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What next…How to mitigate some risk of losing flying skills?

All the uncertainty on reopening the sky will depend on many aspects that we still don’t master… How rapid will be the return to normality after the confinement, how the states will reopen their boundaries and under which conditions?

How long will it take until the confidence of our passengers returns to a level they feel comfortable flying again? Many uncertainties that are independent of the will of each pilot and not having things under control is a state that pilots don’t deal easily with!

Uncertainty about the future affects pilots these days; reduced salary being furloughed or even fired… Will my company survive the crisis?

These are facts that destabilize many of us!

Most of the pilots are confined at home, unable to fly, and even can’t have access to a simulator due to confinement or other restrictions. On the administrative part, our license has been automatically revalidated for a few months (4 months in my case). Therefore, supplementary training must be performed (in my company, some web-based training and tests are performed on different topics).

What about pilots losing skills?

The erosion of the pilots’ skills is already a general problem in modern aviation:

Extract from the: Aviation Psychology and Human Factors /Monica Martinussen, David R. Hunter

“Difficulties associated with skill decay are exacerbated by the current generation of cockpit automation that tends to place pilots in a passive monitoring mode.”

…basic flight skills can be retained fairly well for extended periods of not flying. However, significant decrement occurs, particularly for instrument and procedural skills.

Open-loop tasks like tracking and problem-solving are better retained, compared to closed-loop task such as a preflight check.

Most pilots have already realized that after an extended absence period, some routine actions, especially procedures that have changed in the few months previous the flight interruption, are more difficult to be remembered. Some omissions or procedural errors are prone to appear in such circumstances. Sometimes, in high workload situations, the first knowledge that comes is the one previously acquired from long flight experience (aircraft flown for a long time).

To the question: What happens when pilots don’t get their flying hours?  Karlene Petitt, 777 pilot and author of “Normalization of Deviance: A Threat to Aviation Safety,” tells CNN that pilots could use this time of grounding for educational improvement.

This is what I do, as do also many colleagues of different airlines that I have contacted in the last days.One of them told me yesterday that his goal is to review one technical chapter on even days and one “administrative / regulation” chapter of his company documentation on odd days.

The theory is good, but what about the proficiency? In a CNN article From Paul Sillers / 10 of April 2020, we can read: https://www-cnn-com.cdn.ampproject.org/c/s/www.cnn.com/travel/amp/pilots-recency-flying-hours/index.html

“You start forgetting things if you don’t use them,” she says. “And much of what we, as pilots, do is cognitive-based. If you can keep that alive, then you’re not going to lose proficiency. 

“It would be nice if the airlines made available online training tools that we had during initial training or during initial type rating, so we could go and maintain proficiency while at home until we get back into the sky.”

“Cognitive” specifies processes from a human being. It describes the way of acquiring knowledge in an environment, and it is linked to perception, reflection, decision, and logical thinking.

A brand new approach from ANA during the crisis.

ANA is the first customer of CEFA AMS, an app allowing pilots to review their flight performances on their tablet in the form of animation of their flights.

About 3000 pilots have access to this service, and usually, the data allowing the creation of the animation are stored 30 days before being erased for security.

ANA has decided to keep the data much longer during the time of reduced activity. So the pilots can still have access to flights they had performed in the recent past, allowing them to review what they are doing in real-time, like a movie, but displaying a “hand display” showing the actions on the different buttons and levers in the cockpit.

Besides this advantage, after the crisis is over, and when the pilots go back online, the CEFA AMS will help them to recover quickly the skills that have been eroded.

The animation, mirror of their own performance, will allow them a better understanding of what exactly occurred during the flight, using the tablet animation as a solid base for a “crew centered debriefing” as it is available shortly after landing while the crew is still together.

While on ground, most pilots use mental preparation anyway to be “ahead” of their aircraft in their future mission, it is important to be pro-active and not just re-active of what happens.

Such mental preparation will definitely be necessary after a long interruption, especially also as one of the first steps will most probably be a simulator session that will confront the pilot with supplementary difficulties besides the normal flight operation.

Since my first time in military aviation, I was trained to mentally prepare my flight. Sometimes, it was in front of a “paper tiger,” with a large picture of the cockpit. That was of great help, not only to learn processes but also to look at the correct location of an instrument – put the hand toward the right button or lever, saying loud the appropriate call-out, …

Prepared in such a way, the flow of demanding procedures became second nature, and the free “brain capacity” is then available in case something unexpected happens.

During the preparation of complex mission, the flight path, the manipulations, the call-out …are visualized mentally. This is well illustrated in the ground rehearsal of aerobatic patrols like the “Patrouille de France” that can be seen in https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0AZg08WJd4k.

Different methods are used, such as a tablet showing the surroundings for anticipating the trajectories and then the repetition of the tasks to be performed, visualizing the trajectories, and the choreography of their future flight.

Using a real-time animation of an interesting part of the flight on the tablet will allow each pilot to review this “choreography” in a more living way, having the real-time pressure, offering the possibility to look, realize and read-out the changing FMA mode in the correct timing; a great added value for flight preparation.

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A little bit less interactive than a flight simulator, but enabling the pilots to work and understand their “modus operandi” in real-time, allowing immersion and forcing the thinking into analyzing processes, understanding and balancing options taken during the flight.

A simple approach to reflect performances, not in a purely statistical way as already existing, is to allow the pilots to pin-point and helping them to look accurately at the situation already experienced.

If a pilot gets a result like a landing at 540 m, it’s still within the regular window of landing distance in most companies. Still, the safety margin is completely different if the landing occurs on a 2000 m long wet runway with a light tailwind or a 3900 m dry runway with headwind…

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All review about decisions taken such as the landing configuration, the approach speed strategy, the flare input, the reverser setting, and the braking strategy are key points of reflections helping to improve own judgment based on facts, to review own strategy and finally also make a reflection about operative cost (fuel/brake usage) on a free basis, without judgment or pressure from anybody.

Precise recorded figures can be read directly on the application display but also on the approach and take-off schematics and then visualized as a process showing the dynamic of the flight and allowing the understanding of performance.

Nobody is in a better position to make a correct reflection of their own performance than the crew that experienced the approach and all the constraints (ATC/Wind/Weight/CG…). Everything unclear can be replayed as many times the pilot wants, also in slow motion… an excellent way for self-improvement and keeping up to date and aware of the reality of the flight operation!

Want to know more about CEFA AMS,

Contact us at https://www.cefa-aviation.com  email:  info@cefa-aviation.com

Hoping that this difficult time can be transformed into looking for better knowledge and also reflections about using today’s technology in a way we can slow down the natural erosion of piloting skills happening during such long flight interruptions.