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Fact Sheet – Report on the Operational Use of Flight Path Management Systems

For Immediate Release

November 21, 2013
Contact: Alison Duquette or Les Dorr
Phone: (202) 267-3883

The FAA recently published pilot training and pilot qualification rules that will significantly advance U.S. commercial aviation safety. Building on the safety enhancements in those rules, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta is calling for industry support to further address risks that government and industry working groups have identified.

The Commercial Aviation Safety Team (CAST) is the primary group that brings together FAA safety officials and their airline counterparts to develop voluntary safety improvements to address risk. The team’s work has driven significant improvements in aircraft systems, pilot training and skills, flightcrew and air traffic procedures, as well as better safety data collection and analysis.

However, air carrier operations have advanced over several decades to accommodate improved technology in the cockpit and corresponding changes in procedures. The pilot is still responsible for managing the “flight path” of the aircraft but now relies much more heavily on automated flight management systems. Pilots also face ongoing training complexities as they conduct an increasing number of NextGen Performance-Based Navigation operations that rely on digital data.

To address these evolving commercial operations, CAST and the Performance-Based Aviation Rulemaking Committee (PARC) in 2006 formed the Flight Deck Automation Working Group to assess the safety and efficiency of modern flight deck systems for flight path management. The group reviewed equipment design, flight operations in global airspace, and operational policies. The group also evaluated flightcrew procedures, qualification and training for jet transport aircraft that require two pilots in “air carrier-like” operations. The group examined worldwide incident and accident reports from 1996-2009 and compared that data to Line Operations Safety Audit (LOSA) data from more than 9,000 flights worldwide.

What is a flight path management system?
Modern flight deck systems for flight path management are similar to earlier technology, but they feature improved technology or automation. For example, instead of a viewing a compass-like indicator to navigate the aircraft, a pilot now looks at a “moving map” to see the position of the relevant navigation waypoints expressed in latitude and longitude. A Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite or autonomous inertial reference units determine the position of the aircraft instead of a fixed ground radio station. The pilot pre-programs the route of flight or the system uploads it automatically, and the pilot can couple the autopilot with the displayed route. In addition, the pilot can program vertical navigation (VNAV) and lateral navigation (LNAV).  The pilot programs the navigation system through the Flight Management System, which has a keyboard and multi-function display system, often called a Control Display Unit (CDU). However, the pilot may introduce errors into the system by incorrect data entry, or rarely, because of an incorrect navigation database. Detailed procedures and strict adherence to those procedures prevents, detects and mitigates errors.

The Flight Deck Automation Working Group concluded that modern flight path management systems create new challenges that can lead to errors. Those challenges include complexity in systems and in operations, concerns about degradation of pilot knowledge and skills, and integration and interdependence of the components of the aviation system.

Status of the Working Group’s Recommendations
Over the past several years, the FAA has taken action on the group’s 18 recommendations including rulemaking, guidance and research studies that will improve pilot management of aircraft flight path management. The report validates the work the FAA has been doing and more narrowly focuses the agency on the specific steps that can be taken to further respond to the recommendations.

Recommendation 1–Manual operations.
Develop and implement standards and guidance for maintaining and improving knowledge and skills for manual flight operations that include the following:

  • Pilots must be provided with opportunities to refine this knowledge and practice the skills
  • Training and checking should directly address this topic
  • Operator policies for flight path management must support and be consistent with the training and practice in the aircraft type

This should be integrated with related recommendations.

Actions: The FAA recently finalized a Pilot Training Rule and a Pilot Certification and Qualification Rule that require balanced automation management and manual flying skills training and checking for all air carrier pilots. In addition, the FAA published Safety Alert for Operators (FAFO) 13002 manual Flight Operation to encourage operators to promote manual flight operations when appropriate.

Recommendation 2–Autoflight mode awareness.
For the near term, emphasize and encourage improved training and flightcrew procedures to improve autoflight mode awareness as part of an emphasis on flight path management. For the longer term, equipment design should emphasize reducing the number and complexity of autoflight modes from the pilot’s perspective and improve the feedback to pilots (e.g., on mode transitions) and ensure that the design of the mode logic assists with pilots’ intuitive interpretation of failures and reversions.

Actions: The FAA made two changes to Part 25 of the regulations establishing standards for the design of autopilots, autothrottles/autothrust systems, and flight directors. These changes set performance requirements, failure protection requirements, and standards for alerting flight crews to system changes.

Recommendation 3 – Information automation.
Develop or enhance guidance for documentation, training, and procedures for information automation systems, e.g., Electronic Flight Bags (EFB), moving map displays, performance management calculations, multi-function display) or functions:

  • Describe what is meant by Information Automation and what systems, equipment are included
  • Define terms associated with Information Automation
  • Develop guidelines for the content and structure of policy statements in Flight Operations Policy Manuals for Information Automation
  • Develop operational procedures to avoid information errors.

