January 11, 2016
The US FAA is failing to ensure that airline pilots maintain their flying skills so that they can safely take over control of an aircraft from automated systems during an unexpected event, according to a Transportation Department report.
The report by the department’s Office of the Inspector General concludes that the FAA cannot determine how often pilots fly manually and has not ensured that airline training adequately focuses on manual skills.
Airline pilots typically fly planes manually on landings and take-offs, leaving the aircraft under the control of automated technology 90 percent of the time. While automated systems have generally improved aviation safety, experts say the practice and the growing complexity of automated technology have raised concerns about flying skills.
The government watchdog also found that the US aviation regulatory agency lacks the ability to ensure that pilots are fully trained to use and monitor automated flight systems.
“The agency is missing important opportunities to ensure that pilots maintain skills needed to safely fly and recover in the event of a failure with flight deck automation or an unexpected event,” the report said.
An FAA spokesman declined to comment, but pointed to an FAA memorandum contained in the report, in which the agency shared the inspector general’s concerns and said it was developing training guidelines and discussing operations and training with industry stakeholders including airlines, pilots and flight attendants.
The National Transportation Safety Board in 2014 found that an Asiana Airlines Boeing 777 crashed and caught fire at San Francisco Airport in 2013 because the pilot lacked critical skills and the flight crew relied too heavily on an automated system it did not fully understand. Three people died and 49 others were seriously injured in the crash.
In a separate case, the NTSB said that 49 passengers and crew members aboard a Colgan Air Bombardier DHC-8-400 regional flight died in 2009 after the flight crew failed to monitor the plane’s slowing airspeed while on instrument approach to Buffalo-Niagara Airport in upstate New York. The crew responded incorrectly to an automated warning of an imminent stall.
The plane crashed into a residence, killing everyone on board and a man on the ground.