There is so far nothing to suggest that the low-cost airline that crashed last week had inadequately trained pilots. However, Boeing has in a bulletin told operators to address ”existing flight crew procedures” in case there is a problem with the AOA (Angle of attack) indicator. Lion Air is said to have had problems during flights preceeding the fatal one, among other things with speed indications. What can be said in general, until facts are presented, is that todays automation has changed pilot training into more of system operation than old-time hands on flying, often called stick-and-rudder time.
Things change in cycles, and so does the views on what the pilots need to know and handle. With the introduction of Airbus on the scene decades ago, with a whole new level of automation, pilot were suggested to not touch anything. The thought was that most accidents were caused by pilot failures and consequently an almost fully automatic aircraft would solve that problem. Things didn’t work out that way to everyones grief, and pilots had to be brought back into the picture to some extent.
Now, pilot training is really expensive. Not only are they not producing revenue while sitting in a flight simulator. The simulator itself is no cheap gadget. In todays strained economy – again brought on by low-cost competition – training is reduced to a minimum, with the outspoken ambition by managements not to affect flight safety. Unfortunately it sometimes does, especially when conditions deteriorate unexpectedly, and in situations never anticipated by people in the construction workshop.
The debate has gone back and forth regarding the need for pilots to be able to hand-fly -without any help from automation – in any flight conditions. Old-timers support that idea strongly, basically because they know how. What has emerged over time is a sort of compromise where old-time skills, acquired in countless hours of simulator training, has evaporated in favor of less expensive auto-flight training, which can basically be taught/learned by a few CD-discs and a good computer. The belief that this does not affect flight safety has unfortunately proven fatal several times lately.
The most spectacular/strange accident happened i San Fransisco some years ago, when Asiana, one of Asias major low-cost airlines, did not make it all the way to the runway. Experienced pilots, faultless Boeing 777 and beautiful weather. The instrument landing system (ILS) on ground was switched off att the time, and having no radio beam to hook up the autopilot on, and none of the pilots familiar with manual flying, they hit the seawall short of the runway, destroyed the giant aircraft in a ground loop and eventually caught fire. By a miracle just a couple of people were killed. Other more fatal accidents lately, with low-cost airlines mainly from Asia, have been attributed to inadequate pilot training. In all fairness, the not at all low-cost Air France had to boost their own pilot training after the ill-fated AF447 over the South Atlantic some five years ago.
Saving money unwisely affect everyone. There will most likely be more on pilot training in coming articles.