The FAA defines a technically advanced aircraft (TAA) as one that includes "a minimum of an IFR-certified GPS navigation system with a moving map display, and an integrated autopilot." The agency goes on to note that "some TAAs also have a multi-function display that shows weather, traffic and terrain graphics. In general, TAAs are aircraft in which the pilot interfaces with one or more computers in order to aviate, navigate or communicate." That's a fair definition, but it's also broad enough to include my 40-year-old Debonair with its Garmin 530 and coupled S-Tec 60-2 autopilot.
In August 2003, the FAA published its "General Aviation Technically Advanced Aircraft FAA -- Industry Safety Study," a 70-page document available online that looked at specific TAA accidents and their safety implications. Specifically, the study "was motivated ... by a desire to understand how the new technologies found in TAAs relate to accidents in aircraft that can be identified as TAAs."
A few of the study's findings and recommendations are summarized below.
• The accidents studied exhibited typical problems occurring after introduction of new aircraft technology and reflect typical GA pilot-judgment errors found in analysis of non-TAA accidents;
• The steps required to call up information and program an approach can distract a pilot during high-workload situations; and
• TAAs increase "available safety," i.e., they offer the potential for increased safety. However, pilots must receive additional training in the specific systems in their aircraft to exploit the opportunities and operate within their inherent limitations.
• Improve training systems and content for TAAs, especially risk management. Include procedures for maximizing the safety benefits of TAAs and operating within their limitations, and for making optimal flight-risk assessments and managing flight risk;
• Increase the use of technology to address accident causes. Incorporate systems to help pilots to recognize potential hazards (e.g., weather, traffic, terrain) and easily operate key systems; and
• The success of any of the recommended interventions depends on the extent to which they are accomplished, including the dissemination of training, and the improvement and enhanced use of technology.