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Does a pilot really need to be trained how to "monitor"?

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Does a pilot really need to be trained how to "monitor"?

Old 17th Feb 2016, 09:43
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Does a pilot really need to be trained how to "monitor"?

Aviation Week & Space Technology /1-14 February 2016, published an article "Is the FAA too soft in combating the ill-effects of automation." Auditors found that the FAA did not have "effective processes" in place to assess monitoring skills both in the cockpit and in the simulator.

In addition the audit said that FAA inspectors say "they do not know how to assess a pilot's ability to monitor the state of the aircraft, beyond observing call-outs."

A recommendation the NTSB issued to the FAA in 2007 to train pilots in monitoring skills, remains "Open-Acceptable" in advance of the new training rules going live in three years.

Where does all this nonsense stop? No wonder flight operations inspectors admit to not knowing how to assess a pilot's ability to monitor the state of the aircraft beyond standard call-outs.

I hate to say this but it seems inevitable that some University bright spark(s) with multiple degrees in flight safety disciplines, will dream up costly courses on how to monitor (watch) a Magenta Line? Big money awaits authors if Regulators take up the idea.


How on earth does one assess "monitoring?" No wonder FAA inspectors themselves are unsure of how this is done. Maybe watching the PM's narrowed eyes darting up and down left right and centre and ears wiggling and hands at the ready to whip control from the captain if the autopilot strays one millimetre from an ILS glide path?

Isn't monitoring nothing more than sitting back and keeping a general eye on where the aircraft is going? Are we in danger of making a mountain out of a mole hill? I suspect the majority of professional pilots think so.

Comments welcomed before thousands of new pilots in the future are forced to pay out of their own pockets for yet another "Safety Related" qualification.
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Old 17th Feb 2016, 13:00
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"How on earth does one assess "monitoring?""

By injecting faults onto the displays and noting the time it takes for a pilot to react in the correct manner?

Sounds fairly simply to me...
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Old 17th Feb 2016, 16:31
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Whats sad is that we have to train pilots to do their jobs.
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Old 17th Feb 2016, 18:11
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" Whats sad is that we have to train pilots to do their jobs. "

In one sense that's exactly the problem, but in another that's a very complex problem. Most of us do the job such that the accident/serious incident remains extremely low. That doesn't mean there aren't close-calls, it just means very few end up badly.

Though largely in the background, the reversal of the role of automation has been considered but not largely explored.

The role of automation (in general) was established by circumstance after WWII during the time when "automatic" household appliances began making their presence (and benefits) known and understood by all.

The role of automation in flight is an extension of the concept and installation of autopilots. So it was natural that extensions of automation such as autothrottles and FMCs, (this latter in the early 80's, initially by Sperry) should extend to control of complex aircraft performance and navigation capabilities.

The notion that this was not a natural way to proceed because humans make terrible monitors of ordinary, interminably non-stimulating processes, permitted autoflight systems to be "the" way that both the airlines and the manufacturers naturally chose to go.

The attraction for airlines was a reduction in crews from four, (captain, co-pilot, F/E & Nav), to three then quickly, two pilots. In fact, I submit that this is the main (really, the only true) impetus behind fully-autonomous commercial flight.

However, what about reversing the role of automation from active to passive?

That means, crews would employ normal automation just as is done today but would have the added role of monitoring (really, auditing) manual flight.

Much needs to be considered of course. Automated protections already do much of this, but in my view, they typically engage long after the fact in terms of what a pilot would do when realizing that something was starting to come off the rails, so to speak.

I've seen discussions on this elsewhere and know there are both technical and philosophical limitations to the notion. However, role-reversal for automation seem a logical alternative to considering fully-autonomous, regularly-scheduled commercial flight.
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Old 18th Feb 2016, 00:32
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"How on earth does one assess "monitoring?""

