Training for Automation

Pilot training is very important and it is also very expensive. There is no argument regarding its importance, but there is not always agreement on the kind and amount of training required to enable pilots to operate new and different aircraft safely and efficiently.
The controversy regarding the effect of automation on training is an entirely separate issue. Some claim that automation requires additional skills, while others propose that automation reduces training costs and also reduces the level of traditional flying skills required in older (conventional flight deck) aircraft; in contrast, others propose that one of the greatest misconceptions about automation is that it reduces training requirements. Notwithstanding these conflicting opinions, there is little doubt about the importance of training. The interface between aircraft and the pilots who operate them is of great importance, as are the interfaces between the pilot and the manufacturer, procedures, Standard Operating Procedures and company operating philosophies. This Module identifies some issues that have been raised regarding training in advanced flight deck technology aircraft.

One controversial issue has been the changing role of the flight crew in automated flight deck aircraft. It comprises at least two basic questions:

  • Is the pilot a control operator, a systems manager, or both?
  • If a difference exists, is it in the pilot’s role, or in the elements of that role?

Analysis suggests that the primary role of the pilot has not changed at all: since the goal is (as it has always been) to complete the planned flight safely and efficiently and with a maximum of passenger comfort, the role is to achieve that goal – to fly safely and efficiently from point A to point B.

The functions still include monitoring, planning, and making decisions in reference to the operations, and the tasks are those traditionally performed (communicating, navigating and operating). The question is how best to train pilots for advanced technology aircraft. The consensus seems to indicate that, as a general approach, automation should take a greater role in maintaining basic stability and control of the aircraft. Higher-level functions, such as flight planning/pre-planning, system status management and decision-making, should be performed primarily by humans with the help of automation. Training should reflect the increased emphasis on the pilot’s decision making, knowledge of systems, monitoring and crew co-ordination.

One point is clear, however: automation has not reduced the need for the basic airmanship skills and knowledge which have always been required of pilots. The importance of those fundamentals should be emphasised in the early phases of training, and general aircraft instruction should always precede detailed instruction in automatic features. The training should be sensitive to the varying needs of a pilot population that differs widely in areas such as total flight experience, corporate experience, recency of last transition training, computer literacy, etc.