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Why is automation dependency encouraged in modern aviation ?

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Why is automation dependency encouraged in modern aviation ?

Old 23rd Nov 2020, 14:59
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Why is automation dependency encouraged in modern aviation ?

Hello,

The title is voluntarily a bit provoking and I will explain my point of view in more details. Note that I fly the 320 so all that follows is applicable to this aircraft, not necessarily all others.
As I was saying in the other topic, aware that manual flying skills erode, airbus and airlines reckoned that pilots need to train regularly in real conditions, not just twice a year in the sim.
We even received, at our airline, a few weeks ago an e-mail reminding that, particularly with the low level of activity that we have with the covid crisis, it is recommended to practise manual flying as much as possible.

No problem at all at my airline, since most pilots I've seen commonly fly with no automation (AP, FD, ATHR, even the bird off).

The point of this topic is rather to point out the fact that modern aircraft tend to encourage automation dependency.
The point that best illustrates the problem is RNAV navigation and the way that it is managed.
With conventional navigation, pilots had to maintain a very good situational awareness at all times during the approach. Basic IFR training has pilots constantly think about wind, drift correction angle, timing corrections, anticipation angles,...
The conceptual workload peaked when I was flying single engine NDB's on the DA42. Correcting the wind, the drift angle due to n-1, while following the descent with altitudes to pass every 30s, readjusting power to correct height resulting in a requirement to correct the asymmetry... This is lightyears away from flying a normal ILS with ATHR and FDs ON.

But the way airbus manages lateral navigation is to rely completely on the FDs.
Yes, there is still a way to perform conventional navigation, using the VOR mode of the ND, but it is not trained and the aircraft is not really designed to be flown that way. A VOR approach is meant to be flown in NAV mode, following the FD, and then in FINAL APP mode with a minimal workload. One could argue that "meant to" is subjective and only my interpretation, but the FCOM clearly assumes in the "non precision approach" procedure that the FDs are used, and for RNAV approaches it is objective : they are mandatory.
Which is completely logical since there is no way to properly fly an RNAV approach in raw data. The MEL states that without FDs, the aircraft is not even RNAV1 nor RNAV2.
So for any departure or arrival that is RNAV, you are dependent on the FD, there simply is no other way available on this airbus.
But, it would be completely feasible to allow rnav approaches without FDs : just display an HSI : horizontal situation indicator, which would indicate the desired RNAV track, and a lateral deviation bar in nautical miles (instead of degrees on a VOR), and eventually a timer that indicates when to start the turn (like Garmin does). That's it.

Furthermore, the standard takeoff procedure also asks to follow the FDs : "after liftoff, follow the SRS pitch command bar". Are we deemed uncapable of pre-setting a target pitch (15į) then adjust it to maintain a given speed ? Anyway, many departure procedures are RNAV so it would also require the FDs.

The same type of reasoning can be applied to all phases of flight. Correct me if I'm wrong, I've heard that ATHR OFF at easyjet is forbidden, and that FD use is strongly encouraged at Ryanair for example. As Jacques Rosay says in the following article, flying with FDs is not manually flying, it is following the orders given by the FDs, that would otherwise have been given directly to the flight controls actuators.
https://safetyfirst.airbus.com/app/t...df.php?p=25849

The almost constant use of FD (that is required by design for many situations) can lead to decrease in basic IFR navigation and basic handling skills.


With this type of design, how can we still maintain a high standard of basic handling and IFR navigation competency ?
How can we say on one hand that pilots need to be able to fly without automation, and on the other hand not even give them the means to do it ?

There is still one time when it is feasible to fly manually : radar vectors to an ILS, no automation. The only difficulty is to know when to intercept the localizer, because most of the time the turn towards final should be initiated before the loc indicator is alive. Fortunately there are one or two ways (at least 3) to manage this.

Do you generally agree with the opinion that pilots should be able to consistently fly with no automation ?
How does this match with some airlines policy of forbidding to disconnect them ?

Many people will encourage manual flying "when conditions permit" : what are precisely the conditions that would encourage, allow, or discourage or even forbid manual flying ?
In my perception of things, clouds should not discourage FD OFF (except if they are just above the minimas), neither should a little turbulence.
The only conditions where I would find very adapted to use the FDs would be either a very turbulent approach (ATHR OFF, FDs on and AP OFF, all working together in order to reduce the amplitude and frequency of variations, to smooth the trajectory), or high crew fatigue, but I haven't thought out every possible combination of conditions, so your inputs are more than welcome.

