Enhanced FAA Oversight Could Reduce Hazards Associated With Increased Use of Flight Deck Automation
While airlines have long used aircraft automation safely to improve efficiency and reduce pilot workload, recent accidents have shown that pilots who typically fly with automation can make errors when confronted with an unexpected event or transitioning to manual flying. FAA estimates that automation is used 90 percent of the time in flight. Reliance on automation is a growing concern among industry experts, who have also questioned whether pilots are provided enough training and experience to maintain manual flying proficiency. We conducted this congressionally requested review to evaluate the effectiveness of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) oversight of pilot training for using and monitoring automated flight deck systems.
FAA has established certain requirements governing the use of flight deck automation during commercial operations. In particular, FAA has developed limitations regarding minimum altitudes at which autopilot can be engaged and how automated systems within the cockpit are configured to provide ease of use. FAA also requires that pilots be trained, tested, and proficient in all aircraft they operate, including any onboard automated flight deck systems. However, FAA does not have a sufficient process to assess a pilot’s ability to monitor flight deck automation systems and manual flying skills, both of which are important for identifying and handling unexpected events during flight. In addition, FAA is not well positioned to determine how often air carrier pilots manually fly aircraft. FAA has also not ensured that air carrier training programs adequately focus on manual flying skills.
We made two recommendations to enhance FAA’s ability to ensure that air carriers sufficiently address pilot monitoring and manual flying skills. FAA partially concurred with one recommendation and concurred with the other as written. We are requesting that FAA clarify its responses for both recommendations.