Almost a year has passed since the French authorities released their final report on the Air France Flight 447 crash in the Atlantic Ocean in June, 2009. According to the issued report, the pilots had lacked the understanding of how to address aircraft stall. During 1979-2009, inappropriate crew responses contributed to over 46% of all Loss-Of-Control (LOC) accidents causing more than 2800 fatalities. Unfortunately, dangerous aircraft conditions like aircraft upset cannot be avoided or resolved solely by new cockpit technologies, regardless of how sophisticated and technologically advanced these might be. Once again the attention must be re-directed to the issue of human factor in aviation.
According to a Boeing report, LOC accidents remain the main critical factor in the commercial aviation, corresponding to approx. 33% of all fatalities. One of the main factors which may lead to LOC is aircraft upset, i.e. when an aircraft exceeds safe parameters of operation. For instance, aircraft upset takes place when the pitch attitude becomes greater than +25o and –10o or the bank angle remains greater than 45o.
‘Unfortunately, Full-Flight Simulators are still incapable of modulating a realistic simulation of several critical situations such as aircraft upset. Of course, modern aircraft, including Airbus A320, are stuffed with the latest technologies which avert major correlations of the aircraft attitude, regardless of whether these are intentional or not. However, there is an industry concern that while cockpit systems are taking over the overall control of an aircraft (thus minimizing the human factor risk), pilots may actually lose some of their practical skills, which are vital in critical situations,’ comments Skaiste Knyzaite, the CEO of AviationCV.com.
According to the French Bureau d'Enquêtes et d'Analyses pour la sécurité de l'aviation civile (BEA), the recognition of the stall warning, even when associated with buffet, assumes that the crew assigns a minimum degree of «legitimacy» to the alarm. This in turn assumes sufficient prior experience with stall conditions, at least some cognitive availability and understanding of the situation. The Air France Flight 447 crash was caused by a set of events, including the crew’s inability to properly react in a critical situation. The report stated that ‘… a review of pilot training did not provide convincing evidence that the associated skills had been correctly developed and maintained.’
Such fatal accidents once again raise such issues as human factor and the accumulation of practical experience by the pilots. Airline and training industries, as well as aviation authorities should encourage a more active discussion of the topic within the global aviation community. The exchange of experience between the older and the younger generations of pilots, further development of both aircraft and simulation technologies and relevant practical training programs based on the industry-wide standards – these are the measures which have the potential to significantly lower the impact of human factor in aviation. However, they require the involvement of the entire industry.