Actions:  FAA Advisory Circular (AC) 120-76B, Guidelines for Certification, Airworthiness, and Operational use of EFBs establishes acceptable methods and best practices to build and use EFB types of information automation.

Recommendation 4 – FMS documentation, design, training, and procedures for operational use.
In the near term, develop or enhance guidance for flightcrew documentation, training and procedures for FMS use. For the longer term, research should be conducted on new interface designs and technologies that support pilot tasks, strategies and processes, as opposed to machine or technology-driven strategies.

Actions: The FAA issued AC 90-105, Approval Guidance for RNP Operations and Barometric Vertical Guidance in the U.S. National Airspace System and Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM) and AC 120-71A, Standard Operating Procedures for Flight Deck Crewmembers. Both will provide best practices for written instructions and procedures for pilots in operations and training. The Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) Certification Training Program (CPT), required by the Pilot Certification and Qualification Rule, provides automation training standards for pilots.

Recommendation 5 – Verification and validation for equipment design.
Research should be conducted and implemented on processes and methods of verification and validation (includes validation of requirements) during the design of highly integrated systems that specifically address failures and failure effects resulting from the integration.

Actions: The FAA developed AC 20-174, Development of Civil Aircraft Systems, to describe how to design highly integrated systems with attention to understanding what happens to the overall system if individual components fail.

Recommendation 6–Flight Deck System Design.
Flightcrew training should be enhanced to include characteristics of the flight deck system design that are needed for operation of the aircraft (such as system relationships and interdependencies during normal and non-normal modes of operation for flight path management for existing aircraft fleets). For new systems, manufacturers should design flight deck systems such that the underlying system should be more understandable from the flightcrew’s perspective by including human-centered design processes.

Actions: The FAA made two changes to Part 25 of the FAA’s regulations establishing standards for the design of autopilots, autothrottles/autothrust systems, and flight directors. These changes set performance requirements, failure protection requirements, and standards for alerting flight crews to system changes. The Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) Certification Training Program (CPT), required by the Pilot Certification and Qualification Rule, provides automation training standards for pilots.

Recommendation 7 – Guidance for Flightcrew Procedures for Malfunctions.
Develop guidance for flightcrew strategies and procedures to address malfunctions for which there is no specific checklist.

Actions: Research is under way to develop procedures to train and more effectively handle unanticipated failures in complex systems.

Recommendation 8 – Design of Standard Operating Procedures (SOP).
For the near term, update guidance (e.g., Advisory Circular (AC) 120-71A) and develop recommended practices for design of SOPs based on manufacturer procedures, continuous feedback from operational experience, and lessons learned. This guidance should be updated to reflect operational experience and research findings on a recurring basis. For the longer term, conduct research to understand and address when and why SOPs are not followed. The activities should place particular emphasis on monitoring, cross verification, and appropriate allocation of tasks between pilot flying and pilot monitoring.

Actions: AC 120-71A, Standard Operating Procedures for Flight Deck Crewmembers, is being revised to enhance the design of standard operating procedures.

Recommendation 9–Operational policy for Flight Path Management.
Operators should have a clearly stated flight path management policy as follows:

  • Highlight and stress that the responsibility for flight path management remains with the pilots at all times.
  • Focus the policy on flight path management, rather than automated systems
  • Identify appropriate opportunities for manual flight operations
  • Recognize the importance of automated systems as a tool (among other tools) to support the flight path management task, and provide policy for their operational uses
  • Distinguish between guidance and control
  • Encourage flightcrews to tell Air Traffic “unable” when appropriate
  • Adapt to the operator’s needs and operations
  • Develop consistent terminology for automated systems, guidance, control, and other terms that form the foundation of the policy
  • Develop guidance for development of policies for managing information automation

Actions: The FAA’s SAFO 13002 on Manual Flight Operations stresses the importance of maintaining manual flying skills and encourages operators to promote manual flight operations when appropriate.

Recommendation 10–Pilot-air traffic communication and coordination. |
Discourage the use of regional or country-specific terminology in favor of international harmonization. Implement harmonized phraseology for amendments to clearances and for re-clearing onto procedures with vertical profiles and speed restrictions. Implement education and familiarization outreach for air traffic personnel to better understand flight deck systems and operational issues associated with amended clearances. In operations, minimize the threats associated with runway assignment changes through a combination of better planning and understanding of the risks involved.

Actions: FAA experts are engaged to ensure pilot-controller understanding through standard phraseology – for example, phraseology changes which clarify instruction for climbing and descending during departure and arrival procedures.

