Saturday, November 23, 2013

There Is A Recent Accident......

There is a recent accident/incident that I would like to present and discuss.  I believe there are important lessons that the general aviation pilot can learn from it. The accident is related to the switch from basic round dial instruments to the new format: i.e. the glass cockpit-digital format. I have to admit to having only flown the older systems. In the past I have discussed the necessity for at least having some basic (round dial) back up, so I won’t go there again now. But what is a new thing, the dependence on not only all digital instruments but also the fully automated flight. My interest in this was sparked by a recent headline in my local newspaper  the Charlotte Observer, dated November 19,2013. The title As automation increases, pilots may lose flying skills. Wow, you must be kidding right? Hardly! Only two days ago a Boeing 747-400 cargo plane, not only landed at the wrong airport, but admitted to the tower at another field (the intended destination) that they didn’t know where they were.

I ask myself how is that possible? To help answer this and learn more about the subject I googled  Boeing 747-400 cockpit, and got some wonderful pictures and discussions. There is so much information available from all the cockpit displays that it is hard to imagine anyone getting lost or confused as to where they are. The pilots of this flight landed at a wrong airport that had an ILS that the pilots may have locked on. Great that they were able to land there, but the field was some 3000 feet shorter than their intended one.  Special provisions had to be made so that they could take-off again (offloading fuel and cargo). Wow, that is a serious and dangerous goof.

Apparently the entire flight data can be loaded digitally via a disc or some other way, and the pilots never have to enter any data or look at a map. Sounds great doesn’t it? But wouldn’t common sense require one to at least look at the entered data, readily available on one of many data screens? I mean if you are headed some thousand or more miles to land at a strange airport, it would be smart to look over the airport and approach data ahead of time. So, the warning is against complacency and lack of oversight by pilots relying almost totally on automation. Pilots beware. The next step will be pilotless airliners etc!

Writing about flying long distances to a strange field and landing under low IFR conditions, takes me back to trips I made while flying charters in Beech 58 and Piper Navajos, up north while based in Vermont. Before any of these flights, I would look carefully at the weather, both actual and forecast. Figure the time and required fuel, allowing for missed approaches and an alternate landing site. When looking at alternate landing sites along the way, think what would be available in case of an emergency such as engine problems, weather or passenger illness etc. Now that wasn’t automated, it was done by me, the responsible pilot. This not only put me fully into the information loop, but also primed my brain for eventualities that might come up.

So, in summary. You the PIC (pilot in command) have a lot of responsibility.  Whether on auto-pilot or manual mode, the safe operation of your plane depends on your good judgment. An error such as happens.landing at the wrong airport or worse, is yours to deal with. You really can’t blame it on the auto-pilot.

When sitting in the left seat, make sure that you are in control and fully accountable for all that