Airline pilots over-reliant on automation and losing flying skills, coroner

With increased automation, airline pilots are becoming over-reliant on technology and are losing the basic skills for flying a plane, The Telegraph has quoted a coroner as saying.

Michael Oakley, coroner for eastern North Yorkshire, reportedly made the observation while delivering a narrative verdict into the deaths of two of the 228 passengers and crew who were killed when an Air France flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris plummeted into the Atlantic on June 1, 2009.

‘The air disaster highlights serious public concern of whether pilots are overly dependent on technology and are not retaining the skills required to properly fly complex commercial aircraft,’ said Mr. Oakley. ‘The evidence in the official accident report highlights systematic failures and a lack of comprehension of the aircraft’s situation between the pilots during the flight,’ he said. ‘The pilots were not adequately trained to handle the aircraft safely in the particular high altitude emergency situation that night.’

An investigation following the incident, which took over two years, found that the plane had crashed because of mechanical failure in which the pitot tubes – a device used to measure fluid pressures – were blocked by ice particles. This in turn caused the autopilot to disconnect. The inability of the crew to react led to the plane stalling before plunging into the sea.

Recently the FAA, NTSB and NASA have all raised questions over whether or not technology may pose a safety issue, despite its introduction having made flying safer in many other respects. The FAA also issued a Safety Alert for Operators Warning, telling pilots to pay attention to manual flying skills to avoid becoming over-reliant on auto-flight systems. It was released six months before Asiana Flight 214 crashed at San Francisco International Airport on July 6, 2013, killing three people and leaving several injured.

In its study, Boeing found that over the last decade, the leading cause of death on commercial airlines was loss of control in flight, causing 80 accidents and 1,493 deaths. NASA used that data from Boeing for its own study and found in 46.3 percent of those accidents, inappropriate crew response and interaction with the plane’s equipment played a role in the accident.


EU MPs reject move to harmonise pilots’ working hours

EU MPs have rejected the move to harmonise pilots working hours across the EU, The Telegraph has reported.

The harmonisation move could have effectively increased the working hours for British pilots. The vote by the EU and Transport and Tourism Select Committee was hailed by pilots unions, including the British Airline Pilots’ Association (BALPA), which had warned that it could put passenger safety at risk. However, the vote was condemned by the aviation industry.

‘We are really surprised after two years of consultation it can be rejected,’ said a spokesman for the European Low Fares Airline Association, whose members include Ryanair and easyJet. ‘There were penalties for airlines, which we accepted because of the benefit of harmonising arrangements across Europe.’

Siim Kallas, the EU transport commissioner, said, ‘This vote puts at risk key measures to improve aviation safety. Safety is the first priority for the EU and the sole objective of this revision. Pilot fatigue is a very serious issue and that’s why there are already strong EU rules in place.”

The all-party Transport Select Committee at Westminster, which shared BALPA’s concerns, said that the proposed changes would have led to a lowering of standards in the UK.

Jim McAuslan, the general secretary of BALPA, welcomed the decision saying: ‘British pilots with 40 million hours of flying experience between them and by the public, 90 percent of whom are concerned that a pilot could be landing their aircraft having been awake for 22 hours.

‘The commission must now go back to the drawing board and work with pilots and scientists to develop rules on flying time and tiredness that are based on evidence and expert experience.’

The vote comes after a BALPA survey found that nearly half its members had fallen asleep in the cockpit, with one in three saying that they had woken up to find their co-pilot also asleep. BALPA has warned the proposed changes would lead to pilots being awake for 22 hours if standby hours are taken into account, which could risk passenger safety.

The EU had said the changes were essential to ensure airlines in all 27 member states operated on a level playing field. According to proposed rules, pilots could work a maximum of 110 hours in a two-week period, more than the 95-hour limit under British regulations. At nights the flight limit would be extended to 11 hours from the current 10-hour limit.

Though endorsed by ministers, euro-MPs have voted by 20 to 13 to reject the move. A final decision is expected at the full session of the European Parliament later this year. If approved, the new rules drawn up by the European Aviation Safety Agency would have come into force in 2015.


Half of British pilots admit to falling asleep during flight, BALPA

Over half of pilots working for British airlines have fallen asleep during flights, with nearly one in three saying that they had woken up to find their co-pilot also asleep, according to a research by the British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA).

The research has been commissioned ahead of an EU vote on flying hours, which according to BALPA could compromise flight safety, The Telegraph said in its report.