By injecting faults onto the displays and noting the time it takes for a pilot to react in the correct manner?
A series of trials on new copilots at one operation found that none detected an oil pressure gauge sitting at zero during a half hour cruise segment on autopilot. Hard to believe maybe, but it seemed there was a reliance on the central warning panel to flash the "master caution" and "oil pressure low" segment.
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Old 18th Feb 2016, 00:47
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but it seemed there was a reliance on the central warning panel to flash the "master caution" and "oil pressure low" segment

I don't mean to sound a smart-arse but it is going to be literally a pain in the neck if pilots spend half their life time in a jet transport with their seat tipped back "monitoring " the overhead panel for a possible fault that failed to activate a Master Caution light.
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Old 18th Feb 2016, 12:53
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What else is there to do when the autopilot is flying?
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Old 18th Feb 2016, 13:01
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I would argue that effective monitoring is the result of high levels of situational awareness combined with anticipation and highly cooperative behaviour.
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Old 18th Feb 2016, 13:23
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With aircraft as reliable as they are now, it's quite easy to forget to monitor while in the cruise. If you had some fault every 4th sector like in the old days then your monitoring would perhaps be better as you would be more wary of aircraft airworthiness.
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Old 18th Feb 2016, 14:01
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Working at 100% for 4 sectors 3-4 days a week will decrease your performance as a pilot as the week goes on. Aircraft reliability is a lot better than it was a few decades ago which reduces workload on the pilots.
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Old 18th Feb 2016, 14:07
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You can only monitor, if you know what too look for.

- You need to know what are the acceptable and normal deviations.
- You need to be able to know what should happen next and to a predict how the automatics should react to a given situation.

In other words, you need to know how to fly manually (without guidance), to be able to effectively monitor the automatics. THERE IS NO WAY AROUND IT!
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Old 18th Feb 2016, 16:34
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I don't mean to sound a smart-arse but it is going to be literally a pain in the neck if pilots spend half their life time in a jet transport with their seat tipped back "monitoring " the overhead panel for a possible fault that failed to activate a Master Caution light.

Over the past few years one XAA, perhaps at EASA behest, has added so many legally binding notes & signatures to the load sheets and Nav Logs that it is scary. No doubt they will add a 30 mins monitor check + signature to the tech-log similar to those toilet inspection signatures every few hours.

Auditors found that the FAA did not have "effective processes" in place to assess monitoring skills both in the cockpit and in the simulator.

What scares me is the techno-rush towards auto-drive cars. If we think that highly qualified/trained pilots have great difficulty in 'monitoring' their chariot then what do we think joe-public is going to do trundling down the motorway at 120kph reading the paper in total trust that HAL will steer/brake/accelerate their chariot in total safety? How often is there going to be the "WTF is it doing now?" and "what am I going to do about it?" It's frightening to think about. SUV's will become party wagons with the odd glance to find out where you are.
What will be the training program for such drivers? What will be the testing? Remember, drivers do not undergo re-tests in their life time. Even a PPL has a re-test every 2 years.
Driving at night for long periods on a motorway can be soporific as it is. Do you think reducing the concentration level to one of a monitor will enhance reduce safety? It would be like making an CAT 3B (no DH) autoland with your eyes closed in blind faith that the automatics will land, steer the a/c on centreline and the auto brakes will stop it before the end. Who would do that?
So, if FAA can not come up with an idea about training/assessing/checking pilots to be monitors what chance have the car driving authorities got?
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Old 18th Feb 2016, 16:46
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Sciolistes is spot on. Humans, by nature, are rather poor monitors.
Techniques to improve and enhance the inherently boring and monotonous task of monitoring can indeed be taught..
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Old 18th Feb 2016, 18:22
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RAT 5, I have to believe that the autonomous car folks are not planning on anyone monitoring anything. There is simply no way to possibly train the masses...it'll have to work without monitoring. Not that I think it will work...

