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Man and Machine

Understanding the human factor will be essential when training the next generation of aviation professionals

There is a real need to attract new candidates to the aviation industry to help it grow without compromising safety and quality.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) estimates that by 2030 the industry will need 981,000 pilots, 1,167,000 technicians, and 140,000 air traffic controllers. That equates to training 52,000 pilots, 70,000 technicians, and 8,700 controllers every year. The industry is some way from that level and it’s also worth noting that current trends show a geographical mismatch—the necessary skills and training capacity are not in the locations where they are most needed.

The end of the beginning

Anticipating the shortage of skilled workers in the industry, IATA set up its Training and Qualification Initiative (ITQI) in 2007. The project had three goals: (1) to modernize pilot and engineer training; (2) to attract candidates to the industry; (3) to increase market permeability and harmonization.

The project has now completed its first phase. Alongside the push for evidence-based training and pilot aptitude testing, IATA has published an implementation guide for the ICAO Multi-Crew Pilot License (MPL).  The MPL is the first new ICAO license since 1950 and represents a way for students to go from ab-initio training to a co-pilot position. It uses competency-based training and incorporates the use of modern flight simulation training devices as well as introducing the multi-crew environment at an early stage.

The focus now is on implementation and the remaining components of ITQI. “There is already a lot of guidance material available,” says Günter Matschnigg, Senior Vice President, Safety Operations and Infrastructure at IATA. “The manuals have been produced in association with all the major stakeholders, including ICAO, the International Federation of Airline Pilots’ Associations (IFALPA), and regulators. But this program cannot be about books on shelves. We must have action.”

Instructor qualifications, flight simulator training, and Fatigue Risk Management (FRM) are also on the agenda for 2012. FRM is a response to the confusing myriad of pilot flight-time requirements around the globe and uses the latest scientific tools to assess a pilot’s ability to work. The principles of the project have been agreed with ICAO and IFALPA.

The next generation

ICAO also has its own program, the Next Generation of Aviation Professionals (NGAP). The NGAP Task Force is working closely with IATA in furthering aviation’s training goals. It will organize a Symposium on MPL in 2013 or 2014, for example, to assess the lessons learned so far. “We couldn’t really test the idea because the course had a license at the end of it,” says Paul Lamy, Air Navigation Bureau, ICAO. “So we must establish the strengths and weaknesses of the program to further enhance it.”

Identifying the core competencies needed for pilots, engineers, and air traffic controllers is driving the NGAP project and the aim is to have a series of published core competencies in place by 2014.

“All stakeholders are working hard, including the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA),” says Lamy. “It is true that some bigger operators are not yet feeling the pinch and believe they could buy their way out of trouble. But the industry as a whole must buy into the standards. And it is the industry as a whole that could suffer if that doesn’t happen. Everybody will be affected.”

The human touch

The new training techniques and standards provide a robust platform for aviation growth and furthering safety. But there is another element that has to be taken into account as new technology proliferates. The human factor, the interface between man and machine, will be crucial as the next generation of aircraft take to the skies. 

“The industry has ‘designed out’ many of the old problems,” says Michelle Millar Technical Officer, Human Factors, ICAO. “Modern aircraft just don’t have the same issues as previous generations of aircraft but challenges remain with regard to managing risks related to human performance. 

“ICAO is revitalizing its human factors activities,” says Millar. “We need pilots that can react to the unexpected and have excellent decision-making abilities.”

Millar points to Loss of Control In-flight (LOCI) as an example.  This is one of ICAO’s top three safety priorities along with runway excursions and controlled flight into terrain. A lot of effort has gone into the latter two, including a Runway Excursion Risk Reduction toolkit. LOCI is the next frontier and it is vital work given the high number of fatalities this type of event carries. “We need to explore the human role in this,” says Millar. “This is not just a technical problem. There will be a LOCI Symposium in 2014 to explore how we can cooperate as an industry to reduce the risk of these incidents.

“Loss of Control in flight has been the cause of many accidents,” says IATA’s Matschnigg. “IATA is actively engaged in LOCI panels and working groups. We cooperate with ICAO, FAA, EASA, and IFALPA to define standards and recommended practises and to provide the best methods and training tools through our ITQI program.”

Evidence-Based Training Data Report

With the evidence-based training (EBT) element of IATA Training and Qualification Initiative now established, a comprehensive data report on aviation events has revealed the top five conclusions. These have been categorized as follows

  • Manual Aircraft Control
  • Surprises
  • Catalysts
  • Prioritization of Training Topics
  • Unstable Approach Paradox

Issues with manual aircraft control are a factor in 42% of all accidents. Tellingly, it represents 67% of accidents thought to be highly preventable by training. It seems pilots are reluctant to revert to manual flight. This might be because there has been a reduction in manual skills due to the increasingly automated environment. But manual skills are still vital—perhaps even more so as the need to use them only occurs in a highly dynamic situation.

Surprises are caused by various factors, automation being a primary one. But it is important to note that not all surprises are sudden—some can be slow and subtle. Training must incorporate good situation awareness and a skillset that can cope with the unexpected.
The catalyst category is about easing or increasing the severity of an event. A Captain’s leadership and overall communication in the cockpit, for example, are vital elements in dealing effectively with a non-routine event. When these are done well the evidence shows there are fewer errors. Non-compliance is the main problem aggravating any incident. Non-compliance with standard operating procedure is still observed even in threatening conditions.

Arguably, prioritization of training topics is the most important category. It seemed that the total number of accidents caused by adverse weather was falling. It was happening far less to the fourth generation of jets compared to the first generation. But when seen as a percentage of total accidents, adverse weather incidents have actually gone up. It is an area that must therefore be addressed through training.

Also, analysis of the data has revealed that issues such as non-compliance and crosswinds are a factor in the fourth generation of jets whereas earlier model problems were more about system failure.

Perhaps the most interesting findings come in the unstable approach paradox category. Generally, if there is an unstable approach then a pilot will instigate a go-around. But evidence shows that pilots often opted to land despite an unstable approach and in 90% of cases had an event-free landing.

Evidence also suggests that go-arounds were not performed particularly well and rarely happened at trained-for heights.

A pilot survey, which formed part of the EBT Data Report, suggests that crews land because of the difficulty of a go-around and also because they believe the aircraft will re-stabilize. In some cases, they didn’t realize that the approach was unstable. Some 82% of pilots surveyed believed they could make a safe landing from an unstable approach.

The overall picture is that unstable approaches are riskier for landings and go-arounds. Crucially, the evidence also suggests that when an approach is poorly conducted then other phases of the flight have also been poorly performed. There are 20% more events in other phases in flights that had an unstable approach.

Clearly, training and decision-making around unstable approaches will benefit from the EBT methodology. Such findings form the base for the new EBT program.

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