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Type rated on A330, B747-400, B747, B757, B767, B737, B727. International Airline Pilot / Author / Speaker. Dedicated to giving the gift of wings to anyone following their dreams. Supporting Aviation Safety through training, writing, and inspiration.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Emergency Aircraft

The Debate is on!

I was recently in a debate as to what determines an emergency aircraft. More specifically whether or not the lack of an autopilot and autothrust created an emergency condition. My contention is that lack of an autopilot and authothrust should not be an emergency for a pilot.

Photo credit to Globeviews.com


My points in this debate include:
  1. At the very minimum pilots should be able to manually fly their aircraft. 
  2. An FAA safety advisory (2103) encouraged pilots to hand fly (no autopilot and autothrust) to retain their flight skills. 
  3. If the FAA is advising hand flying behavior, then how is following the advised behavior an emergency? That would mean the FAA was advising an emergency condition, which we all know would never happen.
What do you think? 
Do you think the lack of an autopilot and autothrust constitutes an emergency aircraft?  




 Flight For Sanity coming soon....
 Catch up on the series so you will be ready!

Motivation and Children too! 

31 comments:

  1. As long as the manufacturer didn't put that condition on the emergency section, then it's not an emergency situations, and pilots should always had the controls of the aircraft all the time, auto-pilot and auto-thrust are tools to make our job easier, pilot task is flying the aircraft not just relying on the auto-system, there's drone for that.

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    1. Faisal, You make a great point for the manufacturer not adding that to the QRH (quick reference handbook) for an emergency. Okay... you added one more point to my side of the debate. Thank you!

      Delete
  2. In my opinion if a pilot can't manually fly his plane he shouldn't be in it. It should be mandatory that all pilots learn basic aerobatics and in particular spin recovery. The FAA says no but I totally disagree.

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    1. Hugh, I could not agree more. And, even without aerobatics and spin recovery...the pilot should, at the very least, be able to fly an airplane without putting themselves into a spin.
      I'm in agreement with you... and if nothing else that training would give them confidence, and experience.
      Thank you for your comment!

      Delete
  3. Isn't the old saying....fly the aircraft? Kiss

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    1. YEP!!!! It certainly is. Yet, you would be shocked who the debate was with. Wait until you read the 4th novel. Truth is stranger than fiction for sure. Thank you for your comment!!

      Delete
  4. While I always instructed my students to "declare an emergency if you have a hangnail," I do agree with you--this does NOT constitute an "emergency."

    Pilots need to be able to fly with less than perfect equipment--heck, in the airlines we can be dispatched with no autopilot/autothrust! Rare, and we may refuse the plane, but the point is...NO emergency.

    Bottom line: Automation is a tool and an aid, not essential equipment.

    Great debate!
    Eric

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    1. Eric, Thanks for the comment. Yes, we can dispatch without, which means this is not an emergency. I'm glad to hear someone with your experience has this mindset that at the very least we should be able to fly! Wait until you hear who the debate was with. You will laugh. (or cry) Thank you for your wisdom!

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  5. ...and I agree with Mr. Campbell's post. The FAA has never required spin recovery, but I always demanded it of my students—BEFORE they solo. It is the most common error they may encounter.

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    1. When I was getting my private they had just stopped mandating it. I think it was required prior to 1978/79. My instructor said it wasn't required anymore but asked if I wanted to do it. Of course I did. It's actually great experience and a good thing for any pilot to experience!

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  6. Auto-pilot and auto-thrust are tools that assist the pilot, but are not necessities. Keeping the aircraft in the air hand flying it is the art of being a pilot. Things like running out of fuel, or a stuck landing gear, or a decompression, those are emergencies, that in some cases, will force the pilot to hand fly the plane anyway. Got to be able to do the second to recover from the first.

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    1. Mark, Thank you for your thoughts on this discussion! In the midst of my debate I used those exact emergencies! But, this professional could not understand. When you read the 4th novel, you'll understand more. Truth is stranger than fiction! Thank you for your comment!

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  7. No thought required on my part, it's an emergency situation if you can't hand fly the aircraft. Personally, if I'm the PF it's "autopilot disconnect" at 10,000 feet when ever it's possible. In my personal aircraft I rarely use it if the flight is under an hour.

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    1. Captain Kidder, you're right... it is an emergency if the pilot "can't" manually fly the aircraft. Thus, if that person were the captain of an airliner, and he declared an emergency for lack of an autopilot and autothrust, and say he had 200 passengers on board... what do you think the airline would do with that captain? One might think give him some training to bring him up to speed...one might be wrong. Stand by for book four... Flight For Sanity.
      Thank you for your comment!

