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Aircraft Automation and the Degradation of Pilot Skills: Keeping Our Skies Safe

Worldwide Free Webinar on Aircraft Automation and the Degradation of Pilot Skills: Keeping Our Skies Safe
Show Webinar Transcript

Bill Gibbs:

Well hello to those joining us from around the United States and around the world. It is 2pm in the eastern time zone of the United States. Wherever you are right now, for you locally, we welcome you and thank you for joining us. My name is Bill Gibbs and I will be the moderator for this webinar today. I'm really excited about today's session with Professor William Waldock. It's called Aircraft Automation and the Degradation of [inaudible 00:00:34] and Airmanship Skills. It's part of a series of free webinars that we're presenting during the 2015 and 2016 academic year. Each features a noted Embry-Riddle faculty member or alumnus who are national experts talking about an important area of interest.

We are in the introduction now. We have a few housekeeping items that we'll attend to then we'll get into the presentation by Professor Waldock. Following that time we will take questions and answers. Let me add at this point, at any time you can begin adding questions, and I will be monitoring those and relay those to the speaker at the end of the presentation. After the question and answer period is done we will have a brief overview of upcoming webinars and debriefings.

Let's begin with a small poll as we always -

Our speaker today is Professor William, "Bill", Waldock. Professor Waldock is professor of behavioral and safety science at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University's Prescott campus in Arizona. He is the creator of the aviation safety programs at Embry-Riddle and has spent the last 32 years developing and enhancing the school's academic safety endeavors. A retired US Coast Guard Officer and Private, Waldock has spent more than 3 [00:02:00] decades investigating accidents. He has worked more than 200 aircraft investigations and has analyzed 500 more. Waldock is president of the Arizona chapter of the International Society of Air Safety Investigators. He has written numerous articles on aviation safety, aircraft accidents, aircraft fire investigation, and crash survivor-ability. He has appeared in numerous safety theme video programs and has provided expert commentary to both the print and electronic media. It is my great pleasure to introduce Dr. Waldock to us. He will now take over and conduct the presentation.

Bill Waldock:

Bill, I'm not seeing my slides. No slides.

Bill Gibbs:

Do you have a copy of your slides already handy? All right. We have run into some kind of technical problem folks. Bill, can you answer me? [00:04:00]. Okay. Folks, there is no sound because no one is talking. We were able to see the slides. I can see the slides both on my test monitor and on my regular monitor. We seem to have lost Dr. Waldock. Bill are you back?

Bill Waldock:Can you hear me now?

Bill Gibbs:

We can hear you.

Bill Waldock:

Okay. I'm going to get my backup slides. It will take me just a second to get them up so I can see them. It's kind of hard to play without a program. If everybody else can see them, if you just stand by for a second. Good example of automation and understanding what you're doing with the automation.

Bill Gibbs:

I will be happy to advance the slides as we go along if you just tell me when you're ready for the next slide, I will go ahead and do that.

Bill Waldock:

Bringing mine up right now.

Bill Gibbs:

For those of you just joining us, we have switched webinar platforms to a new platform. This is only the second webinar we've done with the new platform. It is a learning curve for us. It's a magnificent program, but like anything else it has to be learned. We are nearly there. We will get started and we will still end on time. Don't worry about that.

Bill Waldock:

Okay, Bill I've got mine up.

Bill Gibbs:

All right. I'm on your title slide. Go ahead and talk and when you want me to advance the slide just let me know.

Bill Waldock:

Fair enough. Good afternoon everybody except the pacific coast. Good morning to you folks. I'm going to talk to you a little bit today about a problem that has been increasing in aviation relative to the pilot interface with the automation in the aircraft. We've seen some marvelous changes, Bill if you could advance it, over the last [00:06:00] probably 15 years in terms of the capability to do things with computers. Wanted to define airmanship itself before I start. I want to quote Tony Kern who's a noted aviation psychologist. He simply says, Airmanship is a consistent use of good judgement and well developed skills to accomplish flight objectives. What it's made up of is knowledge of the aircraft, the environment, the risks, physical skills, cockpit management skills, communication skills, cognitive skills, team skills. It includes proper training, proficiency, good judgement, situational awareness is a huge one. It does include manual flight skills but it is not limited to them. Interacting with automation using it to the best advantage. Self improvement in many ways. Most importantly, the professionalism of the folks using the automation.