Had a CSD overheat on the way back up from Mexico in the trusty old MD80 a couple of weeks ago. There is no master caution or annunciation; one simply has to make a routine scan of the overhead. We descended to start the APU, disconnected the generator, and the temp cooled...so we continued in that configuration. The FO remarked that, "Not many guys would have caught that..." Seriously? Why not? How much of this has to do with a generation disconnected from the habits developed while operating any type of machinery? If you like running machinery, you like watching it work...on the other hand, if you came up through the ranks of the video game crowd, monitoring may not come as naturally as it once did.

At the first moment you think you are bored, it's time to look around. But when it gets busy, active monitoring is tough if you a) don't have good SOP compliance, and b) don't communicate your intentions ahead of time. Next, as the monitoring pilot, communicate clearly...phrases like "Did you see that?" or "That looks weird" are not the least bit useful.

That said, fatigue will neutralize monitoring before it neutralizes anything else. First, they kill the sentries...

I have often joked that pilots who read in the cockpit are safer than pilots who don't, simply because on a long segment, the guy who doesn't read is staring out across the horizon, a million miles away. The guy who does read is so scared he's going to get caught with his pants down that he checks the panel every 30 seconds...
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Old 18th Feb 2016, 18:39
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Might pilots begin this journey during the MCC / JOC course?

If the rights foundations are taught here, progressed through the type course, and then during line training and beyond it becomes fairly instinctive behaviour?
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Old 18th Feb 2016, 20:31
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Sciolistes is spot on. Humans, by nature, are rather poor monitors.
Techniques to improve and enhance the inherently boring and monotonous task of monitoring can indeed be taught..
I agree with the first bit - not quite so sure about the second. Improve, yes but really how effective can you become?

There’s monitoring and monitoring. On takeoff or landing, to apply extra diligence for a short while is not too fatiguing. Same during non-normal events. To keep up a sustained active level of monitoring for 5-10hrs plus is much more difficult, especially if the aeroplane is reliable to the point that things rarely go off-piste. That’s one of the reasons why we have EICAS/ECAM, along with other reasons like detailed technical information is not available any more in the manuals.

There’s Human Performance to consider: I wouldn’t say we were poor static monitors, we are appalling at it! Most of our senses work best when there is changing input - when nothing happens, eventually we start to see/hear/feel, etc. things that may not even be there.

I do a fair amount of LH and ULH flying and I find it impossible to sit there for very long just looking at the aeroplane, especially on a dark night in the middle of nowhere with the other guy on controlled rest. I have to do something that keeps my brain working otherwise I just zone out and start getting micro sleeps.
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Old 18th Feb 2016, 20:44
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"I wouldn’t say we were poor static monitors, we are appalling at it!"

Abundantly clear - all are agreed. We're also agreed that you can't change the human brain, you can only try to modify behaviour, and that never lasts.

So, why aren't computers doing what they're best at, and why aren't pilots doing what they're best at?

Why did automation take over from pilots, when really, it is the reverse that should have happened - computers monitoring pilots (and the autopilot, when engaged)?

Re, "I do a fair amount of LH and ULH flying and I find it impossible to sit there for very long just looking at the aeroplane, especially on a dark night in the middle of nowhere with the other guy on controlled rest. I have to do something that keeps my brain working otherwise I just zone out and start getting micro sleeps. "

Understand that very well, same routine before retiring. To be clear, it's obvious that the "solution" above does nothing for this phase of flight. It's the initial climb/descent/approach/landing phases that we're concerned with and is as we know, where most incidents/accidents occur.

Last edited by FDMII; 18th Feb 2016 at 22:01.
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Old 18th Feb 2016, 23:54
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Don't know what you might have on your overhead panel Tee Emm, but a drop of oil pressure into the no, no region, but has not dropped low enough to bring on the lights, is certainly of concern.

The 737 that drained the wing tanks till the fuel low came on, but landed with a substantial load in the centre may have benefited from a scan of the overhead at some point during the approx four hour cruise.