      Delete
  8. I am not a pilot, but to my opinion pilot's need to know how to hand fly their planes.
    You Can't always rely on instruments.
    Personally I wouldn't board an automated plane without pilots, nor a car without a driver.

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    1. An, I am with you on this, on both accounts. One of the very core skills is to be able to fly. Then we have to learn to manage the automation. But if the automation breaks, we must be able to fly and land safely.
      Thanks for your comment!

      Delete
  9. Karlene, since I am not an airline pilot I can only speak to GA. Anyone flying into known IMC should have a good working A/P. As to the commercial carriers, dispatching without a working A/P is fine as long as the line puts a BIG emphasis on keeping hand flying skills sharp. I would think they do, but any ATP should be able to fly just about anything through IMC.

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    1. Dan, we would think that they should focus on keeping our skills sharp. Reports show that that average airline pilot flies less than 2 minutes. Thus if an airline pilot were to declare an emergency because he did not have an autopilot might be an indicator he did not feel comfortable with his flying skills. Thank you so much for your comment!

      Delete
    2. Autopilot made possible for airlines became more accurate, flying rumb lines saving time and money. In fact the flight might be safer accounting that pilots can pay attention to other patterns of the flight like monitoring instruments; preparing the next steps; etc...in other hand it permit pilots to become less awarness and less skilled in therms of handling the aircraft.
      So my answer......no way!
      If you not able to take control by your own hands normally, you better find a different job

      Delete
    3. I am with you on that!!! Yes, if you can't do it, you should not be doing it. Thank you for your comment!

      Delete
  10. Alessandro BertacchiniSeptember 24, 2016 at 1:41 AM

    This conditions should not constitute an emergency per se.
    But let's put an example where it could become one.
    Cruising at FL370 on a 7 hour flight, the Los of autopilot will make the aircraft unable to fly on RVSM airspace making the pilots to descent to a Non- RVSM level.
    It can easily become a diversion in this case or a fuel emergency.
    Every pilot should be able to fly the whole length without an autopilot but some operations require an Autopilot.
    Thank you :)

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    1. Alessandro, I like the way you think! Equipment failure mandated for the environment would change the game. The length of flight you mentioned could put them on low fuel at lower altitude, and would necessitate a different plan, that may require support to get that new plan.

      However, what if this flight departed for a three hour flight and upon departure they lost the autopilot/autothrust, and "then" the crew flew into RVSM airspace without that autopilot. Ooops. What if the crew asked for a block altitude, but did not tell ATC of the equipment failure. Another ooops. Even if they got permission, that permission does not mean it was legal.

      ATC permission does not eliminate our liability for legality and responsibility. I learned in my Aviation Law course that just because ATC say's "yes you can", they are not required to know our rules, and we as pilots are the final authority for legality and responsibility. That's why 90% of accidents are pilot error.

      Back to the situation... what if the crew flew 3 hours and "then" called the emergency on arrival because of fear flying an approach without it.

      Opens another question as to the legality of a pilot flying an emergency aircraft for three hours and then declaring it, if he thought it was an emergency.

      Thank you for your comment! And bringing up another angle to the situation.

      Delete
  11. Hey Karlene

    I actually find it deeply disturbing that any pilot can consider the loss of automation on a flight deck an emergency.

    Loss of full athority of the flight controls - such as a system failure that results in a reversion to lower level of fly-by-wire, perhaps.

    Even then, if full authority remains over the flight path - not an emergency under most circumstances.

    Loss of automation could certainly be justification to curtail a longer flight for reasons of fatigue and workload; to restrict operations into airspace such as RVSM where predicated by SOPs; to result in a airport diversion because the reduction of automation capability makes continuing on to your original desination unwise; sure.

    It's very, very easy for me to sit in judgement at a remove, so take this with a grain of salt - but any pilot who believes (in most circumstances) that the loss of the autopilot is an emergency needs to take a long hard look at themselves - and start hand flying the plan - at appropriate times - a LOT more.

    Ken

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    1. Ken, Thank you so much for your comment. I find it deeply disturbing too. We both know there are circumstances that might dictate a change in plans, but to call this an emergency bothers me on many levels. And, when you hear why this question was posed, and the history behind it, you might be further disturbed. But in the near future we might see more in the next novel... Flight For Sanity. The title is very fitting.

      Thank you so much for your comment Ken!

      Delete
  12. Bonjour Karlene,

    first of all I appologize to publish Under Anonymous but I could not manage to go through Google or others...

