Since the first primary and multifunction displays were introduced many advances in training technique and technology have taken place. Julie Boatman Filucci looks at the industry experience with Technically Advanced Aircraft (TAA) and the impact to air carrier transfer-of-training and overall pilot performance.

If you want to be proficient at flying glass cockpit aircraft, one consistent piece of advice from experienced instructors rings true: “Apply SOPs, live by the SOPs and practice scenarios in the simulator in high-stress, high-workload situations while hand flying.” Sounds like the key to safe flying throughout a pilot’s career, doesn’t it? Airlines will be pleased to find that today’s students benefit from this foundation - and part of the credit goes to the advent of advanced avionics in modern training aircraft.

Thirteen years ago, airplane manufacturers introduced the first primary (PFDs) and multifunction displays (MFDs) into light aircraft. After several years of observing them in service, the National Transportation Safety Board of the United States issued a report on “technologically advanced aircraft” (TAA): “Safety Study: Introduction of Glass Cockpit Avionics into Light Aircraft,” adopted in March 2010. The board’s analysis found that for 2002 to 2008, single-engine aircraft equipped with glass cockpit displays experienced lower total accident rates - but higher fatal accident rates - than the same type of aircraft equipped with conventional analog instruments. At that time, the current knowledge and practical exams did not test pilots’ savvy on glass cockpit displays. However, then as now, pilots not only needed to understand the instrumentation for the airplanes they trained in, but also that of the modern airliners they might fly in the future. [see Figure 1 below]


Figure 1: NTSB Findings Still Hold True

The NTSB typically outlines several recommendations as the result of a safety study. In their 2010 report, the findings included the following, which hold true today:

  • “Pilots must be able to demonstrate a minimum knowledge of primary aircraft flight instruments and displays in order to be prepared to safely operate aircraft equipped with those systems, which is necessary for all aircraft but is not currently addressed by Federal Aviation Administration knowledge tests for glass cockpit displays.”
  • “Pilots are not always provided all of the information necessary to adequately understand the unique operational and functional details of the primary flight instruments in their airplanes.”
  • “Generalized guidance and training are no longer sufficient to prepare pilots to safely operate glass cockpit avionics; effective pilot instruction and evaluation must be tailored to specific equipment.”
  • “Simulators or procedural trainers are the most practical alternative means of training pilots to identify and respond to glass cockpit avionics failures and malfunctions that cannot be easily or safely replicated in light aircraft.”


While the Avidyne Entegra went into the SR20 and the Garmin G1000 into the Lancair Columbia in 2003, and Cessna put the G1000 into the 182 with the 2004 model, most singles weren’t delivered with glass. The penetration into the training fleet hit its stride around 2007, with more than 1,600 TAA delivered in this category. [see Figure 2 below]


Figure 2: New TAA Deliveries, 2007 vs. 2016.

Figure 2: New TAA Deliveries, 2007 vs. 2016.


Lower delivery figures today demonstrate some saturation of this market. According to the most recent report of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, for 2016, numbers have dropped to roughly a third (542 units). Not all went directly into training fleets, but the majority of these aircraft will see either primary or initial transition training over their lifespans.

New production aircraft don’t account for all of the glass in the fleet. In 2007, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association published “Technologically Advanced Aircraft: Safety and Training,” through its Air Safety Foundation. The ASF report defined both “legacy” TAA, or those existing aircraft models with glass cockpit systems retrofit into their panels, and “new” TAA, whose designs were formed incorporating glass cockpit avionics from inception. These distinctions persist, with one branch of training conducted in legacy TAA, such as the Cessna 172 with both Garmin G1000 and aftermarket avionics, and new TAA, such as the Diamond DA40. ASF also identified where challenges might lay in transitioning pilots into both kinds of TAA.

That Was Then...

To determine if progress has been made in addressing the issues raised by the NTSB and ASF, we interviewed experienced flight instructors, conducting training under FAA and EASA regulations, for both ab initio students and those pilots transitioning to glass cockpit aircraft. Our small cohort possesses more than 15,000 collective hours of total instruction given in “glass,” with more than one-third of those hours in instrument flight instruction.