Thanks
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Old 24th Nov 2020, 13:31
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I am in complete agreement with your post. Far too much lip service given to the importance of maintaining manual flying skills while having a culture of "I'm not sure that's appropriate right now" or "Best not incase it goes wrong". Airlines should be open to these minor deviations in the knowledge that they'll come back to benefit them on a stormy night some day in the future. A lot I think comes down to culture within an airline, while the manuals can all say one thing the practice can often differ in a more conservative way towards not wanting to be found out to be lacking in manual flight skills.

99.9% of times minor deviations, overshooting the loc, flying 6/7 knots fast for a couple of seconds etc will have zero effect on the safe outcome of the flight and I think we need to realise that and hold ourselves to appropriate standards, not that of a computer.

I agree cloud doesn't serve as a reasonable excuse not to handfly unless at minimums though I will throw in one further area I feel automation is appropriate, and that is close tight parallel approaches ala SFO etc, where using at least FDs to join the LOC is appropriate given the fact you'll roll out only meters off the side of another aircraft.

I'd also like to see as you said, OEMs include the equivalent of CDI's for RNAV approaches to enable them to be handflown raw data as well.

I also think it's important that we don't get drawn into an "The automation can do it better" debate. I'm fully aware that it can most of the time, there are few things I can do better than an autopilot, save for perhaps thrust control on a stormy night where certainly the Airbus' A/T lets itself down frequently, but for the most part I know I am at an absolute best, as good as the autopilot, and in most cases not so. The importance comes in being good enough, being able to fly within the tolerances, being able to correct deviations before they develop etc.

Just because one can not totally nail a VOR or ILS approach bang on the needles the whole way down does not make it any less safe; a 1/4 dot high or low, left or right quickly corrected is not an issue, and while the AP may not have done it, that doesn't mean we should abandon the maintenance of our handflying skills just because of that.
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Old 24th Nov 2020, 15:26
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Correct me if I'm wrong, I've heard that ATHR OFF at easyjet is forbidden,
You're wrong. It's not forbidden - but it's unusual to see on the line.

And given the architecture of the airbus thrust lever quadrant, it's understandable. In the Boeing, for instance, the full arc of motion is available for manual thrust, so setting a particular thrust is relatively easy. In the airbus, the top third of the thrust lever arc is used for the Autothust setting detents - TOGA, FLEX/MCT and CLIMB - and the bottom third is used for reverse thrust (unlike the Boeing, there's no piggyback lever), so that just leaves the centre third for setting manual thrust which makes manual thrust lever movements "three" times more sensitive than in the Boeing.
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Old 24th Nov 2020, 18:11
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Iíll agree that a wider range of movement would be ideal- but you get used to it. Better to sort it out on a normal day, than try to learn it when itís not performing satisfactorily, or is broken.
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Old 24th Nov 2020, 18:12
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In modern aircraft automation dependency is encouraged because that's the future of aviation. A350 ATTOL is an indication of that. A350 also automatically takes care of unreliable speed and loss of pressurization. The AP is also available with dual engine flameout. So in rare case of AP loss you are expected to keep your ability to fly a few type of approaches or ability to execute basic manoeuvres like climb, descent and visual circuits. You are not expected to handle everything and every situation manually. Besides no matter how proficient a human gets he can't get rid off human factors. Most accidents are due to human error and by experienced pilots at that. One Sully or Al Haynes don't make a summer. So technology will, if it can't replace(eventually that will happen) want to restrict humans to do limited tasks. So make the best of that is there and have fun while it lasts.
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Old 24th Nov 2020, 18:18
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How is one expected to keep basic skills that are never utilised? Itís not like riding a bicycle.
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Old 24th Nov 2020, 18:23
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Originally Posted by Check Airman View Post
How is one expected to keep basic skills that are never utilised? Itís not like riding a bicycle.
Well at the moment manufacturers are putting you in a catch22 situation. While you are told to keep the skills of manual flying, the space where you can hand fly is being taken away. So in real life it amounts to doing a raw data approach or more simulator visits. I don't see anything else.
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Old 24th Nov 2020, 19:03
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Originally Posted by vilas View Post
In modern aircraft automation dependency is encouraged because that's the future of aviation. A350 ATTOL is an indication of that. A350 also automatically takes care of unreliable speed and loss of pressurization. The AP is also available with dual engine flameout. So in rare case of AP loss you are expected to keep your ability to fly a few type of approaches or ability to execute basic manoeuvres like climb, descent and visual circuits. You are not expected to handle everything and every situation manually. Besides no matter how proficient a human gets he can't get rid off human factors. Most accidents are due to human error and by experienced pilots at that. One Sully or Al Haynes don't make a summer. So technology will, if it can't replace(eventually that will happen) want to restrict humans to do limited tasks. So make the best of that is there and have fun while it lasts.
That's an interesting argument.
In the future, you can envision that aircraft will be able to manage every trajectory.
But, first, this does not guarantee at all that it will work. The MAX had a system that was so well designed to assist the crew that it sent two airplanes down in less than six months (with a fleet of 200 and a few aircraft).
Second, aircraft as of right now still need pilots, because LVPs which allow autolands seriously degrade aerodrome capacities.
Plus, even in the case of a perfectly functional aircraft, a car passing through the ILS critical area can send an airplane sideways.