Recommendation 11–Airspace procedure design.
Continue the transition to PBN operations and the drawdown of those conventional procedures with limited utility. As part of that transition, address procedure design complexity (from the perspective of operational use) and mixed equipage issues. Standardize PBN procedure design and implementation processes with inclusion of best practices and lessons learned. This includes arrivals, departures, and approaches.

Actions: Long-standing and ongoing collaboration between the FAA’s Air Traffic Organization and Aviation Safety provides continuous evaluation of air traffic procedures and the development of new and more robust arrival, departure and approach procedures.

Recommendation 12 – Flight deck design process and resources.
Ensure that human factors expertise is integrated into the aircraft design process in partnership with other disciplines with the goal of contributing to a human-centered design. To assist in this process, an accessible repository of references should be developed that identifies the core documents relevant to “recommended practices” for human-centered flight deck and equipment design. Early in the design process, designers should document their assumptions on how the equipment should be used in operation.

Actions:  A new change to Part 25 of the FAA’s regulations establishes improved standards for human centered aircraft design.

Recommendation 13–Pilot training and qualification.
Revise initial and recurrent pilot training, qualification requirements (as necessary) and revise guidance for the development and maintenance of improved knowledge and skills for successful flight path management. As part of the implementation of this recommendation, improve the oversight of air carriers and Part 142 Training Centers.

Actions: The Pilot Training Rule and the Pilot Certification and Qualification rule requires focus on the knowledge and skills necessary for successful flight path management.

Recommendation 14–Instructor/evaluator training and qualification.
Review and revise, as necessary, guidance and oversight for initial and recurrent training and qualification for instructor/evaluator. This review should focus on the development and maintenance of skills and knowledge to enable instructors and evaluators to successfully teach and evaluate airplane flight path management, including use of automated systems.  

Actions: FAA and industry work groups have identified best practices for improving instructor and evaluator performance. The FAA is actively promoting the voluntary adoption of those best practices.

Recommendation 15–Regulatory process and guidance for aircraft certification and operational approvals.Improve the regulatory processes and guidance for aircraft certification and operational approvals, especially for new technologies and operations, to improve consideration of human performance and operational consequences in the following areas:

  • Changes to existing flight deck design through Supplemental Type Certificates (STCs) Technical Standard Orders (TSOs), or field approvals
  • Introduction of new operations or changes to operations, to include implications for training, flightcrew procedures, and operational risk management
  • Actions: The new part 25 rule will help improve processes. Multiple efforts to streamline policy and procedure are ongoing.

Recommendation 16–Flight deck equipment standardization.
Develop standards to encourage consistency for flightcrew interfaces for new technologies and operations as they are introduced into the airspace system. Standards should be developed which establish consistency of system functionality (from an airspace operations perspective) for those operations deemed necessary for current and future airspace operations.

Actions: Standards for system functionality are being developed for new technologies and operation under the NextGen program. These standards are developing through industry consultation such as RTCA.

Recommendation 17–Monitor implementation of new operations and new technologies.
Encourage the identification, gathering, and use of appropriate data to monitor implementation of new operations, technologies, procedures, etc., based on the specified objectives for safety and effectiveness. Particular attention should be paid to human performance aspects, both positive and negative.

Actions: Current diverse types and large volumes of data are shared between the FAA and industry through Aviation Safety Action (ASAP) and Flight Operations Quality Assurance (FOQA) programs. These and other programs will be mined to monitor the implementation of new operations and technologies.

Recommendation 18 – Methods and recommended practices for data collection, analysis, and event investigation that address human performance and underlying factors.
Develop methods and recommended practices for improved data collection, operational data analysis and accident and incident investigations. The methods and recommended practices should address the following:

  • When reviewing and analyzing operational, accident and incident data, or any other narrative-intensive dataset, ensure that the team has adequate expertise in the appropriate domains to understand the reports and apply appropriate judgment and ensure that the time allotted for the activity is adequate
  • Explicitly address underlying factors in the investigation, including factors such as organizational culture, regulatory policies, and others
  • Provide guidance on strengths and limitations of different data sources and different methodologies and taxonomies
  • Encourage the use of multiple, dissimilar data sources to provide better coverage of events
  • Encourage the wide sharing of safety related information and analysis results, especially lessons learned and risk mitigations

Actions: Industry is contributing data through an FAA database called the Aviation Safety Information Analysis and Sharing (ASIAS) system for early identification and the deeper study of safety issues. Safety information is also shared with government and industry twice a year during Infoshare meetings.

The report was submitted to the FAA on September 9, 2013, and is now available.

> See FAA’s training rule and pilot qualification rule.

> See Fact sheets on CAST and ASIAS.