If you could advance. As with anything else we do, there are risks. All of those items that I just mentioned as key components of what make up airmanship provide opportunity for error. We all know that human error is the most common involved factor any time we have an accident. Literally we have to try to get a pilot to synergize all of the things involved to maintain his or her airmanship. We also should note that the use of automation, particularly in the carrier world, has seen a tremendous expansion as available technologies become more sophisticated and capable. It's possible today for some new aircraft to literally fly themselves from the origin airport to the destination without the human ever really touching anything other than to turn it on. There are some regulations which do get involved there, for example the FAA requires manual control for airlines below 500 feet during landing and takeoff. Should also note that automation is improved safety and efficiency tremendously, but it has provided us a new [00:08:00] venue for human error. That is the interface between the human and the automation. Advance please.

You should be looking at the Apollo Lunar Landing module. That's significant to us because that's the first use of a flyby wire system with computer control of the vehicle. In case you're not familiar with what happened with Apollo 11, they had a problem with the computer as they were in the final stages of landing on the moon. Neil Armstrong had to actually take manual control of the vehicle because the computer was taking him off course. Disconnecting everything and flying it by hand. As we all know, he made a successful landing and history shows the rest. Advance please.

I want to really quickly touch on some prior human automation involved accidents. Some of you folks will probably recognize these. One that kind of stands out as an older accident is Eastern Airlines flight 401. That was an L-1011 that was approaching Miami International on the 29th, December, 1972. It's about 11:00 at night. They're out over the Everglades. They put the gear down to land and don't get a nose gear light. Crews cycle the gear a couple of times, same result so the captain decided to take the aircraft out west of Miami, put it in a hold of 2000 feet. Let the autopilot fly the airplane while they tried to figure out whether it was a bad light bulb or a bad landing gear. Series of mistakes, cockpit resource management wise, nobody was delegated to fly the airplane. The captain, the copilot, the flight engineer and another flight engineer that happened to be aboard were all trying to figure out what was wrong with the nose gear light.

Nobody's really paying attention to the aircraft. At some point the captain got out of his seat, bumped the yoke and [00:10:00] disengaged the autopilot. 11:00 at night, no external reference and the aircraft entered a gradual about 4 degree left bank descending turn. It took them several minutes to spiral down. Only in the last 7 seconds did the copilot notice that something wasn't right. He makes the comment, "Hey we're 2000 right?" As they're spinning down below 70 feet. Nobody did anything. They impacted the surface. The issue with automation there is simply when it turned off, nobody paid attention to what the airplane was doing.

China Airlines flight 006. It was a 747 SP flying transpacific, going to LA. They're up at 41,000 feet above an under cast and the number 4 engine begins to fail. The crew is aware things are happening. They have the autopilot in an altitude hold mode. Over the next 7 minutes, they're trying to diagnose what's wrong with the engine and they're not paying attention to what the aircraft is doing. Without that 4th engine they were unable to hold altitude. The aircraft starts descending, but the autopilot catches it after 500 to 1000 feet, brings it back up and it does this several times. Each time it does it, it's trading airspeed for altitude. The captain finally disengages the autopilot and the airplane rolled on it's back and descended through the clouds. Luckily, the base of the clouds is about 9000 feet up. They tumbled through the clouds and almost crashed. They were doing pretty close to [inaudible 00:11:45] 9 when they came out of the bottom of the clouds, restored external reference, then recovered the aircraft. In the attempt to recover the aircraft they pulled so hard they pulled sections of both [00:12:00] horizontal stabilizers off and broke the aft pressure bulkhead free from some of its attachments. Ended up doing an emergency landing into San Francisco. We believe that's one of the first human automation accidents where circadian rhythms were involved.

Another one that comes to mind is China Airlines 140. This happened at Nagoya, Japan with an Airbus A300-600. They were on approach in 1994. Everything's fine until the copilot bumps the takeoff go around switch. The airplane starts trying to follow the switch. Nobody recognizes why at first it's climbing. The copilot fights it, tries to push it over. Is unable to override it. The captain finally recognizes what's happening, is telling the copilot to turn it off, turn it off. Then he says, what's the matter with this? How come it isn't like this? The end result is the airplane stalled before they recovered it and killed everybody on the aircraft.