And as of now and also in the future, we would still need pilots to monitor the aircraft in case it does wrong.
Since humans are better at doing than monitoring, and even more so when they practise frequently, some say that it would be more relevant to maximise the amount of manual flying, and assist the human with the machine, not the other way around.
Or, are you saying that in the future, pilots will "take over" in a different way ? Instead of going from AP ON to AP OFF, they would degrade the managed modes into selected modes ?
That could be a possibility, but if you have pilots that aren't trained for normal flight handling, in case the AP goes wrong (even in selected modes) than essentially anything can happen to your aircraft.

We are already seeing a new type of crash where an almost perfectly good aircraft goes down even in CAVOK conditions.
Turkish at EHAM, Asiana at KSFO... This fact is what pushes airlines into saying that basic stick and rudder skills should be worked on.
Originally Posted by Check Airman View Post
Iíll agree that a wider range of movement would be ideal- but you get used to it. Better to sort it out on a normal day, than try to learn it when itís not performing satisfactorily, or is broken.
It looks like I agree with you once again.
At first I was a bit unprecise with these levers but it gets better the more I use it.
​​​​​​​
Originally Posted by EI_DVM View Post
I also think it's important that we don't get drawn into an "The automation can do it better" debate. I'm fully aware that it can most of the time, there are few things I can do better than an autopilot, save for perhaps thrust control on a stormy night where certainly the Airbus' A/T lets itself down frequently, but for the most part I know I am at an absolute best, as good as the autopilot, and in most cases not so. The importance comes in being good enough, being able to fly within the tolerances, being able to correct deviations before they develop etc.
It is obvious that automation can do better.
It has a far better processing power than the human pilot. Can you calculate with any given set of speed, heading, final course, and wind the anticipation distance or angle to start the final turn onto the ILS ? I can with the help of excel, sitting at my desk. In flight I can't. I try to (and could discuss some techniques here) but the computer will have much more precise results.
Can you look at all flight parameters at a fast refreshing rate ? The human pilot can only do so much, one refreshment of all parameters per second, or so, maximum. I don't know the figure for the computer but much more obviously. They also have the intelligence of many engineers encoded into them to know the ideal amount of correction related to an amount of deviation. Once again, I can try to have a method to calculate this sort of thing in flight, but in a much simplified version (I use : on final, 1į of pitch up or down = 3% variation in thrust. Speed trend at x kt per second : plus or minus x% thrust. It works quite well but it is a simplification of reality whereas the aircraft can use a model accounting for a wide variety of parameters, wind, mass, configuration, etc..)
But I can work without the radioaltimeter, and George can't.

And if George wants to capture a false glide with +22į positive pitch, it fortunately never happened to me but I hope I would refuse to pitch up (and to this extent) at a moment when I'm supposed to descend 3į.
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Old 24th Nov 2020, 20:19
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The MAX had a system that was so well designed to assist the crew that it sent two airplanes down in less than six months (with a fleet of 200 and a few aircraft).
Wrong! Max had a very poorly designed system based on single AoA sensor that took over controls and was secretly installed. And once it went awry it drove you to death. Well designed systems don't get globally grounded. Now they have connected the second but EASA wants a third like the Airbus. Max has destroyed even the credibility of FAA.
Unmanned aircraft is an unending debate but tendancy towards automation is definitely there. Take TCAS now automatic.

