling that viewer something, but her description of the methods of holding the viewers’ attention were very interesting.

Most successful video ads or spots have to gather the viewer’s attention in a strong manner at the outset. What better way to accomplish that than a “video” where the viewer sees a path that will allow the plane and passengers for which he/she is responsible to reach the successful conclusion of a flight. They are playing a real life and death game. Yes, there is a window to look out of, but the solution is in the screen in front of the pilot, just as a texting driver doesn’t see the solution in front of the car, only the one on his phone screen.

One of the next requirements mentioned by the blogger is not to have the picture end. To engage people, the video in front of them scrolls so there is always something new to see. What could be more of a “scrolling” video than the flight path jumping from waypoint to waypoint on the screen in front of the pilot.

Another concept is to have the screen relatively clean of anything but the point one is trying to make. We do that with the extremely strong picture of the end of the approach at a runway; the ground, safety, home. The pilot’s attention is drawn into that screen and into the end point of the lines on that screen--touchdown.

Am I grasping at straws here? I don’t think so. There has to be some explanation as to why pilots are getting tangled up in and around automation when it’s not leading them to the desired outcome.

Perhaps they are so drawn into the video presentation in front of them that, on autopilot or not, the solution lies in the picture on that screen in front of them and doing what they had briefed they would do in a normal situation.

The Asiana Airlines Flight 214 pilot is high, but he doesn’t disconnect and grab the throttles. He corrects his in-space position, all the while not being aware the auto-throttles are not there to catch his speed. He has not committed to abandoning the automation.

For the British Airbus A320 flight in the sand storm, the pilot doesn’t see what he expects on the screen, but he doesn’t abandon “the show” in front of him. The pilot is so drawn into a screen and evolving video that he can’t bring himself to disconnect from it even when it is not serving him well.

Finally, as I see it at this point, although the Pakistani International Airlines (PIA) Flight 8303 pilot sees the runway in front of him, his attention is so strongly locked on the original scenario that he doesn’t compute the warnings he’s getting from ATC and from the airplane itself. When attempting to correct the situation with an open descent doesn’t work, he does disconnect, but then is still so engrossed in that picture on the screen that he doesn’t “see” that he’s trying the impossible. He appears to me to have lost situational awareness and even raises the gear and flaps at the point where they might have allowed him to at least have got the plane on the ground and stopped, albeit embarrassingly long.

Perhaps, it’s not disconnecting or staying connected to the autopilot that’s the problem. Perhaps, seeing a projected flight path on that “video screen” in front of the pilot is so attention grabbing that it blocks room in the brain to compute the solution outside of that screen even when a pilot appears to be looking in that direction through the windshield. Forget the autopilot. Is the cockpit “video” disconnecting the pilot’s brain?
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Old 23rd Apr 2021, 15:45
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An interesting hypothesis. The modern PFD does have a lot of information displayed, and maybe not all pilots can assimilate it. However; even if not all displayed on one screen, all the information does need to be assimilated !

I think it could be the flight director that is leading to some of these accidents? The rookie pilot might get used to glancing at the flight director rather than looking at the basic flight parameters.

If the flight director has been given the wrong information, it might well be centred and the automatics might be following it - leading to the rookie pilot or the pilot with poor SA to think everything is OK. However, if they are not routinely looking "through" the flight director to check that the attitude, V/S, altitude, speed and flight path are all sensible and reasonable, then problems could arise and bad situations could get missed.

I wonder if going from basic training on C172 equivalents straight onto big jets, with their flight directors, is producing these problems in some pilots? Those of us who's first commercial jobs were in aircraft with no flight directors and no automatics, and who therefore spent years and many hours hand flying with reference to the basic T instruments in real life ATC environments, perhaps gained a deeply ingrained scan and situational awareness.

I can imagine that the rookie pilot who has received only basic and abbreviated training directly onto a LoCo modern jet might rely too much on a flight director and come to trust that if they believe they have programmed the correct route into the FMGC/FMS, then all will be well. But for example, if a short cut is given and the pilot does not mentally check their 3x table, and/or is not aware what the green energy circle display means, they might get into trouble.
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Old 23rd Apr 2021, 16:13
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It just comes down to not being lazy with the monitoring. The reliability of these automatics tricks pilots into thinking everything may be ok at first glance which leads to confirmation bias because you're expecting it to be doing it's thing as it normally does.

Don't allow yourself to get trapped into a false mindset and keep exercising the brain with active monitoring.
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Old 23rd Apr 2021, 18:17
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Kind of. Unfortunately, humans are pretty bad at monitoring things that don’t change much and/or go wrong very infrequently. We are hardwired for motion, interest and relevance. You can try this by looking for an extended period at something static, without moving your eyes: eventually it starts to lose meaning and even start to morph and/or trigger strange visual sensations.

Having a PFD with a FD doesn’t really help either, compared with a steam instrument setup. Mode confusion/awareness is a big issue too; IMO, the current generation of EFIS is far from optimal in presentation and if there are multiple problems, warnings can overload your ability to process them.
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Old 23rd Apr 2021, 19:39
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When I began flying the 320, I found myself mentally confused with the ND.
The variable scale from 10 to 320 nm did not allow me to intuitively grasp the the distances and times that were displayed.
I always thought during the approach that the time/distance was that of a higher scale.
Until I consciously realized the mistake. Then I started using the 10nm scale a lot to see the aircraft movement in real time and get a better intuitive grasp that the next waypoint is coming up, fast.
The other option is to constantly calculate the distance vs altitude + speed difference.

It also seems completely obvious that flight path management greatly reduces situational awareness. Imagine a standard approach with DME arc being flown on nav mode. FMS is suddenly lost. Will the average unprepared pilot be able to continue flying the DME arc, in HDG mode ? Or will that lead to a go around ?

Last edited by KayPam; 23rd Apr 2021 at 20:52.
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Old 1st Jun 2021, 08:43
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Two things;

First: The 90 degrees nose down attitude on the Airbus I fly is the same as the 30 degrees nose down attitude on the PFD. A segment of sky always remains at the top. The same is true for nose up. So in a highly stressful scenario 30 ND which is pretty bad is visually identical to 90 ND which is pretty much certain death. FDs are automatically removed beyond normal attitude.


Asiana 214

LHS U/S Captain 45 years old 9,000+ hours
RHS PiC Captain 49 years old, 12,000+ hours
FO Observer Seat 40 years old, hours not readily available

SJY 182

LHS PiC Captain 54 years old 17,000+ hours
RHS FO 34 years old 5,000+ hours

Can't find anything about the British Airways flight in a sandstorm but I'll take a WAG and assume the PiC had thousands of hours and was/is highly trained and the FO was similarly trained.

Can anyone point out the "rookie pilot who has received only basic and abbreviated training directly onto a LoCo modern jet" in any of these three modern events? Can anyone who makes such assertions point out the consistent pattern of events that allow investigators to attribute 'low hours/LoCo' as a causal factor?

I would expect better analysis from a professional pilot.
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