New aircraft types, new nav and comms systems, and new mandates for stall and adverse weather training. The pilot’s training task list is constantly changing, and simulation technologists are being challenged to extend the envelope. Rick Adams examines some emerging issues.
Perhaps there’s a sliver of a silver lining that large numbers of veteran pilots, especially in the United States, will be retiring in the next several years as Congress’ 2007 ‘Fair Treatment’ extension to age 65 expires. Allied Pilots Association vice president Neil Roghair has estimated, for example, that half of American Airlines’ pilots will leave the company in the next decade.
How can this loss of experience be a positive, especially amidst ubiquitous predictions of a looming pilot shortage? Well, at least the airlines won’t have to pay the cost of re-training older pilots on impending technologies such as ground based augmentation systems (GBAS) or updated techniques for stall recovery.
A dedicated 2-3 day upset prevention and recovery training (UPRT) course, including academics, flight simulator, and an aerobatic aircraft, costs at least US$3,000. For the half a million commercial airline pilots Airbus and Boeing project worldwide in the next 20 years, that would be $1.5 billion just for UPRT training (though, at the ab initio level, only a 2-3% increase on the $100,000-150,000 cost to train a new cadet).
The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) estimates changes to simulators to address UPRT will cost training operators about $50 million to update 322 existing devices to meet the new extended envelope standards. About 500 other older simulators in the field were deemed as “not likely to be used in a Part 121 training program” for stall and upset recovery training.
Conference hallway chatter suggests that aircraft manufacturers Airbus and Boeing, as well as some airlines, are not yet completely convinced of the need to require UPRT of all pilots. This despite issuance in March of Doc 10011, Manual on Aeroplane Upset Prevention and Recovery Training, by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), based on inputs from blue-ribbon aviation industry committees representing OEMs, airlines, pilot groups, training providers, and regulators who have debated the UPRT issue for several years.
Henry Defalque of ICAO’s Air Navigation Bureau said, “Mitigating loss of control in-flight [LOC-I] accidents is an ICAO safety priority and upset prevention and recovery training for pilots is one means to address this priority.”
In the US, the question of whether to provide UPRT is more or less moot since Congress passed a law mandating such training. “We’re not going to sit here and debate whether it makes sense or doesn’t make sense. We have to figure out a solution on how to best implement this,” said Jim Takats, president and chief executive officer of Textron’s TRU Simulation + Training.
Simulator manufacturers and other industry stakeholders are scrambling to comment by October 8 on the FAA’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) addressing the new extended envelope training, as well as certain adverse weather training such as icing and crosswinds. Indeed, the first public comment on the NPRM was a request from American for more time to respond.
The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has also launched a UPRT rulemaking task working group and expects a report next year. This would lead to amendments in 2016 for acceptable means of compliance (AMC) and guidance materials. Andrea Boiardi, fixed wing expert in the EASA Operational Suitability group, said, “The whole aviation community has been working to identify solutions to reduce the number of LOC-I events.”
The EASA rulemaking group is taking “a holistic approach,” according to Boiardi. “We’re looking at the pilot career, starting from licensing to the airline pilot doing his recurrent training. The pilot needs to understand the dynamics, needs to understand the behavior of aircraft in general and their specific type at different altitudes and in different conditions; for example, they need to understand the behavior in a stall.”
Brent Matthewson, EASA FSTD expert, noted there are already some objective requirements in the Agency’s certification specification for flight simulators, “not only up to stall warning but also looking at stall indications such as buffet and minimum stall speeds.”
One strong argument in favor of UPRT is that many pilots currently flying may have been taught techniques now deemed incorrect. And despite recent guidance emphasizing immediate angle of attack reduction, most still focus on airspeed and altitude. “We’ve been doing this wrong for a very long time,” stated the FAA’s Rob Burke, manager, Air Carrier Training Systems and Voluntary Safety Programs Branch (AFS-280), at the WATS 2014 conference.
In a study of B737-rated pilots last year, the FAA attempted to understand how the “startle factor” of an unexpected stall event could be applied in a simulator, where pilots obviously know there’s no danger of actually crashing. One major surprise was that fewer than one in four of the pilots applied the proper stall recovery procedure correctly, according to Dr. Jeff Schroeder, the agency’s chief scientific and technical adviser for flight simulation systems. Perhaps more shocking: most pilots reverted to the old, discredited response, worsening the stall.
Griffith University scientist Wayne Martin, who is also a B777 First Officer for Virgin Australia Airlines, told an ICAO symposium on LOC-I that, because pilots are rarely exposed to abnormal events during day-to-day flights, they rarely mentally rehearse potential responses to various crises – in effect, they are lulled to sleep. When a crisis does pop up, “lack of expectation has been shown to increase the level of startle” and “can result in significant and possibly critical performance degradations at a time when they are most needed.” Martin said research has shown significant impairment in information processing for up to 30 seconds. “Communication is often disorganized and incoherent for some time.”
Martin recommends pilots maintain “a healthy suspicion for abnormalities” and incorporating unexpected critical events during training.
The FAA extended envelope training mandate does not take effect until 2019. But there are some significant UPRT challenges to be discussed and resolved in the meantime.
One issue is whether in-aircraft training should be a requirement. “There is a huge discussion on what kind of aeroplane should be used and the correct risk it should have, and that is very much dependent on the level of upset that you want to reach,” EASA’s Boiardi told CAT.
