“Glass cockpits” deliver many safety benefits to GA pilots and have fueled industry growth, but pilot training must still evolve to address the safety challenges posed by Technologically Advanced Aircraft (TAA), according to a soon-to-be-released study by the AOPA Air Safety Foundation.
“TAA are neither as good as proponents say nor as bad as detractors contend,” said AOPA Air Safety Foundation Executive Director Bruce Landsberg at M5, the fifth annual fly-in of the Cirrus Owners and Pilots Association. “These aircraft provide situational awareness tools that have dramatically improved aspects of GA safety. But those tools are not enough to overcome a pilot’s faulty decision-making or a lack of experience in how those aircraft are operated.”
Set to be released this month, the study examined accident records between 2003 and 2006 of new and existing aircraft designs that included a multifunction display, an IFR-approved GPS and an autopilot. Manufacturers included Beech, Cessna, Cirrus, Columbia, Diamond, Mooney and New Piper. The study updates an earlier report published in 2004.
Landsberg noted that excitement over TAA has reinvigorated aircraft sales and attracted more people to learn to fly. The new study finds that some TAA capabilities, such as moving map, fuel management and widescreen attitude indicator displays, have helped reduce the occurrence of accidents involving maneuvering flight and fuel starvation compared to aircraft equipped with traditional “steam gauge” instruments.
However, the report shows that TAA fare worse in other areas, including landing and go-around accidents related to the high-performance aerodynamic design of many new aircraft. TAA accident data also were up to three times worse than the non-TAA fleet in weather-related accidents due, in part, to how many new pilots use TAA. The study found that weather-related accidents accounted for nearly 45% of all glass cockpit fatal accidents compared to 16% for the GA fleet.
“These accidents are not the fault of the airplane,” Landsberg said. “As the famed aviator Antoine de Saint Exupery said, ‘The machine does not isolate us from the great problems of nature, but plunges us more deeply into them.’ We as an industry are still playing catch-up on the training aspects of TAA. We are making progress, but we don’t yet have all of the tools.”
Among the training challenges are teaching new pilots to be informed and efficient “systems managers” in addition to having sound stick-and-rudder skills. Pilots also have to learn how to use capabilities such as terrain proximity and datalink weather displays without becoming overly reliant on the technology.
“TAA are a continuing positive evolution, but not a revolution, in GA,” said Landsberg. “TAA can give us better knowledge of the nature of flying. But the technology is not a panacea because human nature is still alive and well. We are addressing some fundamental issues in GA training, but there is a lot more to be done.”
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