The US Federal Aviation Administration is warning that airline pilot skills are being eroded with increased autopilot use and now wants pilots to fly their jets by hand more often to avoid getting rusty.
The agency issued the warning in January to airlines which recommends that pilots are encouraged to occasionally turn off automated cockpit systems and practise manual flying skills in daily operations so they might be better prepared in the event of an emergency.
“Modern aircraft are commonly operated using autoflight systems (e.g., autopilot or autothrottle/autothrust). Unfortunately, continuous use of those systems does not reinforce a pilot’s knowledge and skills in manual flight operations. Autoflight systems are useful tools for pilots and have improved safety and workload management, and thus enabled more precise operations. However, continuous use of autoflight systems could lead to degradation of the pilot’s ability to quickly recover the aircraft from an undesired state,” the US aviation agency said in its bulletin.
It says an analysis of flight operations has revealed an increase in manual handling errors and says that maintaining flying skills is essential for safe operations.
“Operators are encouraged to take an integrated approach by incorporating emphasis of manual flight operations into both line operations and training (initial/upgrade and recurrent),” the FAA said. “Operational policies should be developed or reviewed to ensure there are appropriate opportunities for pilots to exercise manual flying skills, such as in non-RVSM airspace and during low workload conditions.”
“In addition, policies should be developed or reviewed to ensure that pilots understand when to use the automated systems, such as during high workload conditions or airspace procedures that require use of autopilot for precise operations. Augmented crew operations may also limit the ability of some pilots to obtain practice in manual flight operations. Airline operational policies should ensure that all pilots have the appropriate opportunities to exercise the aforementioned knowledge and skills in flight operations.”