Last edited by vilas; 24th Nov 2020 at 20:33.
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Old 24th Nov 2020, 23:58
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I remember talking to a friend of mine who was a Boeing 737 flight simulator instructor at Boeing Seattle. He told me his story of talking to the then chief test pilot of the Boeing 787 who said "We designed the 787 knowing that it will be flown by incompetent pilots. For this reason we have all the automatics protections designed into the aircraft."

Doesn't that say it all?
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Old 25th Nov 2020, 00:33
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To answer the OP's question, I would say the chief pilot who does not want any cock-ups, and the CEO who doesn't want any extra costs. But of course, banning manual flying compounds this issue.

The challenge is: how to keep our manual skills sharp while flying very automated aircraft. The OP is one who clearly likes to physically fly and control every aspect. Others like to manage and guide a flight in a large airliner rather than actually move the flight controls themselves, (until the last 7 miles before landing).

Most humans prefer a job made easier. Not many of us would prefer to drive the first cars which had manual ignition timing and mixture controls on the steering column, and no synchromesh in the (manual) gearbox. Even as late as the 1970's, you had to know what you were doing to get a (non garaged) car running on a cold icy morning, We are quite happy now for all that to be designed out - I can reach in the window on the coldest day and the engine will start and run reliably with a single key turn to get it warmed up while I scrape the ice off the windscreen. In many 70's cars you had to be seated and know how to operate the throttle and choke to get the bloody thing going.

So how to maintain our flying skills? A start would be to mandate a minimum of three fully manually flown raw data approaches every six months - in appropriate conditions - and log them. We used to have to do this with practice Autolands, and a similar protocol could help make manual flying a normal, regular thing.
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Old 25th Nov 2020, 00:54
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Originally Posted by Centaurus View Post
we have all the automatics protections designed into the aircraft."
But did they?

It can still be stalled in the same way as a 172.

If their intention was to design "All" the protections in, they missed the mark.

I do believe "protections" are being designed in, but pilots will still find new and interesting ways to crash aircraft.

Also, Boeing has provide that their "Protections" can be the problem, not the solution.
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Old 25th Nov 2020, 01:02
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I've literally just come out of my LPC sim a couple of hours ago. Done a bit of flying over the summer but only one PF sector in the last 7 weeks. Airbus A320.

After all the usual items, each pilot flies a short sector from A to B. Manual flight, manual thrust and no FD's. Climbs, turns and descents to a raw ILS. Very useful exercise in the old basics and a reminder that it can still be flown just like a simple piston twin.

Would I try the same into a busy TMA? No chance. But if it all fell over, I still have the old skills available.
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Old 25th Nov 2020, 06:32
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Originally Posted by Check Airman View Post
How is one expected to keep basic skills that are never utilised? It’s not like riding a bicycle.
Totally agree. I did not fly much this year lately so as much as possible I will do raw data take off and approach. It's so much more fun especially these days with very low traffic.
Yes by regulation you can't do raw data take off for RNAV SID but it's not an excuse. Just request conventional departure!

And I said that before but Airbus recommends to fly raw data in line. Not only in the sim!

Originally Posted by Uplinker View Post

So how to maintain our flying skills? A start would be to mandate a minimum of three fully manually flown raw data approaches every six months - in appropriate conditions - and log them. We used to have to do this with practice Autolands, and a similar protocol could help make manual flying a normal, regular thing.
I was thinking the same! It should be mandatory. Most pilots I know they never fly raw data except in the sim as it's part of the syllabus. People underestimate the skills required to fly raw data. I would like to see a pilot who only flies raw data in the sim flying a raw data in the real plane. Oh wait I saw it, it was terrible.

