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Automation Management: A Critical Element of Single Pilot Operations

Human Factors, SRM | April 8, 2014

Author: Robert A. Wright

Several high visibility accidents affecting airline and other multi-crew operations have recently underscored the danger of over-dependence on automation, and the consequences of automation failures. Automation proficiency is of great importance, perhaps especially for light business aircraft (LBA) pilots. As a pilot of a modern LBA, you are completely responsible for the safe operation of an aircraft that may have the performance and cockpit complexity of a transport category aircraft, but not the support of an added crew member.

Automation proficiency is a critical element of Single Pilot Resource Management (SRM), and is essential to the safe operation of LBA.

Key Automation Strategies

Despite the controversy about automation dependency, cockpit automation is here to stay, and the trend will likely accelerate. The fact is that automation has improved aviation safety to a great extent. It has, for example, improved situational awareness and led to a significant reduction in the number of controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) accidents. There are, however, key considerations pilots must keep in mind when it comes to automation.

First, you should always maintain both automation and manual flight proficiency skills. A good way to do this is to alternate autopilot and manually-flown instrument departures, arrivals, and approaches. Hand-flying skills can deteriorate if you rely exclusively on autopilot-coupled arrivals and approaches.

Second, you should always monitor autopilot and other automation performance. If at any time you are concerned about what the automation is doing, you should shed layers of automation as needed to ensure control of the aircraft. This could include disengaging the autopilot, turning off flight management system modes, or even disengaging the flight director and using raw data to control the aircraft.

Third, be alert to the possibility of “mode confusion” by ensuring that you have properly programmed the automation to perform the desired flight task. This also means that you should be thoroughly familiar with the autopilot’s “laws” that dictate such things as capture limits during approach mode.

Fourth, assess the impact of inoperative automation components on planned or ongoing flights and assess how this affects the level of risk. Be especially alert to the impact that an inoperative autopilot might have on the flight. An inoperative autopilot may prohibit flight under certain conditions, such as operations in RVSM airspace or flight under instrument meteorological conditions. These situations may require the use of a co-pilot.

Remember that automation will generally reduce your workload if used properly., in cooperation with Crew Resource Management LLC, now offers a complete SRM course for business aviation (available for purchase through our storefront).

Robert A. Wright is the president of Wright Aviation Solutions, LLC. He is a member of the leadership team of Crew Resource Management, LLC, which has been providing comprehensive CRM training to corporate flight departments for over four years.

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