ALPA Safety and Training Council Meetings Kick Off

Members of ALPA’s Safety and Training councils (the MEC Safety and Training Chairs) met in joint session yesterday during the first day of the 59th ALPA Air Safety Forum.

Capt. Leja Noe (Mesa), Training Council chairman, asked each of the line pilot attendees to describe either a safety/training improvement they’d like to see or the biggest challenges they face in their ALPA volunteer positions. The answers reconfirmed that some safety and training issues are perennial, while others are novel, and included these comments:

• “Everything at [my airline] is a moving target—we need a steady state at [my airline], then we’ll be better able to resolve issues.”

• “We’re having trouble getting management buy-in on our safety programs.”

• “I’d like to see the FAA do a better job as a safety regulator.”

• “We’re trying to get management to abide by our ASAP agreement.”

• “We need to get pilots to include the union in their safety reports.”

• “We negotiated a change in our safety culture in our current contract—but management tries to find every possible way to work around it.”

• “My biggest challenge is trying to improve the relationship between the pilots and our Training Department.”

• “I’m trying to convince the powers that be that human factors should be integrated into all safety programs.”

• “Our biggest challenges include trying to obtain effective training for all pilots, not just checking off a regulatory training square.”

Capt. Dennis Landry (Delta) drew applause for announcing that ALPA recently convinced the FAA to remove nosewheel steering system relief from the master minimum equipment list (MMEL) for the CRJ family of regional jets. The previous CRJ MMEL allowed airlines to dispatch CRJs on line flights with the nosewheel steering system inoperative—even in bad weather and with contaminated runways, crosswinds, and other risk factors.

Capt. Landry also teamed with Capt. Scott Hammond, Delta Central Air Safety chairman, to discuss the importance for airline pilots to exercise their manual flying skills on the line when appropriate. Capt. Landry cited a 2008 study of domestic and long-haul pilots that found continuous use of automation has resulted in attitude instrument flying skills degradation.

As a result of the “law of unintended consequences with automated aircraft,” Capt. Landry added, “highly skilled ‘attitude instrument’ pilots lose perishable skills. Also, new pilots trained on ‘glass’ [cockpit displays and automation] never develop deeply embedded skills for [manual instrument flight].”

Capt. Landry discussed a recent FAA recommended practice (SAFO 13002) for pilots to exercise their manual flying skills by hand flying during line operations when it conditions permit. He pointed out that it is not a coincidence that this SAFO is almost verbatim the language contained in ALPA policy and is an example of ALPA’s influence in the industry. What is needed is for the airlines to establish policy based on this SAFO to provide guidance to their pilots on the appropriate times to disconnect automation on the line and hand fly the aircraft. In addition, training should provide guidance on procedures for reconnecting the automation following hand flying.

In a breakout session of the Training Council, Kathleen Mosier of San Francisco State University, a NASA contract researcher, discussed two research studies. The first, based on questionnaires completed by ALPA members two years ago at the ALPA Air Safety Forum, looked at the effects of cockpit automation, task, and context factors on pilot workload, task management, and error rates. Not surprisingly, the paper study found that “small” changes to automation can produce significant changes in cognitive and behavioral consequences for pilots.

The second study, “CRM in Distributed Pilot Operations,” is a long-term feasibility study looking at the CRM aspects of a single pilot in the cockpit being supported by a “copilot” on the ground. The ensuing discussion was animated; Capt. Huey Harris, Delta MEC Training Committee chairman, stressing caution, stated, “We’re just in the infant stages of getting our instructors to understand how to teach and grade CRM—this takes it to a whole new level.”

Dr. Kathy Abbott, FAA chief scientist and technical advisor for Aviation Human Factors, provided a thorough update on FAA human factors research and regulatory activities, which span an impressive variety of subjects involving aircraft certification, flight standards, pilot training, and more.

Abbott stressed, “Most of the human factors work we do in the FAA is not research; we are human factors practitioners.” As an example, she said, regarding research on ADS-B and cockpit display of traffic information, “It’s not, ‘What do we need to make a good display?’ It’s more a question of, ‘What should we allow?’”

Abbott also discussed a finding of the Performance-Based Aviation Rulemaking Committee/Commercial Aviation Safety Team Flight Deck Automation Working Group that describes in detail how pilots frequently mitigate safety and operational risks and how the aviation system is designed to rely on that mitigation. She said that this is important to consider for those who are working on UAS and single-pilot operations issues.