This has been a very trying several months for the US Federal Aviation Administration. In March, Phillip Washington, President Joe Biden’s pick to lead the organization, withdrew his name from nomination. The FAA has also received scathing assessments on topics ranging from 5G integration to “near misses” and other safety issues during this spring’s FAA fiscal year 2024 budget request hearings on Capitol Hill.
Fast forward to WATS 2023. The FAA appears to have gotten it right with the release last November of its Advisory Circular (AC) 120-123 on Flight Path Management (FPM). Most important, the regulatory document strikes a balance between manual flight operations and managing automated systems. Dr. Kathy Abbott, Chief Scientific and Technical Advisor, Flight Deck Human Factors at FAA, told WATS delegates the AC provides guidance and recommended practices for parts 121 and 135, as well as part 142 training centers, in developing operational policies, procedures, and training to support effective flightpath management – the planning, execution, and assurance of the guidance and control of aircraft trajectory and energy, in flight or on the ground. Abbott emphasized to need to balance managing automation systems with manual flight operations.
She emphasized the latter flight mode “is high profile, important to FAA.” Yet, while pointing out that eye-watering automation is increasingly entering commercial airline cockpits, the FAA executive said, “we still see pilots who get confused although systems are working as designed. We also need training for ‘gotchas.’” Abbott called for the community to consider honing manual training skills during training, and solo operations and other instances during flight when safety could remain paramount.
Managing eVTOL Expectations
Ben Lafargue, AQP Manager in FAA’s Training and Simulation Group (AFS-280), updated delegates on another unresolved regulatory matter on his organization’s ledger. Acknowledging eVTOL pilot certification remains a “big, unresolved challenge,” the executive told WATS pilot track attendees, “I can’t discuss this further. I do expect decisions to be coming very soon.”
Other flight management tasks on FAA’s list for possible future regulatory action – with implications for training enterprises – include stabilized approach and go around.