Electronics No Substitute For Good Pilot Skills

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A study to be released later this month by AOPA’s Air Safety Foundation has quantified what most of us already suspected about so-called technically advanced aircraft. All that electronically displayed information is no good if pilots ignore it. In fact, the comfort level achieved by lighting up that panel might actually contribute to the risk of some types of accidents. The study noted that 45 percent of fatal accidents involving technically advanced aircraft (TAA) were weather related, compared with 16 percent for steam gauge-equipped planes. "These accidents were not the fault of the airplane," ASF Chairman Bruce Landsberg on Friday told pilots attending M5, the annual gathering of Cirrus owners and pilots in Duluth, Minn. On the other hand, the terrain and fuel management information available in glass cockpit aircraft seems to have significantly cut the incidence of fuel- and terrain-related accidents in the new airplanes. Landsberg says the key to optimizing the technological advantages of TAA is training. He said pilots must be trained to become better "systems managers." But being a whiz with the buttons and knobs is no substitute for basic "stick and rudder" skills, he added. A significant number of TAA accidents occurred during landings and go-arounds, where the slick aerodynamics of the new aircraft may be a little less forgiving. “We as an industry are still playing catch-up on the training aspects of TAA," Landsberg said. "We are making progress, but we don’t yet have all of the tools.”