“ICAO has gone with, let’s say, a ‘soft’ approach not to mandate the use of aerobatic aeroplanes because most member States might not have the technology for that,” he noted. At EASA, “the discussion is ongoing what level of performance in terms of the aeroplane’s use should be mandated. The approach we are taking in this rulemaking group is to require more effective training for upset prevention and recovery, focusing of course on prevention and avoidance. The objective is for pilots to avoid finding themselves in an upset. We are looking to mandate requirements based on the technology that is available.”
Bombardier Flight Test Center senior test pilot Steve Stowe told the ICAO LOC-I symposium that his organization opted for in-aircraft upset training with UPRT specialist Advanced Performance Solutions (APS) because “the startle factor is far more real in an airplane. We can do a better job of ‘surprising’ FSTD trainees, but they won’t be ‘scared.’ There’s no ‘fear’ in a sim; you can always go on motion freeze and go on a coffee break.”
In an airplane, Stowe contrasted, a pilot can experience “actual g forces and sensations, including the startle/pucker factor of really having to get it right.”
Another significant area of debate is whether the aerodynamic model used in the simulator for stall training must be type-specific. “It seems in many cases the OEMs have that data because they are required under Part 125 certification to stall the aircraft, but whether the data is usable for simulation purposes or whether they’re willing to provide that data for other reasons is one of the challenges,” said TRU’s Takats, who has been very active in the LOC-I and UPRT international working groups.
“There are recommendations, since this is a training tool, that having very good representative data and a representative model that behaves like a swept-wing aircraft is going to be sufficient to train the appropriate maneuvers, things to do and things not to do.”
An FAA spokesperson told CAT, “The new proposed aerodynamic models will have wider fidelity envelopes. That is, they will be more representative of the airplane out to higher angles of attack and sideslip than exist today in most cases. These improvements support stall recovery training almost exclusively, as much of the training that involves large attitudes can be accomplished with the existing aerodynamic models.”
Type-specific models to support stall training are certainly possible for some aircraft. Initial flight test data from Cessna for TRU’s CJ3 device enabled the simulator to be modeled to full stall capability and was subjectively evaluated by the Cessna pilot.
Frasca International has several flight models they have flown through high-alpha flight regimes, according to sales representative Randy Gawenda. “The Level 6 Cessna 402C we are building for Cape Air Airlines included tests at over 20 degrees angle of attack and as low as 49 KIAS [Knots-Indicated Air Speed], which is deep into the stall regime. Level 6 requires an aircraft flight test as the qualification test guide must match the aircraft data very accurately.”
Takats thinks training the trainers is more critical than the necessary tech fixes. “The instructors today aren’t necessarily all adequately trained to be able to teach proper upset recovery techniques. The instructors will have to go through significant training.”
Airlines and, to a certain extent, business aviation pilots are also having to adapt to new navigation and communication technology in their cockpits.
One example is the ground based augmentation system (GBAS) landing system, best known as GLS. “The flexibility you have with GLS is just incredible,” said Steve Schmidt, avionics subject matter expert for simulator and training provider FlightSafety International. “One day it’s going to be a beautiful world when all the airports have GLS approaches.”
GBAS technology is available on newer transport aircraft models such as the Airbus A320, A330, A340, A350, and A380, Boeing 737NG, 747-8, and 787 aircraft. Among the airports which have implemented or plan to install GLS systems are Newark/Liberty and Houston/Bush in the US; Bremen and Frankfurt in Germany; Zurich, Switzerland; Malaga, Spain; Chennai, India; and Sydney, Australia. Airline adoptees already include Qantas, Air Berlin, and United.
“GLS is limited to CAT I operations right now, but it certainly has capabilities for CAT II and CAT III,” Schmidt said. (The FAA is currently validating standards for a GBAS CAT-III minima service, projecting 2018 availability.) “If you can create a technology solution that eliminates weather’s ability to limit your access to an airport, then weather becomes a non-issue.”
So what type of training is necessary for GLS? Schmidt: “To a pilot a GLS approach feels like an ILS approach. The training can take 20 seconds for a pilot who already knows how to fly an ILS approach. The bigger training challenge for GLS is low visibility and how do you prepare for the transition from instruments to looking out the window? What kind of [runway visual ranges] are required? How low can the ceiling be? There’s a significant amount of training required before you can get a pilot ready for CAT II operations, and all of the training is centered around low-visibility operations, the transition from inside the cockpit to outside.”
For CAT III, Schmidt explained that a head-up display (HUD) is required with a smart flare cue and landing roll-out guidance. “You’re going to be landing on a runway where, looking out the window, you might see one or two centerline lights going by, and it would be very easy to get lost on the runway at 160 knots as you land.”
Another newer cockpit technology is the text messaging datalink service between pilots and air traffic control, Controller-Pilot Data-Link Communications (CPDLC), used for frequency changes, clearances, turns, headings, and other requests that don’t require voice communications.
FlightSafety not only makes the required CPDLC training available as a web-based iPad application, they’ve embedded the capability in some simulators as an initial training option.
“If you had asked me three years ago would we need to be in a simulator to train datalink, I would have said you’ve got two pilots staring at a display in the cockpit reading the text messages and answering them – why in the world would you need a visual system and motion in a full-flight simulator to do CPDLC training?” Schmidt asked.
“What I’ve learned, since I’ve done some training in the simulator, is that the pilots don’t get it until they’re immersed in the scenario. When you get them in the simulator and they take off out of Farnborough and they have to log onto London Center so they can do CPDLC with London and then they watch the transition to Shannon and then watch the transition to Shandwick and they do a little bit going across the ocean, they get it. Just a world of difference in their level of understanding, knowledge, and wisdom.”
Schmidt said some of the pilots previously used CPDLC in their aircraft before, “and they say to me, ‘Now I finally understand how it works.’”