Posts Tagged ‘experience’

‘Massage’ seats proposed for airline pilots.

20/02/2011 1 comment

The modern aircraft cockpit is fully-loaded with all kinds of attention-getting devices: Alarms, buzzers, lights, stick-shakers, etc. Boeing thinks there needs to be a new one: Flight crew seats that vibrate (at various amplitudes and frequencies). (Article on Flight Global) Flying by the seat of your pants may be making a return of sorts…!

Stress vs Performance Curve

Stress vs Performance Curve

Seriously, though, do we really need another means of getting a pilot’s attention? You COULD introduce vibrating seats. You could also introduce neon lights on the cockpit window frames. Or play music from Top Gun in the cockpit if your approach gets too high on energy (on seconds thought, that last one is probably a really bad idea).

Pilots learn in Human Factors about the stress vs performance curve (shown on right). One has to wonder sometimes if cockpit systems designers have ever been introduced to the concept. Too many alerts, which, when multiple sound at once, create another ‘link’ in the accident ‘chain’, pushing crews onto the ‘back-side’ of the stress curve, degrading or eliminating their utility.

Bells, alarms, etc. have their place, but too many create an ‘overload’ situation, and errors become likely. I am presently reading “The Limits of Expertise“, which takes a look at ‘human error’ from a new perspective. In it there are many examples of accidents that could have been avoided if a clearly audible alarm had been heeded. However, the crew was already over-loaded at the time, with an unstable approach, or perhaps some other fault they expected an alarm for, masking the new information.

One of the suggestions of how this new vibrating seat could be used is to enable ATC to activate it. If an aircraft fails to make radio contact when expected, for instance, ATC could activate your seat buzzer, alerting you to… something. Either you forgot to contact ATC or you’re about to fly into the ground, or…

Having different frequencies of vibration MAY alert the crew to a specific issue IF they are familiar and well practiced in sensing the different frequencies, AND if they’re not already on the back side of the stress curve, which given the fact they are being alerted, they probably already are.

If ATC could be given the ability to trigger an alert on a desired aircraft, why make it a vibrating seat? Why not a sort of text message? A chime announcing a message displayed in the cockpit could be more specific and more useful while being less confusing to an over / under stimulated crew.

In conclusion, a vibrating seat ‘alarm’ is a valid idea, but in combination with existing alerts, it’s just as likely to cause confusion and problems as it is to solve them. The use as an ATC triggered alert is a red-herring; If such an idea could be implemented, there are surely better ways of doing it.

Finally, a humourous illustration of my point:

Categories: aerospace, airmanship, crashes

Improving Flight Instruction (in New Zealand)

The New Zealand Transport Accident Investigation Commission  is looking into flight training in New Zealand as a result of a dramatic rise in incidents and accidents in that sector over the past decade.

Having started instructing myself just 4 years ago, and having experience at 4 different schools, I have a fairly fresh perspective on it. Some experiences were good, some not so good. I have not personally seen an accident occur, though I have seen the aftermath of a few. I have experienced a number of minor incidents, mainly ‘near misses’ but a few other minor things as well.Queuing for take-off

The following is based on my knowledge and experience here in New Zealand, but is probably relevant to many other places in the world, as well. This is just my perspective, though, and others may differ. Feel free to comment and discuss this.

The minimum requirements to be a ‘C-Category’ instructor is 200hrs flight experience, and 25hrs dual instructing experience. That’s not very much. A basic commercial pilot’s lisence requires 150 – 200hrs. A pilots still has a LOT to learn at that level of experience. That’s not to say that a new C-Cat isn’t capable of effectively teaching at that level; the basic lessons at least will have been well learned and will probably be well taught. I remember my early days of instructing, teaching lessons like medium turns; I was so current and had hammered lessons like it so hard in my instructor training that I could demonstrate them with almost zero divergence from the perfect turn. But the first lesson I was given to teach wasn’t a basic, early lesson. It was compass turns.