Of course, the recent Asiana Flight 214, the triple 7 in San Francisco back in 2013. The NTSB did a pretty good report on that thing and a major focus was on the one, the flight crew's not understanding how the automation was working. It's a bright, clear day in San Francisco, all they had to do was look out the front wind screens and they would have seen they were way too low on the approach. They got slow and they ended up catching the tail on the seawall and flipped them up and over. T estimate to the triple 7, it's a good strong airplane and they only had 3 fatalities. One of whom got run over by a firetruck. Then we have quite a few other examples that we could point to, but I want to get to my specific case studies and see what the record actually shows. If you'd advance it to the first case study, Bill.

That would be Tam Airlines, flight 3054. That's an A320. This is going to happen in [00:14:00] Sao Paulo, Brazil in July of 2007. The aircraft is landing on runway 35 left, which is about 6365 feet long. There's fairly significant thunderstorm and rain activity. They're doing a couple auto throttle approach. The right thrust reverser had failed on a previous flight. It had actually been stowed in place and wired. The crew knew it had failed so they were not expecting to have to deploy it. As they approached the ground, soon as they touched down they pulled the number 1 throttle into reverse, but left the right throttle in a full forward position. The aircraft's out of configuration, the flight management system recognizes this and uncoupled the auto throttle system. They don't recognize it. What happens now is the number 2 engine is responding to the position of the thrust lever, not to the auto flight system and it beings to accelerate the engine up to take off go around speed with the left engine in reverse.

As we might suspect, if you advance the slide Bill, the picture you're looking at over on the left slide you should see the airplane veering off the runway to the left. It's interesting looking at the speed profile of the aircraft. Initially they started decelerating but then all of a sudden they start accelerating again. Obviously with the differential thrust, the airplane begins to deviate off to the left. The copilot doesn't recognize this until toward the end of the runway. He tries to take over control of the airplane but is unsuccessful. They end up departing the end of the runway at 95 knotts and ended up in a maintenance building. The center picture you should be looking at is reverse view from the end of the [00:16:00] runway into the maintenance building they impacted. If you'd advance the slide again, the aircraft caught on fire. The net result of that was that we had a total of 187 people on the airplane killed and 12 people on the ground and quite a few injured. This still is the worst airline accident in South America and Brazil, up until at least Air France 447. Of course that happened in international territory.

If you could advance the slide one more. You should be looking at extracts from the flight data recorder. If you look at the left side you'll see a vertical array. Up at the top set of values are the thrust lever angles. You can see that number 1 engine is pulled back in reverse. That's the red line. If you look at the black line, that's the number 2 engine, it never moves. It's still in the full forward position. The next set of data below that are the engine pressure rations. You can see the number 1 pressure ratio is about where it should be, just above idle. Look at the number 2. It accelerates up to the point where they're in take off thrust now. Then you can see some of the other values that are shown there. Engine 2 vibration increases dramatically. Most importantly if you look down at the ground speed, the trace stops when they went off the end of the runway, but they had just dropped below 95, 100 knotts and they're doing 95 when they exit it. On the right's a close up of the thrust lever angles on the airplane and the engine pressure ratios. Without that set of data we might not fully understand what had happened to them.

From the cockpit voice recorder, it's pretty clear that at least for half of the ground run, neither pilot recognized what was actually occurring. Once the [00:18:00] copilot did become involved he was unable to save the airplane. In the aftermath of that accident Airbus issued an emergency service bulletin to all operators of A320's that regardless of circumstances with thrust reverser, you need to pull both levers aft if you're landing the airplane. That's that one. Actually, the Brazilian investigation had some 80 different findings of conclusions, but ultimately the causation was focusing mostly on the pilots and their misunderstanding of the situation with factors associated with the weather. Initially they weren't sure which of the two was the dominant but some of the revisions do focus more on the pilot side of things.

