Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Automation Degrades Skills (Duh)



First, let me give credit where credit is due. AvWeb sent me to the Wall Street Journal which wouldn’t let me read what I wanted so I searched and went here, which sent me here. If I sound irritated, the reason is in the story headline.

FAA study finds serious flaws in pilot training for handling automation

”Inadequate crew knowledge of automated systems was a factor in more than 40% of accidents and 30% of serious incidents between 2001 and 2009, delegates at the 2-5 November Flight Safety Foundation International Aviation Safety Seminar in Milan, Italy, were told.”

Any controllers out there want to expound upon their own lack of ”knowledge of automated systems ”?

Everybody knows this is my interest so there’s no point in being sly about it. The ATC system depends on Flight Progress Strips as a back up to URET and we all know that the knowledge needed to operate with strips (much less the physical skills) is already all but gone. Think about it as we move along.

”Presenting progress in her research toward the new report, FAA human factors specialist Dr Kathy Abbott catalogued the evidence of disharmony between crews and their highly automated aircraft. The study is based on accident and incident data and line operation safety audits over the period 2001- 2009. Abbott adds the caveat that she is presenting raw data at this point, and there is much more work yet to do to understand it fully.”

Can you just imagine the phone calls and visits being made from these automation providers to the FAA right now? Trying to provide a little “help” on the final report?

”There are many failures with which pilots have to deal with little or no help from checklists or training of any kind, observes Abbott. These include failures or malfunctions of air data computers, computer or software failures, electrical failures, and uncommanded autopilot disconnects or pitchup for which the reason is not known. Of all these problems pilots face Abbot delivers the judgement: "Failure assessment is difficult, failure recovery is difficult, and the failure modes were not anticipated by the designers."”

Let me highlight that last one for you. Because is you think programmers don’t have any imagination about airplane failures, just wait to see what they don’t think of in something as obscure as air traffic control. ”failure modes were not anticipated by the designers.”

”Despite the sometimes fickle nature of the automation, she observes, pilots frequently abdicate too much responsibility to automated systems. The reasons for this, she found, include: a perceived lack of trust in pilot performance by the airline; policies that encourage use of automated systems rather than manual operations; and insufficient training, experience or judgment, the result of which is that "pilots may not be prepared to handle non-routine situations".”

Am I making my point? You need to read it. Otherwise you’ll miss this, near the end. “...encourage flight crews to tell air traffic "unable to comply" when appropriate;...”

Just remember -- one day into the future -- when you, your union and the FAA have let the automation become so deep and wide that you can’t possibly swim to shore, you’ll have to swim anyway. Somebody’s life is going to depend on you being able to swim. And instead of a life vest, you’ll find they’ve given you an anchor. When that happens, be sure to compare the number of airplanes LGA can land in an hour today (44 max) with the number of airplanes it can land in an hour then. And ask yourself if it was worth it.

Don Brown
November 16, 2010

3 comments:

P Layman said...

Working the Northwest low altitude arrival sector for DFW, I cleared an aircraft direct to the fix at the DFW approach boundary, which took a dogleg over the UKW VOR out of his route (I needed it to put him in a hole from my arrival stream from the West). He said he was unable and I looked and he didn't have the equipment, so I gave him a vector for the inbound radial that would take him over the fix. I then gave him an altitude to cross the fix at. Again he said he was unable because he didn't have the equipment. When I started this job 20 years ago, most of the airplanes didn't have the equipment, yet the aircraft made those kinds of crossing restrictions all the time. I felt like saying on frequency "I remember a time when pilots actually knew how to fly airplanes". But I didn't. I can also remember when controllers new how to control airplanes.

Internet Strategist said...

Hi Don,

I commend you for being the lone voice in the wilderness (at least the only one I have come across so far) with the wisdom and common sense to point out what should be obvious to the decision-makers - but clearly is NOT.

I have seen these types of bad decisions before. They are often caused by egotistical elitists who think they are smarter than the people with actual expertise who vastly underestimate the value of wisdom based on extensive experience.

Wisdom can NEVER be programmed into a computer or any other machine. It exists only in the few who actually use the brains God gave us to question everything and do what actually works.

Best to you in your quest to spread what you know and head off what will surely be many air disasters in the future if they insist on going down this path.

Internet Strategist said...

Hi Don,

I commend you for being the lone voice in the wilderness (at least the only one I have come across so far) with the wisdom and common sense to point out what should be obvious to the decision-makers - but clearly is NOT.

I have seen these types of bad decisions before. They are often caused by egotistical elitists who think they are smarter than the people with actual expertise who vastly underestimate the value of wisdom based on extensive experience.

Wisdom can NEVER be programmed into a computer or any other machine. It exists only in the few who actually use the brains God gave us to question everything and do what actually works.

Best to you in your quest to spread what you know and head off what will surely be many air disasters in the future if they insist on going down this path.