The findings also come after reports that two British pilots fell asleep in the cockpit, leaving the aircraft unsupervised on autopilot. The captain and his co-pilot on the UK-operated long-haul Airbus A330 planned to take turns for 20-minute naps during the flight on August 13. But both were reportedly asleep within about two hours after take off, leaving the plane cruising on autopilot with no one to take control in the event of an emergency.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), which spoke with the pilots, said that both crew members were suffering from symptoms of severe fatigue. The two had only five hours sleep in two nights due to longer work hours, resulting in excessive tiredness.

The survey of 500 commercial pilots found that 56 percent have fallen asleep in the cockpit while on the flight deck. Nearly 43 percent felt their abilities were compromised at least once a month in the last six months by tiredness, with 84 percent saying that they had been compromised on occasion during the past six months.

Meanwhile, the European Parliament is set to vote on new safety rules today (September 30). The European Aviation Safety Agency is drafting the new offers to harmonise the rules regarding pilots’ hours across the European Union.

According to proposed rules, pilots could work a maximum of 110 hours in a two-week period, more than the 95-hour limit under British regulations. At nights the flight limit would be extended to 11 hours from the current 10-hour limit. BALPA has warned the proposed changes would lead to pilots being awake for 22 hours if standby hours are taken into account.

Jim McAuslan, general secretary of BALPA, said: ‘Making every flight a safe flight is the number one priority for British pilots who have helped establish some of the highest safety standards in Europe.

‘Tiredness is already a major challenge for pilots who are deeply concerned that unscientific new EU rules will cut UK standards and lead to increased levels of tiredness, which has been shown to be a major contributory factor in air accidents.’

Norwich Airport launches the Norwich International Aviation Academy

Norwich International Airport is planning to launch a major initiative to promote skills training apprenticeships in the aviation industry, Norwich Evening News 24 has reported.

Launched in partnership with KLM UK Engineering, the academy will provide a centre of excellence for education and skills training in aviation, delivered in partnership with the region’s education groups and local authorities. The new state of the art Aviation Academy is part of the airport’s expansion plans and follows its aeropark project.

The academy is supported by a core group of founding partners, including the University of East Anglia, the TEN Group, New Anglia local enterprise partnership, EAGIT training, Norwich City Council and Norfolk County Council. It will be based at the airport site, and will be equipped to provide training to 40 apprentices at any given time.

The Academy aims to create a ‘real world’ learning environment that includes a full size aeroplane, and to raise the standards of learning using innovative teaching techniques. It will focus on offering a broad education and skills training in aviation that will attract both local and international students.

Andrew Bell, chief executive of Norwich International Airport, said: ‘One of the Airport’s core strategic objectives is to become a thriving centre of excellence in the aviation Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul business. This objective is core to the airport’s long-term sustainability for the benefit of the region, at a time when many regional airports across Europe are struggling and some are closing their doors for good. To achieve this objective the Airport must be able to offer the complete package to attract new business.’

Paul Chun, managing director of KLM UK Engineering, said: ‘The integral approach with education experts, local government and industry is an ideal start for success. I am very excited about the Norwich International Aviation Academy, it will position Norwich firmly on the aviation industry map. To interest future generations for jobs in aviation is crucial for a sustainable growth for our industry’.

Norwich North MP, Chloe Smith, said: ‘This is a good move and very important for Norwich. As founder of Norwich For Jobs, which is backed by KLM UK Engineering and 50 other firms so far, I strongly support the proposals for an aeropark, which could create thousands of jobs in the local economy. To do that, we need more skilled engineers and the aviation academy will show we can do this in Norwich. I applaud the partners for working together to achieve this. I’d urge people interested in a great career to sign up.’


Boeing predicts increased global demand for airline pilots

Over the next two decades, the commercial aviation industry will need more than one million new pilots and technicians to support the growing demand for new airplane deliveries, Boeing has forecasted.

According to the US multinational aerospace company, by 2032 the world will require 498,000 new commercial airline pilots and as many as 556,000 new commercial airline maintenance technicians. The forecast is part of Boeing’s 2013 Pilot and Technician Outlook, an industry forecast of aviation personnel that was released during an event at the Boeing Flight Services campus in Miami.

The 2013 outlook forecasts major increases in pilot demand, in all regions except Europe, compared to previous forecasts. The projection for Europe declined slightly over last year’s outlook.

‘The urgent demand for competent aviation personnel is a global issue that is here now and is very real,’ said Sherry Carbary, vice president of Boeing Flight Services. ‘The key to closing the pilot and technician gap in our industry is enhancing our training with the latest, cutting-edge technologies to attract and retain young people interested in careers in aviation.’