If you flip the next slide Bill you'll see Air France 447. Now this one happened in 2009. The airplane departed Rio in route Paris. It's going to fly through part of the South Atlantic ocean that is noted for very, very bad thunderstorm activity and very bad weather that time of the year. The airplane goes out over the ocean. What's interesting here is we didn't know what happened really for 2 years until the French contracted with a company to find the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder. They ultimately found both 2 years after it and about 40 million euros worth of expense. That meant everything to figuring out what had actually happened to the airplane. They had a little bit of an idea of what might happened because of the ACAR system sending 4 bursts of data to [inaudible 00:19:50]. Normally that would be used for maintenance information, but it clearly showed a degrading situation on the airplane as it ejected through. [00:20:00]

What was actually happening was they're in a very severe area of turbulence. The captain had actually just gone in the back for his rest period and a relief copilot's up in the right seat. You hear a lot of noise from the outside of the airplane that was interpreted as being impacting ice pellets and super cool water. What that did was it caused the pitot tubes to at least partially ice up. When the pitot tubes iced up, the airspeed indications all become erroneous and the airplane flight management system, because of that takes the aircraft partially off air pilot and it also causes the airplane to default to alternate law 2 which significantly means all of their envelope protections are now gone. Captain comes back into the cockpit, literally says what the hell is going on? They have a brief discussion about what might be the situation. They start getting stall warnings about 5 minutes before they're going to crash the airplane. The stall warnings go off 76 times during the next 4 1/2 minutes. There's obvious confusion on the part of all three pilots as to what's actually going on with the airplane.

The sad part is, most of the systems were still working. The problem was the relief copilot had been moving the side stick in a lot of different directions causing the airplane to roll, pitch, violently along with the turbulence. They can't see outside. They keep saying what's happening? What's happening? About half way through all of that, the copilot that is supposed to be flying the airplane says, I don't have control of the airplane anymore now. The captain appears to [00:22:00] understand at least some of the issues and he says, what are you doing? Again, the flying pilot says I don't know what's happening. The other copilot says we're losing control of the airplane. Again, the last 54 seconds of the decent, they have the airplane on a full stall. It's descending at about 10,000 feet a minute towards the surface at about a 15 to 16 degree nose high attitude. They seem to never recognize that. The net result is the last words on the cockpit voice recorder, we're going to crash. About 5 seconds later they hit the surface of the ocean at about 10,900 feet per minute. Shattered the air frame. The airplane sinks in 13,000 feet of water.

If you flip the next page. It was pretty clear that something had happened. The airplane doesn't check in with [inaudible 00:22:57] and they should have. Search effort starts at daylight. Some of the first things they find are the tail of the airplane, the vertical fin and the rutter and floating debris from the interior of the airplane and from the composite structures. The rest of the airplane's not there. They also are going to recover ultimately 49 bodies from the surface, one of whom was identified as the captain. That was significant because the one thing we knew early on was the captain was not actually belted into anything at the time the airplane impacted. He would have ridden the airplane down to the bottom had he been.

Again, the next 2 years there were a lot of ideas as to what might have happened to the aircraft but it wasn't until the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder were recovered that we really understood all of the things that happened. There's literally a multiple of failure of airmanship going on there. It's not just a matter of flying skills. It's a matter of understanding what the airplane's doing, what the systems in [00:24:00] the airplane are doing, the fact that the airplane was in alternate law. Nobody recognized that when the side stick's being pulled full aft, the airplane's responding to it. The stall warning goes off 76 times and then stops in the middle of that because the airplane's too slow. They get below 60 knotts, the system interprets that as something else is going on and it stops issuing the stall warning. Really, you've got a massive combination of things all of which culminate in the loss of the airplane. Frankly, we're still studying some of the things that happened with that particular crash. We found it ultimately by a remote operated vehicle which was doing bottom mapping. It turned out they ended up on the bottom about 70 miles from where the airplane entered the water. Bill, you should have advanced the slide again, I forgot to tell you.

If you look at the REMUS 2011 survey, that shows you the Air France 447 debris field in the bottom of the ocean. You can clearly see a landing gear. You can clearly see the right engine and some of the other items. If you advance it again, some detailed pictures of the other structures. Most importantly, if you'd advance it again, we see the chassis of the flight data recorder and the memory module had separated from it. If you take a look at the chassis, it's pretty severely bent in the upper direction. Same thing with the CVR, but the memory module stayed attached. Without that, we really wouldn't have understood what had happened to the airplane. Advance the slide.

Ultimately, a series of findings and conclusions, about 100 different findings and conclusions issued by the VEA final report, and causation ultimately focuses in on the pilot's misunderstanding of the situation, which all started with a relatively benign issue with the air speed [00:26:00] indications. Most pilots who've been taught how to fly big airplanes like that, you can fly an airplane without airspeed indications. You flight a certain pitch and you fly a certain power level and you know the airplane's not descending anymore. They never tried any of that. They were so totally focused on the automation, they really just lost situation awareness in a very rigorous situation. Granted, it's yawing pitch, rolling all over the place. It's night. Still, at some point, the systems were still working. They should have been able to fly the airplane and they didn't.

