The Roles of Design, Training and Airmanship

It is obvious that the designers of aviation automation systems bear tremendous responsibility for the effectiveness and safety of the automated cockpit. But aviation trainers also play a role, as Dr. Stanley N. Roscoe (1980) asserted, saying that training must “complete the job left undone by the engineer.” Even when the trainer has completed his job, there is a third line of defence for ensuring safety of flight, the crew’s native experience and airmanship. When all levels fail; design, training, and airmanship; accident risk increases.

The horrors of inadequate integrated design may be seen in exaggerated form in the front seat of some police patrol cars. There you will find a bewildering array of radio, computer, data link, signalling, video recording, radar, weapons, and protective equipment; none of it intended to work as an integrated system, and little of it intended to be operated by a driver traveling at high speed in a dynamic, congested environment.

Indeed, many police departments have resorted to specialized training on the use of the simple hand-held microphone while in a high speed chase. A peculiar hand-sliding steering technique is taught to avoid wrapping the cord around the steering column while manoeuvring rapidly. Training and awkward techniques have been used to compensate for an inefficient and possibly dangerous design.


The first line of defence against many of the automation problems discussed above lies with the system designer. There is an important distinction between the successful design of a component such as a navigation receiver and the successful design of an integrated cockpit system that combines many of the diverse functions of aircraft system operation. Today, transport systems engineers are taking the automation issues head on, providing design improvements such as glare shield mounted controls and indicators to reduce heads down time while reprogramming flight management systems. Additional research and simulator testing is also in progress to address other automation issues.

During the cockpit design process, training effectiveness could also be considered as a potential design driver. Design decisions between two seemingly equivalent options could be based on selecting the design option requiring the least training, or the one requiring the lowest level training device. Current airframe design practice does not typically involve the trainer until after the design is frozen. At this stage, the designer fills the role of subject matter expert in the training development process. Training requirements are not typically fed back into the design process.


Cockpit Resource Management (CRM) is a powerful and widely accepted training tool available to a broad spectrum of the aviation community. Cockpit automation systems are treated in most CRM programs as resources that are available to flight crews in the effective management of their flight operations. Unfortunately, most training programs do not include in-depth training on automated avionics systems at the level required for crews to effectively manage these systems, even with the best CRM techniques.

Current avionics training is primarily procedural in nature, with little or no systems instruction. As a result, despite the promise that advanced avionics systems would allow crews to become managers instead of operators, most training courses are designed to accomplish just the opposite. Courses typically do not provide insight into the philosophy (if any) which drove the design, and seldom addresses the software aspects of the design. Often, training developers adopt the attitude that since the crew can not affect these matters, they have no need to know about them. The training development process must be enhanced to capture the knowledge that would permit the crew to gain the most benefit from automated systems. Without a formalized process, this is often accomplished in an unstructured way using undocumented techniques.

Current training programs also suffer from a sort of “Loss of Corporate Memory” telling why systems are designed in a particular way. When course materials are originally designed and developed, the original cadre of instructors gains significant insight through their direct interactions with the designers. This insight is frequently passed on informally during classroom discussions even though it is not included in the course materials. Soon, however, instructor turnover following courseware development causes this insight to be lost or distorted for succeeding crews. Just as the trainer can contribute to the design process, the designer should be an integral part of the training development team, contributing to the crew’s understanding of the automated systems.

There are currently efforts underway to address training issues relating to cockpit automation. Delta Airlines has developed an Introduction to Aviation Automation (IA2) course that all pilots transitioning to glass cockpit aircraft are required to take. Lasting one half day, the class teaches Delta’s automation philosophy and includes incident and accident discussions related to automation.


But what happens when both design and training leave the crew with gaps in their ability to deal with the in-flight environment? In the closing session of the NASA/MAC Cockpit Resource Management Workshop held at San Francisco in 1986, a senior British airline captain observed that the then-new CRM training concepts that were being discussed were really nothing more than airmanship. Using their airmanship skills, the crew provides resilience to ensure safety in an environment of change, uncertainty and error. Indeed, Dr. Charles E. Billings (1991) defines airmanship as “the ability to act wisely in the conduct of flight operations under difficult conditions.” It logically follows that we rely on the flight crew’s airmanship to overcome systems deficiencies and operational situations that have eluded both the design and training processes.

Ultimately, the crew is responsible for the safety of each flight.