Improving Pilot Proficiency
Is UPRT working? Capt. Art Ziccardi, veteran international instructor, says “Yes, a good industry start, but the program is not without some turbulence. Loss of reliable airspeed simulator training remains problematic.”
URPT started in 2015. 60% of air transportation industry deaths between 2005 to 2015 (IATA) were due to Loss of Control–Inflight (LOC-I). Something had to be done. The industry stakeholders, committees and regulators took action; improved training programs, educated trainers, updated simulator equipment, and mandated new training. That training requirement was not considered essential 10 years ago. Now, it is.
One way to check progress is to review FAA Advisory Circular 120-111 (issued 2015, rev. 2017) for UPRT. Importantly in this AC, certain ‘core principals’ are asserted up front:
- Enhanced instructor training on the limitations of simulation.
- Early recognition of divergence from intended flightpath.
- Training that integrates Crew Resource Management (CRM) including progressive intervention strategies for the pilot monitoring.
Core Principal 1
Enhanced instructor training on the limitations of simulation – this AC describes the importance of the UPRT instructor. “The key to effective UPRT is the instructor. The safety implications and consequences of applying poor instructional technique, or providing misleading information, are more significant in UPRT. Therefore, an essential component in the effective delivery of UPRT is a properly trained and qualified instructor.”
Instructors are the ‘glue’ that holds airline training programs together, melding both objectives, understanding, and effective use of the training device. As airlines developed their customized UPRT training programs, there appears to be an uneven application of training time allocated to ‘train the trainer’ programs. Some instructors recall their individual training, the minimum possible, with simple instructions to review the syllabus or PowerPoint and go teach.
The most advanced training, as proposed by both AC120-111 and IATA Guidance Material for Implementation of UPRT Training 2015, includes the selection of a ‘core group’ of senior trainers, who then train the trainers. This includes new instructors receiving formal briefings and observing the senior instructor giving a UPRT lesson. Next, the senior instructor backs up the initial instructor who gives a UPRT lesson, followed by the certification of the new instructor to conduct UPRT training. UPRT programs must also educate instructors about simulator limitations, the validated training envelope of that particular simulator (older sims may not replicate the exact feel/response of the aircraft), thus avoiding any possible negative training experiences and providing more effective UPRT training.
Separately, present day instructors observe continuing anomalies with the recurrent training of loss of reliable airspeed. For example, during LOFT trainings, instructors are frustrated with a small but significant number of line pilots, many of whom are above average airman, who are slow to recognize or initiate timely action with unreliable airspeed indications. Crashing or exceeding Vmo (speed limit) in the simulator is not uncommon.
An example simulator lesson usually begins in a descent from higher altitude with thrust idle, auto-pilot and flight director on, and aircraft nose on the horizon. Airspeed goes unreliable (sim pitot malfunction) and begins decreasing, while the auto pilot commands both nose down and power increase to regain a declining airspeed indication. At pitch attitude minus 7 degrees nose down and with true airspeed going off scale high, the simulator is about to crash with airspeed exceeding Vmo. The instructor freezes the simulator and questions his students. “What are the normal pitch and power requirements in normal descent?” The answer is: nose on horizon, idle thrust. Most pilots respond accurately while some are not so sure. Another question: “Have you ever seen a pitch attitude of minus 7 degrees nose down in any phase of flight – ever – in your professional career?” All the pilots answer no. “Then, why haven’t you taken control of the aircraft and manually fly back to a ‘normal’ pitch attitude – nose back to the horizon and idle thrust?”
In 2014, Boeing took a step forward in changing the Airspeed Unreliable checklist procedure to include, ‘memory items’ with nose pitch and power settings (these are airplane specific) that would immediately stabilize the aircraft. The genius of this idea is to ‘go to a safe place’ – albeit temporary – where the crew and aircraft are protected, until the systems can be analyzed and a checklist accomplished. Previous to this revision, the industry had been rocked with multiple LOC-I accidents (Air France, Air Asia, etc.) and was in need of a fix. These additions to the checklist rely heavily on the age-old concept of pitch and power. Extensive tables have already been developed for the Quick Reference Handbook (QRH) (found in the cockpit), but they are detailed and hard to reference quickly. Hence, the requirement for pilot memory items.
What is the next step for training Loss of Reliable Airspeed? What needs to improve in training departments and instructor guidelines as we continue forward? Here are some ideas:
Core Principal 2
Early recognition of divergence from intended flight path – enhance pilot awareness for intended pitch and power settings including those for normal phases of flight. Train pilots to scan looking through the flight director, to see actual pitch on the PFD and HUD.