If you'd advance the slide to Air Asia. At the end of 2015 we see another A320. This one has some characteristics of the other automation interface accidents. This one's a little bit more extreme though. They're in a pretty severe weather situation as well. If you'd advance the slide again. In the upper left you should be looking at a weather depiction. You can see the route of the aircraft took them through some pretty rigorous weather. The copilot was flying the airplane initially and a relatively minor fault occurred in one of the trim systems. Literally a piece of solder broke and disconnected part of the trim system. The crew didn't understand what was happening and attempted to reboot the entire flight management system. The trouble was when they turned it off and turned it back on, the autopilot came back on but they were in alternate login and they start trying to climb the airplane, don't recognize they're on the edge of a stall, and let it stall. Down they came and ended up killing 155 passengers and 7 crew members.

Now those are the accidents that involve actual crashes. In the next slide you can see some of the debris from the Air Asia flight. If you go over to Qantas 32 [00:28:00], that's the next slide over I think, this is the opposite extreme. I could call this the yang to the yin of all the others because this is how you have to deal with an emergency situation like this. This flight is receding and the number 2 engine explodes. Literally here we've got an oil pipe that had fractured into the turbine section. One of the turbine wheels disintegrates. When it did that it threw shrapnel into 47 different points of the airplane. Some of which pretty critical.

On the left, you should be looking at a picture of the Qantas 8380. On the right's an 8380 cockpit. This is a full glass airplane. It's capable of full flyby wire. It has a wonderful emergency indicating system called an ECAM system which displays a schematic. It tells you what's wrong. It tells you ways to fix it. The trouble was during the next few minutes they get 54 ECAM warnings on their display. The crew did a magnificent job in dealing with the problems and flying the airplane. They had no control whatsoever of the number 1 engine because they didn't know it at the time, but a piece of shrapnel had gone through the wiring bundle to the engine. They have no control of it.

Advance the slide again please. You can see what some of the indications would look like. On the lower right you see this engine warning display and the ECAM display itself. In the upper left you see all the points that shrapnel went through the airplane. Advance the slide again. The number one engine kept running after they landed and they couldn't figure out any other way to get it to stop and ended up using fire fighting foam for about 28 minutes before they got it to stop running, probably a testament to the [00:30:00] engine's ability to ingest water and other fluids. They did get it to stop finally. Advance the slide please.

You'll see some of the damage. The engine itself, you've got a complete separation between the turbine sections in the rear of the engine. If you'd advance again you'll see some wiring bundles and a big hole that came out through the top of the wing. You also had penetrations into one of fuel tanks, which if you take a look at the next slide, you should note the dark residue which ended up being a fire in that fuel tank. Luckily it burned through all the oxygen. The fire extinguished itself before anything happened more serious. If you'd advance the slide again, the front spar was hit. The engine structures themselves were severely damaged.

The net result was this aircraft is very badly damaged and yet the crew was able to get the airplane down to an emergency landing in Singapore. The next slide, that's the oil pipe fracture. You can see the actual fracture itself, what it did, where it came out of the rear of the engine. If you'd advance the slide again, again we had a series of findings and conclusions, some of which related to why the engine itself failed, but also relating to the cockpit resource management efforts and the interactions with the crew between the crew and their ability to fly the airplane even in the face of a very severe circumstance. You look at the 3 accidents we looked at before, Qantas 32 is severely damaged. The other 3 really didn't have anything significant other than a misunderstanding on the part of the crew as to what was actually happening to them.

If you'd advance the slide again, you should be looking at the cover page of the recently released audit report by the [00:32:00] office of the DOT inspector general. It's focusing on US only, FAA oversight attempting to reduce hazards associated with increased use of flight deck automation. It had a series of recommendations for audits of the airlines that are using automation. I did find interesting one thing, for those of you that are familiar with the history of human factors, I did not know that Dr. [inaudible 00:32:28] had joined the Federal Aviation Administration. He was part of the original human factors team out at Ames field back in the 70's and 80's with John [inaudible 00:32:37] and some of those folks. Functionally what he's saying in his response to the DOT's report is that the FAA agrees with everything. I'll just read through this section from it. It's an interesting report. Ground and flight training enables pilots to prevent and recover from aircraft stalls and upsets. These new training standards will impact future simulator standards. Air carriers using data to track remedial training for pilots of performance deficiencies and unsatisfactory performance during flight training. Enhanced runway safety procedures. Enhanced crosswind training including training for wind gusts and several others.

