NTSB: No Evidence Glass Cockpits Improve Safety

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An NTSB study shows glass cockpit technology has not significantly improved the safety of small light planes, the NTSB said Tuesday, and the board recommended changes, from training to maintenance reporting, to improve the statistics. While data collected between 2002 and 2008 showed fewer total accidents for those aircraft equipped with glass panels, that total came with a higher fatal accident rate and higher total fatal accidents. For the period from 2002-2008, conventionally equipped aircraft suffered 141 total accidents with 23 having a fatal outcome. Glass-equipped aircraft suffered 125 total accidents with 39 having a fatal outcome. But the board's study also found the mission profile for each type of equipment package and the characteristics of the pilot were different between the two platforms. Generally speaking, higher-time pilots were flying longer flights with glass. That said, the NTSB was able to use the data to offer six recommendations voiced at the meeting. Five of those were related to equipment-specific training and one applied directly to testing requirements.

The NTSB's study found that glass-equipped cockpit accidents were more likely to involve single-pilot operations, with an older pilot who was more likely to be instrument rated and flying with a higher number of total flight hours. That also corresponded with a higher number of terrain- and weather-related accidents attributed to glass panel aircraft. Weather-related accidents made up 4 percent of conventionally equipped aircraft accidents in the study but 9 percent for glass-panel-equipped aircraft. Conventionally equipped aircraft seemed more dominant in the training segment as accidents of those aircraft involved younger pilots, more students and pilots with fewer total hours. The NTSB recommends that airman knowledge tests be revised to include general knowledge regarding glass panels, that information in aircraft manuals include abnormal and failure modes of the panels, that training elements be introduced to improve pilot knowledge of glass-panel system functionality, that specific training elements be introduced to address variations in equipment design and operation of such displays, that alternate training methods (such as PC versus flight simulator) be approved to support proficiency, and that a system be created to better report and track problems with the units. The study's findings had not yet been posted online when AVweb published this item.

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