Settled into the cruise when the pressure dropped into the yellow, with a corresponding temperature drop. Couldn't figure that one out, reduced power to idle to keep auxiliaries on line (twin aircraft) and landed ASAP. Following shut down ground crew reported a large amount of oil dumped on the tarmac, and inspection found the oil tank empty. Cause, a split in the tank to pump line. As long as the engine was operating it sucked air in through the split, which explained the loss in pressure and drop in temp. As soon as it was shut down the oil drained out via the split.

So yes, monitor those VITAL instruments.
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Old 19th Feb 2016, 02:06
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So yes, monitor those VITAL instruments.
Mind you, some people can go overboard about monitoring. During take off from Canberra circa 1964 in a RAAF Convair 440 Metropolitan, and a few seconds after the landing gear had been selected up, there was a crescendo of noise from the port side with RPM needles indicating indicating an over-speeding propeller. There was no time to go through the standard identification routine so I feathered the left prop.. At this point the co-pilot had no idea what was happening and there was no time to discuss things.

It took less than six seconds for the prop to go from 2400 RPM to 3200 RPM before a stand pipe in the oil tank saved the day and enabled the prop to feather. Inspection through the port side cabin windows revealed oil covering the left engine cowls as well as the landing gear and over the tail plane. Made a circuit and did an asymmetric landing. Due for the potential for fire with hot brakes on the left wheels, we used no brakes on that side. Reverse thrust was used on the right engine and there was no problem with the landing run.

Later investigation revealed the main oil line from the engine to the oil cooler had split asunder, dumping approximately 35 US gallons of engine oil oil everywhere including on the runway during the latter part of the take off run. There were no untoward indications until the prop ran away.

In the Convair 440, the oil tank contents gauges are on the lower section of the instrument panel in front of the captain's position and hidden from view behind his control column.

It was not possible to view these gauges unless you leaned well over and looked down over the rather bulky control column. The wide cockpit layout on the Convair meant the co-pilot had almost no view of the oil contents gauges which were hidden from his view by the throttle quadrant and the captain's hands over the throttles.

Despite the successful outcome, the captain (Cent) was criticised by his Commanding Officer for not monitoring the two out of sight oil contents gauges during the take off roll. The CO claimed the beginning of the loss of oil contents should have been picked up during the 35 seconds of take off roll and a rejected take off undertaken.

Of course his claim was rubbish as the last instruments one would ever monitor during a take off roll are out of immediate sight oil contents gauges. Monitoring of flight paths and various appropriate gauges should be a common sense task by reasonably competent crew members. Pilots should not be required to have special prescriptive training courses just for these simple tasks

Last edited by Centaurus; 19th Feb 2016 at 03:57.
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Old 19th Feb 2016, 09:15
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At the risk of sounding like a cracked record; training in this area is very poor. In my experience, too much is assumed by trainers and not trained by them. They assume we have read all the books, cover to cover. They assume we have understood every word and implication. They assume we can do things that are not specifically trained. They assume that a new sentence in a manual has been spotted, read, and understood by everyone. They assume that we are all equally capable of monitoring and correcting PF effectively. I didn't think we were supposed to assume anything in flying?

Regarding boredom; I never fail to be amazed by the 'farts on guard' or 'music on guard' brigade. Considering what they have had to go through to get into a front seat of a jet, I cannot believe they find it so boring that they resort to such pathetic childishness. I guess that they are the ones whose Daddy paid for it all......

If people are bored by modern jet flying then they are missing something and not doing their monitoring job properly. If ever anyone starts getting bored, try thinking, "if we had an explosive decompression NOW, or an engine failure NOW; what would my actions be and where would I go? Where is the high ground, what airport will I head towards?" That should prevent boredom

Doing a crossword or similar keeps the brain alert and ticking over, and as someone mentioned, you are likely to check things even more often while doing so.
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