This is not the first report that has been issued identifying interface with automation as a problem. The CAST team, which is the Commercial Aviation Safety Team of the FAA issued a report in 1994 focusing on quite a few different areas that should be addressed. Literally one of the things that they found was that about 95% of the time, pilots are using the auto flight systems, only about 5% of the time are they actually hand flying the airplane. That's usually that period below 500 feet. [00:34:00] Set of remedial issues, remedial approaches, quite a few recommendations have been made. Most of which focused on situational awareness. One of the big problems we've had for years is the job of being a pilot has been changing. We've gone from the stick and rutter days and direct control to more of a system's monitor. That has had some negative effects from the standpoint of these human error issues, particularly when the crew becomes so dissociated with what the airplane's actually doing that they don't understand what happens when something goes wrong. That's pretty much what I wanted to talk about and that should be the end of my slideshow. I'm going to go back now Bill to the acrobat system and I noticed it never came up so going to the alternate was a good idea. I think that's the bulk of my presentation. I think I finished up a couple minutes early. Bill, you still alive?

Bill Gibbs:

Yes. We're great for time, thank you so much Professor. There are a number of questions came in. We'll answer as many as we have time for. If more come in as we talk, that's fine. Let me begin with a beautiful segway to what you were saying. Jerry says, "Professor, thank you for your time. I'm nearly done with my masters in aeronautical science and I'm wondering, and my capstone project, excuse me, will be based on this same topic. Do we have enough data to support a hypothesis that automation degrades pilot skills?"

Bill Waldock:

The information we got indicates that in some cases it does. We'd have to say that most of the time automation helps us. It does again, provide a venue for human error specifically with disconnection of what the airplane's doing. That's where some of the [00:36:00] problems lie. It's not a simple problem and it's not a simple answer. There's quite a few things that are involved here. It probably does require some more research so if anybody's looking for a good subject for a paper or a masters thesis, I think there's still some room for those.

Bill Gibbs:

Thank you. Todd Wilson says AF 447 was that also an automation accident?

Bill Waldock:

I would say it's an automation involved accident. It was more a crew failure, a pilot failure to understand what the automation was doing and understand what the airplane, the fact that it had defaulted into alternate law 2 and was responding to the flight controls rather than the automation. They were focused so much initially on why the automation appeared to have failed that they really weren't paying attention to what the airplane was doing. They stayed disconnected from what it was doing from all the way to the surface of the ocean.

Bill Gibbs:

Thank you. Matthew asks, "What recommendation's do you have for pilots retaining hand flying skills with the advancement in take over of automation?"

Bill Waldock:

I think one of the things that's going to happen is the FAA is probably going to require increased hand flying of the aircraft. The automation's wonderful and airline operations and management have been emphasizing use of the automation for efficiency and performance purposes. It's necessary to maintain the flying skills including things like upset training. If you get an aircraft on it's back, I guess I could ask everybody in the audience, how many of you have been upside down in an airplane? Particularly if it happens and you're not expecting it. I've gone through some of the upset recovery training. I've done mild aerobatics with airplanes and if it happens to you suddenly and unexpectedly, it can be [00:38:00] pretty disorienting. I think there needs to be a further push for more upset training too.

Bill Gibbs:

Robert [inaudible 00:38:10] says that he's not sure that China Airlines 006 was an automation problem. The number 4 engine quit and the yoke was displaced as if in a turn.

Bill Waldock:

The auto pilot kept flying the airplane for several minutes while a crew was actually trying to figure out why the engine had failed. It's not to the degree some of the newer ones are in terms of automation. You do have some pretty significant circadian rhythm issues as well and fatigue factors in part of the fight crew. They clearly were not in touch with what the airplane was doing. At one point they were flying [inaudible 00:38:49] ociliations 1,000 foot up and 1,000 feet down, and didn't seem to be aware of it. The people in the back of the airplane, including the flight attendants were pretty well aware of what the airplane was doing. When they finally did disengage the autopilot they didn't realize the airplane was on the edge of a stall. In that standpoint, it's an automation involved accident, but it's certainly not a dominant factor.

