AUTOMATION: Do We Really Need Someone in the Cockpit?

The recent Germanwings disaster has once again reminded us that human pilots are not always failsafe. One only has to look back as far as 2012 to find examples of unruly pilots being subdued by passengers, and of course 9/11 highlighted the extremes of hijacking. With such incidents, the question is inevitably raised as to whether it is feasible or desirable to have commercial flights that do not require a human pilot.

Mary - Missy - Cummings is the Director of Humans and Autonomy Lab at Duke University.  She was a Navy Officer and military pilot from 1988-1999, one of US Navy first female fighter pilots.  She is currently an associate professor in the Duke University Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials.  Alexander Simpson is a postdoctoral associate at Duke University working in the Humans and Autonomy Lab.

Mary – Missy – Cummings is the Director of Humans and Autonomy Lab at Duke University. She was a Navy Officer and military pilot from 1988-1999, one of US Navy first female fighter pilots. She is currently an associate professor in the Duke University Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials. Alexander Simpson is a postdoctoral associate at Duke University working in the Humans and Autonomy Lab.

With the development of new automated technologies, the workload in the cockpit has been dramatically decreasing – so much so that pilots self-report only touching the controls for about three to seven minutes during a typical flight. In fact, there exists a standard approach category (CAT III) in which the pilot does not touch the flight controls during approach and landing. This category most commonly exists during severe weather (e.g., heavy fog), which creates the most difficult conditions for approach and landing. If left to human pilots with physiologic limits to vision and reaction times, these landings could not happen.

And while there are cases of heroic pilots saving aircraft in emergency situations (most notably the US Airways Hudson River landing in 2009), human pilot error is responsible for 80 percent of all accidents in military and commercial flights.

Given the central role human error plays in most aircraft accidents, and the fact that intentional malicious acts like those in the Germanwings incident are possible, it is relevant to ask what can be done in terms of automation to improve safety, as well as to reduce costs.

Many airlines and government organizations, including NASA, have already been investigating reducing the number of pilots on a standard commercial flight from two to one. World-fleet-wide, over a 20-year service life of an aircraft, this move has possible savings of $6.8 trillion.

From a technical standpoint, even current commercial aircraft are able to fly themselves through most or all phases of flight. Large drones the size of commercial aircraft routinely fly themselves from takeoff to landing, including conducting emergency landings when equipment fails.
Moving to single-pilot operations (S.P.O.), however, is very different from moving to pilotless aircraft. The idea of having no human pilot in the cockpit to deal with emergencies would likely not sit well with passengers. The concept of “shared fate” comes into play here: People are more comfortable with the idea that pilots in control will try their hardest to save their own lives, and thus save the lives of everyone on board. Given this psychological need, passengers will likely be resistant to the idea of having no pilot on the plane.

There are other reasons to maintain airline staff on board beyond flying the aircraft. Providing services and dealing with unruly passengers are just two of the items that require employees who are seen as a legitimate authority and keep order.

Because of this, what we may see is a transition of roles for the pilot and other staff on board commercial passenger aircraft. Instead of having a dedicated pilot, attendants may be required to be certified as pilots to allow them to both provide services in the cabin and be able to take over for the automation in the case of an emergency. The idea that one or more people on board are able to safely fly and land the aircraft may be enough to encourage acceptance of moving more and more functions to automation.

The shift to pilotless commercial passenger aircraft is not imminent, although commercial cargo does not suffer from the same limitations and will likely become fully automated in a shorter period of time.

The transition to single-pilot operations, however, is likely. Recent technological advancements in automation and the amount of money that could be saved by applying this technology make it a logical choice. The potential savings, coupled with both intentional and unintentional human error, will continue to motivate research and development in support of S.P.O., which will ultimately make for safer and more cost-effective air travel.

By: Mary Cummings and Alexander Stimpson; Former F-18 Pilot, U.S. Navy; Researcher, Duke University Humans and Autonomy Lab.