Last edited by pineteam; 25th Nov 2020 at 06:52. Reason: added one sentence
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Old 25th Nov 2020, 07:21
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Let's view the situation realistically. More and more automation is not an issue of pilots, aeroplanes and Airlines alone. It's the industry's requirement. For optimum utilisation available aviation space is being created for automated Aircraft. You are simply not allowed to fly manually. That should put to rest any discussion who produces a consistent and reliable performance. Humans are there to take over if the present day machines fail to follow the desired flight path. In future machines that will happen less and less. The topic we are discussing is how do we acquire or maintain the skill to do when machine won't do. Obviously in simulator, and once in while in real life where permitted. The days of switching off everything and going from A to B are over. You don't even need it. Only thing is you need to train pilots to higher standards of raw data handling in sim. Also more frequent visits are required. Simulator practice is not as frivolous as thought. I know pilots who have retired with more than 15000hrs on Airbus(with another 5000 on other type) whose only experience of direct law was in simulator. When all major emergencies are only practiced in the Sim with the expectation of handling them in real life what's such a big deal about raw data flying with all engines operating? Modern aircraft are not made for pilot's pleasure or desire of handling. They fulfill industry requirement.
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Old 25th Nov 2020, 09:34
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Originally Posted by vilas View Post
The topic we are discussing is how do we acquire or maintain the skill to do when machine won't do. Obviously in simulator, and once in while in real life where permitted.
Hi Villas. I agree. The simulators we used in 1970s were so poor, we had to practice simulated engine failure on take off in real life during Base Flying (with no passengers obviously). Occasionally there were accidents - see B707 crash at Prestwick Thank's to improved simulator design and fidelity - we will never have to risk our own lives doing something similar again.

If you feel you need to "practice" your manual flying skills with passengers on board, then choose the correct time and place and be prepared to re-engage the automatics if work load demands it.
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Old 25th Nov 2020, 10:55
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Originally Posted by vilas View Post
Let's view the situation realistically. More and more automation is not an issue of pilots, aeroplanes and Airlines alone. It's the industry's requirement. For optimum utilisation available aviation space is being created for automated Aircraft. You are simply not allowed to fly manually. That should put to rest any discussion who produces a consistent and reliable performance. Humans are there to take over if the present day machines fail to follow the desired flight path. In future machines that will happen less and less. The topic we are discussing is how do we acquire or maintain the skill to do when machine won't do. Obviously in simulator, and once in while in real life where permitted. The days of switching off everything and going from A to B are over. You don't even need it. Only thing is you need to train pilots to higher standards of raw data handling in sim. Also more frequent visits are required. Simulator practice is not as frivolous as thought. I know pilots who have retired with more than 15000hrs on Airbus(with another 5000 on other type) whose only experience of direct law was in simulator. When all major emergencies are only practiced in the Sim with the expectation of handling them in real life what's such a big deal about raw data flying with all engines operating? Modern aircraft are not made for pilot's pleasure or desire of handling. They fulfill industry requirement.
While I have the utmost respect for your knowledge about the A320, I have to respectfully disagree with your operational philosophy.

Perhaps youíre a better pilot than I. I just know that a few minutes in the sim every few months would leave me woefully unprepared should the lights start flashing on a stormy night. On top of that, I find immense satisfaction in turning off the magic and having fun.
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Old 25th Nov 2020, 10:58
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Originally Posted by Centaurus View Post
I remember talking to a friend of mine who was a Boeing 737 flight simulator instructor at Boeing Seattle. He told me his story of talking to the then chief test pilot of the Boeing 787 who said "We designed the 787 knowing that it will be flown by incompetent pilots. For this reason we have all the automatics protections designed into the aircraft."

Doesn't that say it all?
(Does boeing allow to fly a RNAV trajectory on raw data only?)
But didn't manufacturers (at least airbus) create incompetent pilots by depriving them of the means to fly 95% of the trajectories that they fly ?
The industry as a whole encourages to use automatics because they have a precision that pilots will never have. But this does not mean that pilots should not practise their skills to the best level that they can.
Originally Posted by Rt Hon Jim Hacker MP View Post
After all the usual items, each pilot flies a short sector from A to B. Manual flight, manual thrust and no FD's. Climbs, turns and descents to a raw ILS. Very useful exercise in the old basics and a reminder that it can still be flown just like a simple piston twin.

Would I try the same into a busy TMA? No chance. But if it all fell over, I still have the old skills available.
Why ?
You've seen that you can do it.
I've seen many pilots do it. The first captain that I flew with after my line check disconnected everything while in descent FL100. (He was able to do that because we not flying an RNAV trajectory obviously..)
And if you don't do it enough, your skills will erode.

