FAA Stresses the Need for Manual Flying Skills in Pilots

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is of the view that pilots should practice more of hand-flying aircraft in case the industry wants to reduce the number of accidents due to loss-of-control, which is still the leading cause of fatalities in the industry.

In this time of glass cockpits and new technology aimed to reduce the workload of pilots, some aviators resist turning off the automation. They fail to understand that manual flying is still the basis of all flight operations.

Things are particularly difficult for the crew of long-haul flight. Maintaining currency at the controls for 10 hours or more is difficult when there is only one landing.

Adding to this problem is the requirement of some commercial operators to use automation as much as possible as it increases the efficiency of aircraft and also to improve the safety of the flight.

A safety alert for operators, SAFO 17007 has been released by the FAA. It suggest a number of maneuvers designed for pilot to practice manual flying skills that are seldom used.

This safety alert is mainly designed for Part 121 flight training departments. However, the concepts explored by SAFO are also applicable to Part 135 and Part 91 operations as well.

These maneuvers include upset recovery maneuvers, hand flying SIDs and STARS, manual control after the loss of a reliable airspeed, recovery from a bounced landing and stall recognition.

Manual flying is described as managing flight path by using yaw, pitch, roll and thrust, by making use of a flight director and the option of auto-throttle.

The FAA states that successful training in manual control required foundation level aerodynamic knowledge in power and pitch basics, low versus high altitude aircraft performance and energy management.

For jet pilot, the SAFO focus on type specific factors such as the difference in handling between straight wing versus swept-wing aircraft. Another area that needs consideration is the difference between turboprop and piston operations, and also the trimming of stabilizers versus elevators.

The guide also highlights the importance of training in different scenarios including reaction of pilot as the level of automation is reduced gradually, in place of when the automation is just switched on or off.

Moreover, the FAA also stress the need for practicing recovery by hand-flying the aircraft when it goes out of trim, executing go-around from different altitudes and locations on final approach, when the auto-throttle is turned on and off, and controlling the aircraft in different automation options with the autopilot.

The decision when to take the aircraft under manual control on case-by-cases basis depending on weather conditions, time of day, physiological / psychological factors, and proficiency of crew members is also highlighted by the agency.

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