In 2015, EASA published a Safety Information Bulletin 2015-17 Subject: Unreliable Airspeed Indication at High Altitude/Manual Handling at High Altitude. It states: “… maintaining the appropriate pitch and thrust setting, until basic or alternate indications are recovered through the appropriate procedure, is normally an adequate response. In deciding an appropriate pitch attitude and thrust, it is useful if pilots develop the habit of familiarizing themselves with typical cruise pitch and thrust setting during their normal operations.”
While this suggestion is not proposing the memorization of QRH tables, there is a definite lack of novice pilot awareness of expected pitch and power settings for each phase of flight. Because of the fundamental importance of these everyday ‘mental pictures’ for each phase of flight, their priority should be elevated to memory item status, like that used in non-normal checklists. Earlier recognition of the ‘divergence’ requires a strong expectation of what is normal. Also, pilot scan can fixate on the flight director bars, while not seeing the aircraft pitch attitude on the PFD/HUD.
As an example, the table (above) includes recommended phases of flight settings to be emphasized showing the expected nose pitch attitude (deg.) and power settings (%N1). Each fleet should train the settings for their specific aircraft.
Core Principle 3
Training that integrates CRM including progressive intervention strategies for the Pilot Monitoring.
3a. Continue to emphasize human factors training instances of startle, surprise, failed expectations, human denial, cockpit hierarchy, and countering the myth of autopilot supremacy. Human factors training studies are suggesting that continued exposure to stressful situations with successful resolutions do aid increased pilot confidence with quicker recognition and quicker application of procedure. Many less experienced pilots use only rote memory as their first criteria for developing their failure responses. Additionally, pilot human factors must be recognized as our individual personal psychology may slow us up.
“This can’t be happening to me!” (denial) “The autopilot system is always right!” (autopilot supremacy) “What am I doing wrong?”, “Am I analyzing correctly?” (doubt). “Should I speak up?” (hierarchy). Recognition and reaction time must be improved upon and emphasized by the instructor. Instructor debriefings of these events should be upgraded with video recordings and include the use of facilitation techniques.
3b. Expand training emphasis for a ‘crew/team response’ by the PF/PM. In past trainings like recovery from unusual attitudes, instructor emphasis was placed on developing the individual manual handling skill of the PF only. No verbal callout was required for the PF or PM. A verbalization or callout requirement will open the door for crew/team agreement on the pilot response. With this suggestion, the instructor must shift beyond evaluating an individual pilot maneuvering skill, and now must observe, facilitate, and grade how the crew did as a team. Did the crew effectively share tasks, communicate and demonstrate crew coordination in high stress conditions?
3c. Expand crew verbalization techniques. Here is an additional example of verbalization helping with crew coordination. The crew is given a UPRT event where the PF is calling “Upset-Nose high”. Separately the PM’s perception varies and he calls “Stall” – two very different pictures with different recoveries. The PM is advocating an alternate strategy and the crew must communicate quickly until both pilots agree. (Verbalization by either pilot will also help reduce the response time, as when a pilot is ‘dislocated’ with startle/surprise, by bringing him/her back to the present moment.) This process of verbalization and required callouts using a common language helps pilot awareness in these fast-moving situations, molding a crew response, and becoming a good example of crew coordination.
Another progressive CRM intervention strategy is the verbal technique of “say and do”. With this technique, the PF will verbalize his recovery, calling out the situation and narrate his control inputs, keeping the PM informed. This allows the PM to understand and/or offer an alternate solution as needed – “airspeed”, “level your wings” – verbalization that is seeking a crew response.
3d. Facilitate a time critical application of memory items in loss of reliable airspeed. In the simulator nose down event described above with loss of reliable airspeed, slow recognition and slow recovery action is too common. The aircraft pitch is showing nose down, progressing through minus 7 deg. and full thrust has come on – all indications changing in 10-15 seconds. Already, we are in an undesired aircraft state and have diverged from intended flight path. Based on simulator experience, pilots have less than 10-15 seconds to take control or lose it. There should be no delay with intervention and establishment of pitch and power memory items suggested above. Pilots do not have to understand the system failure – yet – but must react to the divergence from intended flight path and immediately take control to stabilize the aircraft. (If the aircraft has an annunciated Airspeed Unreliable system message, pilot response should be immediate with memory items.) Timing here is important and should be similar to the standard used for “Cabin Depressurization” annunciations and the donning of the O2 mask within 10-15 sec.
The above events are tough for pilots to deal with, including startle, surprise, associated audio warnings, and temporary confusion from multiple failures. A good video showing the first few minutes of an Airspeed Unreliable event, using the airlines’ culture, callouts, and demonstrating a time critical recovery would be a great aid in training loss of reliable airspeed. With less aggregate experience in the cockpit worldwide, we need to give pilots better training and tools with which to respond in airspeed and instrument dilemmas.
Originally published in Issue 2, 2019 of CAT Magazine.