The one thing that I learnt during basic IFR training is that manual flying takes less and less resources the more you do it.
Originally Posted by pineteam View Post
I was thinking the same! It should be mandatory. Most pilots I know they never fly raw data except in the sim as it's part of the syllabus. People underestimate the skills required to fly raw data. I would like to see a pilot who only flies raw data in the sim flying a raw data in the real plane. Oh wait I saw it, it was terrible.
It should indeed be mandatory to know how to handle things manually, to be able to detect when the FG does sh*t and to handle the situation correctly when it goes wrong.
What if a pilot that never flies manually encounters a situation where the airplane reverts to direct law ? It happens, just any failure downgrading to alternate, then gear down will leave you in direct law.

However, I disagree about the sim part.
Flying raw data in the sim is good practise for real flying. The only problem is the amount of sim practise. Two line checks per year, the majority of which is spent managing failures (leaving only 2 hours of manual sim flying per pilot per year) is obviously not enough.
But if you work tens of hours in the sim (in combination to normal line flying), you will be a decent pilot in the aircraft.
When my colleagues and I did our base training, we had spent 16 hours each (or so) preparing for it in the sim. When we touched the real aircraft for the first time, the most surprising thing was the ground handling qualities (Airbus itself admits that they don't really study "ground handling qualities"), not the stick and rudder part. We were obviously not perfect, but we all had a decent level, at least given the fact that we never had touched a jet aircraft before.
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Old 25th Nov 2020, 11:00
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Originally Posted by Goldenrivett View Post
Hi Villas. I agree. The simulators we used in 1970s were so poor, we had to practice simulated engine failure on take off in real life during Base Flying (with no passengers obviously). Occasionally there were accidents - see B707 crash at Prestwick Thank's to improved simulator design and fidelity - we will never have to risk our own lives doing something similar again.

If you feel you need to "practice" your manual flying skills with passengers on board, then choose the correct time and place and be prepared to re-engage the automatics if work load demands it.
Devilís advocate. When is the correct time and place? Is 37,000ft over the Atlantic at night appropriate? What about descending in a cloud layer at 5000ft over Texas? Maybe shortly after taking off into IMC in Madrid?
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Old 25th Nov 2020, 11:06
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Originally Posted by KayPam View Post
(Does boeing allow to fly a RNAV trajectory on raw data only?)
But didn't manufacturers (at least airbus) create incompetent pilots by depriving them of the means to fly 95% of the trajectories that they fly ?
The industry as a whole encourages to use automatics because they have a precision that pilots will never have. But this does not mean that pilots should not practise their skills to the best level that they can.

Why ?
You've seen that you can do it.
I've seen many pilots do it. The first captain that I flew with after my line check disconnected everything while in descent FL100. (He was able to do that because we not flying an RNAV trajectory obviously..)
And if you don't do it enough, your skills will erode.

The one thing that I learnt during basic IFR training is that manual flying takes less and less resources the more you do it.
It should indeed be mandatory to know how to handle things manually, to be able to detect when the FG does sh*t and to handle the situation correctly when it goes wrong.
What if a pilot that never flies manually encounters a situation where the airplane reverts to direct law ? It happens, just any failure downgrading to alternate, then gear down will leave you in direct law.

However, I disagree about the sim part.
Flying raw data in the sim is good practise for real flying. The only problem is the amount of sim practise. Two line checks per year, the majority of which is spent managing failures (leaving only 2 hours of manual sim flying per pilot per year) is obviously not enough.
But if you work tens of hours in the sim (in combination to normal line flying), you will be a decent pilot in the aircraft.
When my colleagues and I did our base training, we had spent 16 hours each (or so) preparing for it in the sim. When we touched the real aircraft for the first time, the most surprising thing was the ground handling qualities (Airbus itself admits that they don't really study "ground handling qualities"), not the stick and rudder part. We were obviously not perfect, but we all had a decent level, at least given the fact that we never had touched a jet aircraft before.
To your point on simulators, I actually donít do much ďflyingĒ in the sim. AP on ASAP and off as late as possible. The sim doesnít fly like the real plane. Iíll do the required manoeuvres manually in the sim, but otherwise, AP please.
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