reducing "Crew-caused"
approach and landing

Pilot-in-charge Monitored Approach

Automation and "de-skilling".

A problem of increasing concern in the airline industry is the risk of pilots losing manual flying skills. Historically, much training emphasis has been on strict adherence to SOPs that involve the use of autoflight systems, to maximise the economic benefits of having these systems fitted as well as the safety benefits in situations such as very low visibility.

But as noted by the FAA in 2013, "Autoflight systems are useful tools for pilots and have improved safety and workload management, and thus enabled more precise operations. However, continuous use of autoflight systems could lead to degradation of the pilot’s ability to quickly recover the aircraft from an undesired state."

To counter this, the FAA now encourages operators to incorporate emphasis of manual flight operations into line operations. This attitude is reflected in the attitude of manufacturers as well: both Boeing and Airbus are revising some aspects of their conversion training programmes. 

However, many airline managements have become convinced by earlier arguments that automation could only bring benefits, believing that "automation has made flying safer, so much so that pilots need to be instructed to use it as much as possible to achieve leaner, better, more efficient flight and save on wear and tear to engines and so forth."

This has created what many operations experts now see as a dangerous over-reliance on the autoflight systems, particularly among less experienced pilots, who are sometimes referred to as "children of the magenta line" (magenta being the intended flight path as shown on a Boeing electronic map display).  Perhaps subconsciously, the overall chain of control (if not command) is being perceived as one where autoflight systems should be allowed to control the aircraft to the maximum possible extent, and by implication have the highest authority over the flight path.

The new advice to "incorporate emphasis of manual flight operations into line operations" therefore presents airline managements with a dilemma: how to have manual flight in line operations simultaneously with maximising the safety benefits of automation? The use of PicMA as an SOP may well be helpful in this respect. 

The proper hierarchy

Operations using PicMA as the SOP can clearly be shown to reinforce the proper chain of command and control of the aircraft.  In normal operations, the Captain (P1) supervises the First Officer (P2).  The P2 is responsible for setting up the autoflight systems to achieve a satisfactory approach for the P1, and for supervising the autoflight systems to properly achieve it. 

This chain recognises that autoflight systems normally do a great job of flying accurately, but have no intelligence and cannot handle unforeseen circumstances. As clearly pointed out in the  FAA's PARC/CAST Automation report  "The safety and effectiveness of the civil aviation system rely on the risk mitigation done by well trained and qualified pilots (and other humans) on a regular basis."

If this hierarchy is recognised, then it becomes easier to treat the autoflight systems as the useful but subservient tools they are intended to be, and find a way to safely practice manual flying in routine operations.