The key issue remains: “Glass cockpit displays can present more information in the space required for conventional instrument panels, but the increase in information places greater demands on pilot attention and creates a risk of overloading pilots with more information than they can effectively monitor and process,” according to the original NTSB report. According to an ongoing review of the NTSB and other accident databases, pilots continue to make the same errors of airmanship that they have always made, where the presence of a glass cockpit cannot save them from their own shortcomings in aircraft control and aeronautical decision-making. Emphasis on these areas must continue as a foundation and precursor to any work understanding the avionics in the panel.

Training Guidance

So, what has changed? Ten years ago, testing and training tools lagged behind the technology. The NTSB study noted, “With the exception of training provided by airframe manufacturers with the purchase of a new aircraft, pilots must currently seek out and obtain equipment-specific glass cockpit training on their own.” While neither the FAA nor EASA requires type-specific training in these aircraft, common sense and, often, insurance requirements dictate this kind of training.

When these aircraft were first introduced, training via CD/DVD and nascent online products also came of age. Now, web-based application training is the norm, with the industry advancing the art at a pace even greater than the advance of cockpit technology. With integration into manuals from the private pilot or ab-initio level on, a budding pilot can’t help but be confronted with learning about PFDs, MFDs, GPS, and digital autopilots. It took the regulators a bit longer to catch up, but we now have learning objectives and task elements at nearly every level of testing, with many interwoven into standards for the instrument rating.

Most instructors interviewed had participated in one or more manufacturer’s course, with specialized instruction for educators as a way to increase the quality and safety of training in the field. Manufacturers such as Cirrus and Cessna recognize those instructors having completed their programs with either a designation [Cirrus Standardized Instructor Pilot (CSIP)] or logged ground and flight instruction at the factory (Cessna).

Max Trescott, 2008 FAA CFI of the Year and a long-time CSIP, recalls it this way. “The training was excellent, and I came back with hours of tape recordings I made during the course plus 20 pages of typed notes. After I got home, I remember thinking, ‘I think I’m a smart pilot, so why is this so difficult?’” He became part of the solution, writing a book called “Max Trescott’s G1000 Glass Cockpit Handbook,” now in its fifth edition.

Enter Simulation

One common denominator emerges: Effective use of simulation. Simulating failures while in flight can test an instructor’s ingenuity, to stay both on the right side of the manufacturers (who frown upon pulling circuit breakers for training purposes) and safety. While tools such as cling masks and dimming brightness can hide a display, gaining the realism of a true failure – particularly a cascading one – is tough in the cockpit. Fortunately, simulation delivers the answer.

All instructors we interviewed insisted that some type of simulation be integrated into any training program. Tools range from desktop or PC-based simulations, to procedures trainers that replicate or constitute actual avionics equipment. Of course, the most advanced and realistic, the FNPT II or ATD fixed based, enclosed sim, is ideal – and many flight schools today are able to invest in these devices as their entry price point lowers.

Better Training

Kay Vereeken, head of Training at EuroPilot Center in Antwerp, Belgium, recognizes the leap that the initial technology made when he first flew with the Garmin G1000 in the Cessna Skyhawk in 2007, from what he was accustomed to in the regional airliner he flew at the time. He also acknowledges the resulting tendency to focus attention inside. “We solved this by applying strict usage of Heading/Altitude/Speed bugs, making the integrated scan faster, [plus] the addition of Redbird simulators during the very beginning of the VFR training.” When compared to today, however, Vereeken notes that the issue is less pervasive. “Students are not seeking flight parameters and are not overloaded anymore by the amount of data on the screens; they know what to ‘scan’ for, during [each of the] phases of flight.”

Learning how to scan takes practice, notes Jeff Van West, FAA CFII and training developer based in Vermont. “The needle positions are easier to catch out of the corner of your eye [when flying on traditional instruments]. It takes time for a pilot to develop new habits, particularly using heading and altitude bugs to substitute for the at-a-glance deviations.” But other training topics loom. For Van West, “The bigger issue was mastering the navigation systems and ‘buttonology.’ It provides far more information, but takes more computer and systems skill to master. A common lament was, ‘What should I be looking at now?’ Much of my work in building skill and confidence for pilots was teaching them how to organize and prioritize information.”