    There is the understood idea that new generation aircraft are much more easy for crew to fly. It is not correct. Aircraft are easier to "auto fly" but they are more complex and challenging for crew.
    On the other hand, training management has changed. Simulator has taken the space. Expensive devices (FFS) are used to review IT minded system failures where it could be done with simple fixed base trainers. Then significant time spent in the FFS would make sense to focus on handing the aircraft in degraded automation or simply without automation.
    I do not want to make a general idea of this way to conduct training but before reaching major airlines, many crew fly in companies where business case is an issue and minimum regulatory hours are given for recurrent training and checking. So an "heavy" required program is conducted in a simulator within this limited time.
    There is also the accident statistics that point the Human factor as a main contributor. Fine. But let's put it differently and now with the SMS implementation let's look at all the records and emergencies managed successfully by crew... We can also learn from this positive feedback. We have seen that the Human factor brings invaluable skills to resolve unexpected events (when computers were not formatted to give an adequate answer) and save hundred of lifes (Hudson river ditching, Quantas A380 in Singapore and some others...)
    So there is no perfect answer (and surely I do not have) but to reviewing the training programs and the use of available simulator's range would be a good start from the regulator side.
    Just a point of view and not the true..

    Alain Blanchard

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    1. Alain, I cannot thank you enough for your comment. Focusing on training has been the essence of my research during my PhD.

      Human factors has been attributed as the main problem to pilot error, but I'm on the same page with you... there are hundreds of flights daily that are being managed and flown safely "because of" the pilot. And SMS... I too have connected the importance of SMS to training. Yet, some airlines in the US have a long way to go due to a safety culture that may not support an SMS. The U.S. is required to have SMS in place by January of 2018. Will we get there? Can we change the idea within a training department that there is a huge problem when a pilot declares an emergency? Or there is a problem with the department itself when they attempt to train all their pilots that they should declare an emergency when they lose their autoflight system? We have a long way to go. Thank you so much for your comment!

      Now, I have to gather quantitative data to identify that there is a problem. Actually... the industry (FAA & OIG) knows there is a problem. Now we need to learn how to fix it.

      This is the essence. If a pilot declares an emergency because he doesn't feel comfortable without the automation is one thing, but for the airline training management involved in "solving" the problem opts to tell all pilots at the airline, during training of this event with the idea that this was a good thing to do, leaves a challenge

      Delete
  13. I think this is not an emergency. And that's the problem with automation. Pilots are forgetting how to hand fly and are loosing their skills (not to mention the new ones). Remember Asiana 214?
    Great debate. Thanks

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    1. Thank you so much for your comment. I agree with you. I do remember Asiana 214, and that's what we need to make sure never happens again! I appreciate your comment!!

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  14. If your definition of an emergency is that there is an immediate threat to life or safety then an autopilot failure alone could not be an emergency. However, I have a higher threshold.

    If the conditions of a flight have degraded to the point where there is a reasonable probability that a single additional systems or human failure would represent an immediate threat to life or safety you have an emergency. The crew needs to take immediate action to lower the threat level. Whether or not you declare an emergency is less important than recognizing and dealing with the increased risk.

    Would an autopilot failure be an emergency if you were making an ILS approach with the the weather at 500-1? Probably not. Even a less than perfect approach would still have a very high probability of resulting in a normal landing.

    Would an autopilot failure be an emergency if you were making an ILS approach to a wet, short runway with the weather at 200 and a half? Maybe. It would require the airplane to arrive at the DH precisely on localizer and glideslope and on speed. A competent pilot can do that but there is little margin for error. Maybe a divert to a better airport would be the prudent course of action.

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    1. Jim, Thank you so much for your comment. Yes, there are always extenuating circumstances that would dictate altering the plans. The actual debate came with the full scenario. For example, what if an aircraft departed for a short flight (few hours) VFR conditions, and the crew realized they did not have an autopilot and autothrust upon departure. They opted to continue. What if the emergency came when the crew requested a block altitude for the arrival phase... VFR conditions... because they feared flying an arrival without the automation. Climbing and straight and level was okay. But to land, that was their emergency. And, what if the story continued and they had flown into RVSM airspace without an autopilot.

      My thought.... if this were to be an emergency because the particular crew felt as much, then they should have returned to departure. As... if they thought this was an emergency aircraft, they flew an emergency aircraft the entire flight, and declared it at the other end. Definitely things to think about.

      Thank you so much for helping us fly the girls the other day!

      Delete
  15. I totally agree this is not an emergency, but at this point Im wondering what exactly were the basis or the fundaments that the other part on this discussion tried to demonstrate saying this is an emergency, which is her/his base? Finally, if it could be possible true, I guess that all CAT 1 landings with AT on MEL are emergencies. Best regards

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