Bill Gibbs:

Thank you. Michael has a comment more than a question. It's a little lengthy but I think it's well worth reading. He says as an airline pilot myself I can tell you that automation does fail and more often than one may think. I have found that one of the greatest risk to errors is for pilots to become over involved with trying to correct automation sues. One thing I personally do when automation becomes a distraction from safe flight is to to turn it off as the situation of course dictates. We can't get to become an airline pilot by not having flying skills at some point in time. I have had several instances, particularly on ILSPRM's where I would just assume turn off the autopilot rather than risk entering the [00:40:00] no transgression zone. Knowing your automation's limitations is also key to proper automation management, do you not think?

Bill Waldock:

I would have to say amen to all of that. To kind of segue into an issue that relates directly to that, a lot of times when you've got senior airline pilots that don't do some sort of recurrent hand flying, except when they're below 500 feet, and haven't really even been close to a light airplane since the last time they had an air midair, they get out to 20, 25,000 hours worth of flight time, I just ask the question, which is easier to fly? The 787 with all of the systems working or a [inaudible 00:40:51] 172. The answer's going to be it's the 787 with all the systems working. The problem is, no matter how sophisticated the automation is, no matter how wonderful it is, if it starts failing, you got to know when to turn it off because once that automation gone, you're back in an airplane. We're back to flying skills again. The 172 is a little harder to fly simple because you don't have all the help.

I might also add I've worked several accidents with retired airline pilots who decide to go get a light airplane. This is kind of a warning for some of you folks who might be getting near retirement, if you're going to do that make sure you get an instructor that's willing to ride with you and get you proficient in light airplanes. I've worked several where, again, the last time an airline captain was in a light airplane was right at the beginning of their training and then they retire and want to stay in aviation, go out and get something like a pit special. One accident I worked was an airplane called a turbine legend. There were only [00:42:00] about 14 of those, it's experimental. They blew a left tire. The two people in the aircraft blew a left tire on takeoff right at rotation. In the airline world you're taught to go around, take the airplane in the air. In this case, this aircraft is powered by 725 horsepower turbo prop engine on a 3800 pound airplane. The captain fire walled the throttle, they did a torque roll and killed both of them. If you're going to do something like that, make sure you get enough additional training to be able to fly the light airplane.

Bill Gibbs:

Thank you. Andres Felipe says, the investigation of the Air France accident leaves that the crew did not rely on the attitude indicator or were they fixated on the other instruments?

Bill Waldock:

One of the things that fascinating, if you have the opportunity, I suggest all of you do this, the cockpit voice recorder transcript is available. You can download it. It's fascinating to read the interactions between the pilots and the interactions with the system. Just the fact that the stall warning's gone off 76 times, they don't notice it. They don't seem to be aware that it's going off at all. Granted, you've probably got a high level of ambient noise going off in the cockpit but that's a pretty loud warning. It's also got a chirping, they call it the cricket, that accompanies it. One of the things we run into sometimes, the phenomenon actually has a name now, it's called auditory fatigue. Particularly warning systems if they go off too often, you just stop hearing them. I've experienced that myself several times. With Air France 447, I'd suggest to answer your question, get ahold of that cockpit voice recorder transcript and just read it through for about the last [00:44:00] 15 minutes of the flight. It's fascinating how disconnect from the aircraft the crew really was. The captain appears to start becoming reconnected toward the end but he never tried to physically do anything at all. Hope that answered it for you.

Bill Gibbs:

Thank you. For those listening in, I want to let you know that we just have time for this final question. There were many other questions. I do apologize that time forbids us from getting to them. This is an excellent question to end with from JD. It says Professor, do you feel that the quarterly training that focused on these types of emergencies would help mitigate some of the potential issues?

Bill Waldock:

Quarterly training would help but if you look at part of what helped the crew on Qantas 32, they were going through seven times a year the type of training yorue talking about. I'm sure that helped them in dealing with the situation they had. The seven times a year, obviously there's a counter balance you've got to deal with if you're doing recurrent training. You're not flying airplanes for revenue. Sometimes that requires the buy in of upper management to be able to do things like that. It certainly served it's purpose with Qantas.