In instructor training, we had focused primarily on the basic lessons. The thinking being that at the school I trained at, new instructors were given the early, easy lessons to teach, and would gradually be advanced into the more advanced ones, with plenty of preparation possible ahead of time. Unfortunately, there were no instructing jobs available where I trained, and where I did get my first job, there was no such system.

I had been shown a compass turns briefing once, and might even have been demonstrated it (briefly) in flight. But I had never taught it. I honestly don’t recall how those early ‘advanced’ lessons went. I do remember that I didn’t really feel like I was teaching them effectively until almost a year later, when after trial, error, and practice I found an effective method.

C-Cat instructors with less than 6 months and 100hrs of instructing are supposed to be ‘directly supervised’ by a Category A or B instructor. This did not occur in my case, except where instructing was discussed with my colleagues at the school (there was a ‘B-Cat’ present at times). Had more guidance and mentoring been available, perhaps I might have developed my effectiveness much sooner with the more advanced training.

I have already discussed some aspects of what I think needs to change and improve in a previous post. But there are other changes that need to be made, as well.

ExperienceBent and broken 152

Increasing the minimum experience required to be an instructor will have multiple benefits:

1) There will be far fewer instructors who are just there to build hours, without any particular motivation or passion for their role. A gain in quality.

2) By the time pilots have the experience to become an instructor, there will be other opportunities that may appeal (and pay) more to many. If the pilot does choose to become an instructor, they will bring with them more experience, including operational experience of various kinds.

3) As a result of #2, there will no longer be an excess of low-time instructors willing to work for less than poverty wages. Increased demand, lower supply; terms and conditions for those who choose to instruct should improve dramatically, as should the quality of the instructors themselves.

4) Being a ‘career instructor’ becomes a viable possibility in this country. There are some today, but they are few, and are usually more than just instructors (otherwise it would likely not be financially viable to remain so).


Mid-air collisions mostly occur in uncontrolled airspace, and that has certainly been the case in recent training accidents. Following the collision of two PA-28s in the Manawatu training area (the uncontrolled airspace between Palmerston North and Paraparaumu) the busiest part was designated a Common Frequency Zone, to ensure all aircraft operating there were on the same frequency, and could make position reports to each other. Other busy training areas have CFZs, but there is still busy airspace where there is no CFZ.

That’s not to say that CFZs are the solution to everything. Far from it, but they are better than nothing. Other problems occur when separate locations use the same radio frequency (uncontrolled aerodromes on 119.1 all over NZ for instance), often resulting in much of the radio traffic being irrelevant, or even causing interference with calls that are relevant.


1) Radio usage.

Radio calls, when made properly, are invaluable in helping pilots in the area form a mental picture of where other aircraft are, and what they are doing. Unfortunately in some aircraft, the radio calls overwhelm what is being said on the intercom (equipment bad by design or old and degraded, I don’t know), and the radio will be turned down or off to enable instruction to take place. This obviously removes an important tool in the situational awareness toolbox, and substantially increases the chance of two aircraft trying to operate in the exact same location.

2) Visual scan.

VFR flight training is all about ‘see and be seen’, yet visual scanning techniques are not taught in many schools. Simple ‘look out before you turn’ is apparently deemed enough. Interestingly, one of the busiest areas for training in New Zealand that I have flown in has had no mid-air collisions in recent times (as far as I am aware). At least one of the schools in the area puts a lot of emphasis on visual scanning techniques; it seems to work. The same area has had many reported near-misses (including a few myself), but perhaps this is a result of the amount of traffic, and the fact that the other aircraft are actually seen!

3) Control Zone procedures.Alpha near Raglan

Some control zones arrival and departure procedures place both inbound and outbound traffic in close proximity. Their separation inside the control zone may be reasonably well defined, but often the ideal position to enter or exit the zone puts opposite direction traffic in potential conflict just outside the control zone (NZHN for instance). To make things worse, in busy periods there may be aircraft holding just outside the zone waiting their turn. Procedures could be modified to lessen the risk outside the zone, as well as inside.

There is a lot more that could be said and discussed on this subject; perhaps I’ll write more another day. For now, please feel free to comment and discuss, and consider making a submission to the TAIC on the subject if you are a Kiwi pilot with experience to share.