Video Cameras in the Cockpit. Another Lost Battle?

The debate over video cameras in airplane cockpits has just begun and is heating up, after a list of high profile aviation disasters raised authorities concerns over available information to accident investigators.

According to the Wall Street Journal, ICAO is planning a big push this year to install video cameras in airliner cockpits, although the discussion over the additional technology will likely take years; the regulation will ultimately fall into the hands of individual countries.

Airline pilots and unions have long opposed cockpit video cameras, arguing that images or footage may be used not only with the purpose of an accident investigation. Pilots fundament that the information provided by the CVR – Cockpit Voice Recorder and the FDR – Flight Data Recorder — neither of which collect visual information — is enough to carry on an investigation. Other concerns are that the cameras may be also used for routine monitoring of pilots.

Last week, Christopher Hart, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, stated in front of a Senate panel that in the crashes of SilkAir Flight 185 and EgyptAir Flight 990 in 1997 and 1999, respectively, information from cockpit cameras would have been able to confirm the suspected pilot suicides. Instead, both investigations turned up inconclusive despite strong evidence of a deliberate crash.

Capt. Ivan

Airbus introduces additional features to its iPad application for pilots

The “FlySmart with Airbus” application integrates Airbus’ EFB software with the tablet’s iOS operating system, providing its Electronic Flight Bag performance-calculating applications for pilots on iPad – making Airbus the first aircraft manufacturer to offer this feature. 

Since the official launch of FlySmart with Airbus, the company has added new applications, which are accessible from pilots’ hand-held digital devices:

• FlySmart with Airbus/Manager, which allows the user to update the operational data of its Electronic Flight Bag applications suite in a centralized manner;

• FlySmart with Airbus/Loadsheet, enabling pilots to compute weight and balance data of the aircraft according to the type of operations and aircraft loading, and considering easy handling of last minute changes.

Additionally, new features have been developed for the takeoff and landing applications such as optimum configuration, multiple runway computations, export of computations and computation time improvement.

Source:  Airbus

G450 Approach & Landing – Video

Watch this video of a Gulfstream G450 approach and landing, take a seat behind the pilot and appreciate the “PlaneView” cockpit with 4 Honeywell 21 EFIS screens.  It also has the “Enhanced Vision System” (EVS), an infrared camera that displays an image of the view in front of the camera on a head up display. EVS permits the aircraft to land in lower-visibility conditions than a non-EVS-equipped aircraft.

Air India Captain locked out of cockpit after door jammed shut

An Air India flight to Bangalore was diverted to another city after the pilot returned from a toilet break and found the door to the cockpit jammed shut, the state-run carrier said Tuesday.

The flight left Delhi for Bangalore on Monday but the plane had to be diverted to Bhopal in central India when the pilot realised he could not get back to the controls.

“The commander of the flight had left the cockpit for a short while to visit the toilet and on returning to the cockpit found the door locked,” Air India said in a news release.

The statement said that “all efforts to open the door, even from inside by the co-pilot, failed”.

The co-pilot was forced to diverted the flight to Bhopal where the door was repaired by ground maintenance engineers.

The airline said that during the time the door was locked, the cockpit was manned by the co-pilot and trainee pilot.

“All precautions and procedures regarding safety were observed during the entire process. The incident posed no danger to the aircraft passengers and the crew,” it said.

The incident is the latest in a series of safety-related issues involving the airline.

Early this month, the airline said it had suspended a pilot and two female flight attendants after a passenger jet’s autopilot system was accidentally switched off “due to (a) distraction”.

Indian media reports at the time alleged the pilots were giving the flight attendants flying lessons.

The airline has in the past also suspended a senior pilot who was found to be drunk just as he was about to fly a passenger aircraft.

Air India is the country’s fourth-largest airline by market share and has been hit hard by rising fuel prices and fierce competition from private carriers that have added to a legacy of labour problems and crushing debts.

Source:  The Age
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