Bill Gibbs:

I had said that that was the last question, but there is a question here that I think we should address form Brett for all of those who fly helicopters. He says, do you know of any significant helicopter related mishaps dealing with automation? This will be the final question.

Bill Waldock:

There are some. Different systems though. Helicopter pilots are a different breed of cat. You [inaudible 00:45:45] already know that. I have to say, you're usually more in-tuned with what your aircraft's doing for all the reasons that Harry [inaudible 00:45:52] stated. For those of you that don't recognize that, just look it up or Google it. Most [00:46:00] helicopter pilots I've found are more in-tuned on an ongoing basis of what the aircraft's doing.

Bill Gibbs:

All right. Thank you very much. That does conclude our Q&A time. I have just a few more slides on the housekeeping order and then we will be done. I want to mention that there are actually 5 upcoming webinars. There are 3 that have been scheduled that are already showing up on the website. The next one of those is April 14th on project management with Dr. [inaudible 00:46:32]. We have one on May 12th with a return visit form Dr. Terry [inaudible 00:46:36] who's going to be talking about writing communications. On June 9th a return visit with Dr. Rose [Opengaurd 00:46:43] on how to write a resume that gets results. Just this morning we added 2 additional ones. They're not even on the website. They will be added in the next few days. Airports in the 21st century: Airport planning, design, and development. We have received numerous requests from audience members to include an airport planning webinar. We're going to do this as a two part series on March 24th dealing with airport sustainability, safety, and certification. On March 31st, the second part of the webinar series on airport security, planning, and design. I hope you can join us. We will be issuing additional information about these 2 brand new webinars that are a direct result of reading over the surveys and finding out what you would like to know more about.

Now, we do have a week form today, right now, actually it will be from 2:00-2:45, a debriefing that will cover 2 debriefs that are related to what we've just talked about today, the bachelor of aeronautics, the bachelor of science of aeronautics and the masters of science in human factors. Then, this does conclude today's webinar. I wanted to just give you a few [00:48:00] announcements. If you would like a participation certificate, when you receive that email from me, it will give you instructions on getting a certificate. It will include a link to the recording, a link to the webinar survey, and the ability to register for the degree briefing. The degree briefing is only available to those who participate in/or registered for the webinar. It's a special time of follow up information for those interested in those degrees. As always, if you have any questions please email me. I'd be happy to address it. I do apologize to those who experienced audio issues today. I hope you were able to view the reporting if you missed any of the presentation. At this time we are officially concluded. I'd like to thank everybody for joining us and you all have a great day. Bye now.

Bill Waldock:

Bill are you going to stay on? Yup, he went away.

Advances in computing technology have made today’s jetliners highly automated. From takeoff to landing computers are interacting constantly with the flight crew. While this technology is a very good thing, inadvertently it can lead to decrease in piloting skills, making pilots less aviators and more systems managers. The over reliance on automated systems has led to several well-known air crashes:

  • Air France Flight 447 crashed into the Atlantic in June 2009. Ice crystals caused the autopilot to disconnect, and the crew reacted incorrectly which led to an unrecoverable stall and subsequent crash.
  • AirAsia Flight 8501 crashed into the Java Sea in December 2014. The plane’s rudder travel limiter malfunctioned and the autopilot pushed the aircraft went into an abnormally steep climb, where it stalled and fell. The pilots’ responses were inadequate and 162 people died.

In this webinar, noted aviation safety expert and ERAU Professor William Waldock looked at the degradation of airmanship skills due to automation and what can be done to ensure pilots maintain the highest degree of concentration and control in an era of increasing automation.

Watch the Full Webinar Now  

 About the Presenter

Photo of Bill Waldock for the Worldwide free webinar

William "Bill" Waldock is a Professor of Safety Science at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University's Prescott Campus. He is the creator of the aviation safety programs at Embry-Riddle and has spent the last 33 years developing and enhancing the school's academic safety endeavors. 

A retired U.S. Coast Guard officer and pilot, Waldock has spent more than three decades investigating accidents. He's worked more than 200 aircraft investigations and has analyzed 500 more. 

Waldock - who is president of the Arizona Chapter of the International Society of Air Safety Investigators - has written numerous articles on aviation safety, aircraft accidents, aircraft fire investigation, and crash survivability. He has appeared in numerous safety-themed video programs and has provided expert commentary to both the print and electronic media.

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