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Glass Cockpit Safety

by John M. White |

Yesterday we discussed the problem of failures of PFDs (Primary Flight Displays0 in light general aviation aircraft, and the NTSB Report regarding this problem. As an old-time steam gauge pilot I have wondered for some time as to how safe these devices were in light aircraft. My original thought was that the displays would simply go blank, but clearly that is not the most serious issue or problem. As can be seen in yesterday's post the real problem is that some vital information which would normally be displayed on the PFD may simply disappear, or provide conflicting and erroneous flight data information. The timing of such a problem is also a serious issue. Suppose that the failure were to occur during a very high work load phase of the flight.
One of the problems noted was that it is not possible, nor prudent, to demonstrate all possible failures in the aircraft. Further, the availability of approved simulators may not be available to all general aviation pilots, and some GA pilots may avoid recurrent training in a simulator due to cost if not required by the FAA. PC Based Flight Training One solution may be the use of more computer based training which can be taken on the home computer. In this manner the various types of failures can be safely demonstrated outside of the aircraft itself, and can be specific to the particular installation. This way the pilot could stay current with any software updates, and could take the time to explore all of the various problems that might arise in the safety of their home instead of in the aircraft cockpit. While not a total, nor necessarily the best solution, it would be an improvement over current training. The NTSB issued its recommendations in a Conclusions and Findings PDF file here. In this document the NTSB made a number of recommendations:
  • Revise airman knowledge tests to include questions about electronic flight & navigation displays;
  • Require manufacturers to include abnormal or malfunction possibilities in the Aircraft Flight Manual and the Pilot's Operating Handbook;
  • Incorporate training regarding PFDs into FAA training materials and requirements for all pilots;
  • Incorporate training requirements into the initial and recurrent flight proficiency requirements for pilots flying those types of aircraft;
  • Provide guidance for the use of equipment specific simulators and trainers;
  • Inform aircraft and avionics technicians of the importance of using the voluntary Service Difficulty Reporting System.
Given the recent discussion of the lack of action by the FAA on the NTSBs most wanted list, one can assume that no quick action will come from the FAA with respect to these recommendations. Hopefully the manufacturers will take note, and some enterprising entrepreneur will make the effort to provide PC training for these devices. Please share some of your thoughts regarding this issue. Until next time keep your wings straight and level Hersch! JetAviator7 Complacency or a false sense of security should not be allowed to develop as a result of long periods without an accident or serious incident. An organization with a good safety record is not necessarily a safe organization. — International Civil Aviation Organization, 'Accident Prevention Manual, 1984.

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