The rising pilot demand is driven by increasing airplane deliveries, particularly single-aisle airplanes, and represents a global requirement for about 25,000 new pilots annually. Global demand for technicians also remains significant, at approximately 28,000 new technicians required annually.

However, with the advent of more efficient and smarter airplanes, the requirement for mechanics is expected to reduce over time, as aging aircraft, which normally require more maintenance, are retired from service. The new and emerging airplane technologies with more advanced components are also likely to lead to lower maintenance requirements and corresponding lower technician demand.

‘This is a global issue that can only be addressed by industry-wide innovation and solutions,’ said Carbary, adding: ‘We need to attract more young people to careers in aviation by continually looking at innovative ways to train pilots and technicians, moving away from paper and chalkboard-based learning to incorporate tablets, eBooks, gaming technology and three-dimensional models.

‘Aviation is a great field to be in – we have a responsibility to make sure it’s a viable career option for the world’s youth,’ she added.


Pilots’ union hits back at new EU flying rules

The British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA), the UK’s major pilots union, has opposed the new European Union flying rules.

BALPA has filed a formal complaint to the European Ombudsman over the changes being implemented by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). The union said that the new rules, which are designed to harmonise regulations across Europe, could lead to situations where pilots who have been awake for up to 22 hours having to land an aircraft.

Under the current UK rules, pilots work a maximum of three early starts in a row, and a maximum of 95 hours in 14 days. EASA is proposing to change this to seven early starts in a row and a maximum of 110 hours in 14 days. Currently, there are also a number of restrictions regarding pilots being called for duty on days off so that they can plan rest, but under the proposed changes they can be called at any time, on any day, with no restrictions.

BALPA said that a survey it commissioned showed that 89 percent of the UK public would be concerned by the potential changes to shift patterns under the new rules.

Jim McAuslan, BALPA’s general secretary, said: ‘The British public are understandably concerned about their pilots being awake for 22 hours before landing a plane under new EU rules. Evidence shows this is similar to being four times over the legal alcohol limit for flying.

‘The time is running out for our ministers, MEPs, the UK regulator and MPs to take urgent action and reject these unsafe EU rules to ensure that the skies above Britain remain among the safest in the world,’ it said, adding: ‘British pilots believe that they have been let down by the UK government and the UK regulator responsible for keeping our skies safe.’

Meanwhile, the European Commission (EC) said that safety was the only objective of its proposal to revise the current EU rules in relation to flight time limitations (FTL). ‘The Commission is determined to see stronger, safer rules applying across Europe in relation to FTL,’ an EC spokesman said, adding: ‘The proposal will not result in lowering the safety standards in any Member State.’

MEPs are due to vote on the new proposals for flight time limitations in October.


New EU proposals could see tired pilots flying ‘drunk’

A proposal by the EU to increase the time pilots are on duty could see them flying with levels of fatigue equivalent to five cans of larger.


The British Airline Pilots’ Association (BALPA) has said that pilots could see their duty hours rise from nine to almost thirteen hours.


Union representatives told MP’s this new proposal would see pilots flying with fatigue that’s equates to being four times over the legal alcohol limit. MP’s at Westminster were presented with this evidence, which was calculated using a Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) computer programme.


Flight safety and security head, Dr Rob Hunter, said: ‘Alcohol and lack of sleep affect our abilities in similar ways’.


He added ‘The limit on pilots’ blood alcohol is rightly set down in law. The Government cannot say on the one hand that flying while over the alcohol limit is unsafe – which it is – and at the same time do nothing to oppose regulations which would allow pilots to be flying equivalent to four times that same limit’.


The European Aviation Safety Agency has stated that consultations were on going and no changes would come into effect until next year. There will be other beneficial changes such as increased rest at a destination for ‘significant time zone crossing’.


Flying hours will be cut to 1,000 on a current 1,200-hour EU limit per 12 calendar months.


A spokesman for the Department for Transport has said: ‘The safety of passengers is paramount, we will not allow this to be compromised. While the European Aviation Safety Agency’s final proposals have yet to be set out, we will seek to use subsequent negations to ensure any new rules provide adequate protection against fatigue’.


Until the CAA is satisfied that this has been achieved, the UK will not vote in favour of any rules.


The authority said it was ‘awaiting final recommendations’ from the EASA, questioning the comparison of alcohol intake and fatigue made by BALPA.