Trescott points to the instrument scan itself as a root of pilot problems. “Most CFIs still teach a hub-and-spoke instrument scan, which is optimal for flying with traditional round-gauge instruments, but which totally misses the benefits of using a scan optimized for glass panel layouts... glass PFDs have ‘lines of information’ instead of the traditional ‘triangles of information’ found in round-gauge panels.” By learning the right kind of instrument scan, a budding airline pilot establishes it as primary, without having to modify such an ingrained habit when making the transition later.

Scenarios Address Common Issues

Since first becoming a factory-trained CSIP in 2004, Robert Littlefield has taught in many of the glass-cockpit equipped single-engine airplanes on the market. When compared to the poor ergonomics seen in early GPS installations, Littlefield finds today’s “glass cockpit technology greatly enhances the pilot’s positional and attitudinal situational awareness (SA). But the complexity, lack of standardization, and integration of different glass cockpit components introduces a new challenge to the pilot I call ‘systems situational awareness.’ I could have also called this ‘button and knob situational awareness,’ because it describes the need for the pilot to confirm what button he pushed or what knob he turned, and whether or not pushing that button or turning that knob produced the desired result.” Clearly, this type of SA is a critical life skill for future airline pilots.

To build this form of SA, Littlefield calls out the missed approach scenario as one of the best training tools. “Even in the best of equipment this is a tricky challenge, complicated by the fact the pilot has to act quickly and has to overcome the element of surprise at not having the expected outcome.” Vereeken notes specifically the missed during an LPV [GPS] approach: “Not understanding the meaning of [Suspend] mode during an LPV approach when executing a missed approach results in not performing a positive climb,” leading to confusion, or worse.

Gaining the realism of a true failure is tough in the cockpit. Fortunately, simulation delivers the answer. Image credit: Frasca.
Gaining the realism of a true failure is tough in the cockpit. Fortunately, simulation delivers the answer. Image credit: Frasca.

Actual Equipment Failures?

One of the key recommendations from the 2010 NTSB report was to “inform aircraft and avionics maintenance technicians about the critical role of voluntary service difficulty reporting system reports [sic] involving malfunctions or defects associated with electronic primary flight, navigation, and control systems.” The recommendation stemmed from the inconsistent feedback received from the field following early in-service failures, resulting in a lack of valuable data making its way back to the manufacturer. Without knowing how and when components fail, the manufacturer clearly had trouble improving its products.

However, the reality they feared then has not borne out in terms of actual equipment failure rates, at least according to our anecdotal reports. Vereeken has had only one serious problem with one of the LRUs (line replaceable units), causing a two-week grounding; no other incident in eight years has caused more than a 3-day delay in return to service. Van West has experienced a couple of AHRS warnings, with one back-up AHRS failure (on an Avidyne Entegra-equipped airplane) and one full Air Data/AHRS failure on an early G1000-equipped Cessna that peppered the screen with the dreaded red Xs. Trescott had one “infant mortality” failure discovered at the Cessna factory in a new 206, but nothing else of note in more than 6,500 hours of glass cockpit instruction. Similarly, Littlefield has recorded no serious incidents in more than 4,000 hours of training pilots in TAA.

Accident Rates

While it’s difficult to draw a direct line between the advancements in overall training, regulatory guidance, and targeted simulation and the accident rate in TAA, overall it’s clear that the sky has not fallen. The outcome as TAA have matured in the field shows varying success. In fact, as we went to press, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association plans to update its report on TAA from 2007 with a current investigation into the total and fatal accident rates, and what common causes have been.

Trescott holds type ratings in the Embraer Phenom 100 and Eclipse 550, both of which feature avionics just a step up from those PFDs and MFDs found in the singles and twins he’s flown - which illuminates another important feature for pilots starting out in “simple” glass and moving up. Most manufacturers look upon this commonality as a benefit as pilot’s transition to more advanced aircraft - and it makes sense. So, it would also make sense that pilots going into the new Boeing 737 and Airbus A320 will benefit too, from taking at least part of their initial training on glass.  cat

Tips For Training On Glass

Instructors today will train students at least partially in glass cockpit aircraft.

From our experts, here’s a selection of key elements to include:

  1. Teach the right scan for the PFD.
  2. Prioritize the important information.
  3. Make a plan for transitioning to manual flight, in normal ops and in emergencies.
  4. Practice the “buttonology.”
  5. Understand your level of systems situational awareness.

Published in CAT issue 2/2019.