Embry-Riddle Doing $1 Million Pilot Skills Study


The FAA has given Embry-Riddle a $1 million grant to study how pilots fly and think at the same time. According to a university news publication, the goal is to develop training methods that efficiently meld all the motor skills and brain work necessary to safely and efficiently operate an aircraft. “This work aims to bring pilot training and operational performance to a new level,” said ERAU Associate Professor Dr. Barbara Holder. “It has the potential to make training more effective and efficient, especially for new pilots.”

All pilots are taught the basic manual skills of flying an airplane and those are relatively simple to grade. The more esoteric requirements for staying ahead of the airplane are tougher to measure. “The FAA wants airline operators to ensure that pilots are equally proficient in technical flying skills, such as hand-flying and autopilot operations, and non-technical skills,” said Holder. “Pilots employ both technical and non-technical skills together to perform effective and safe Flight Path Management (FPM) and, therefore, effective training and assessment of both is necessary.”

Holder and her researchers will partner with three domestic airlines and one international carrier to create a baseline of current skills and assessment methods and see how they can be improved. “My personal goal is to create an assessment methodology that’s effective, efficient and reliable, that integrates technical and nontechnical skills, and that represents how the practice of flying is performed when it is done well in real-world flight operations,” said Holder. The study is expected to last three years.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.


  1. Not to be cynical but the 3-year study will probably reveal that training and experience are the keys to better pilots, including both technical and non-technical skills. The quality of the training is the biggest factor. Aviation demands many skills that have to be second-nature and training in a variety of situations is the best way to get there. I’m currently going through G1000 transition training. I’ve been flying for 34 years on mostly round gauges except for my GTN 650 and G5. At first it was daunting to figure out basic things like where was the airspeed tape on the cluttered PFD display and how the heck does the GFC 700 autopilot work but after 3 training flights I’m a lot more comfortable with the mass of information and buttons.

  2. Why is our government wasting even one cent on something the private sector does with its own money every day? ERAU is in the business of teaching people to fly. I have seen their excellent training facility in Daytona. They know every day precisely where every student is in their progress, strengths and weaknesses, with just the push of a few buttons on a computer screen. Flight training is big business for the private sector. Getting the government involved will only screw it up.

  3. My prediction is three years from now ERAU will report that an immersive comprehensive flight training program focusing on basic flying skills in the airplane, along with heavy emphasis on extensive simulator training covering emergency procedures and systems operation, anomaly recognition and resolution will produce aviators with both stick and rudder skills and the ability to think ahead of the airplane. Repetitive exposure to emergency and anomalous scenarios makes dealing with them second nature, just like the basic flying skills learned from the flight immersion training. The military has been successfully training this way for decades.

    The rub will come when cost and schedule constraints are added to the equation. This kind of training takes time to be effective. Trying to do it much faster, if that’s an objective, will be problematic. There’s also the factor of student aptitude. The military used to remove students from training if they weren’t demonstrating proficiency per plan. I don’t know if they still do that with the shortages. Do civilian flight schools follow any kind of policy on this?

    I haven’t looked for the grant application or the study proposal synopsis yet but look forward to reading them. The quote from the article includes the words “more effective and efficient”. I’m eager to see what they come up with to accomplish these goals.

    • Yeah ok I missed the key point that this study is only to develop an assessment method, not a training method. DUH.

      This appears to imply the required periodic check rides and simulator training are not good assessments of knowledge, proficiency, and capability. Again, I’ll be interested to read what they find when they look at how these are conducted and how the check ride results are used.

  4. They first have to hire mind readers.
    Otherwise, they are stuck with the standard “observe and theorize” when it comes to evaluating students.

  5. They’re going to “…partner with 2 domestic and 1 international carrier…” for this research project? So, they’re going to learn how people hand-fly airplanes from those who are on autopilot and “technology” 95% of the time? With anything “non-technical” highly regulated by company policies/procedures? Not sure I get how this would yield the desired data.

    How about focusing on crop dusting, aerobatic, glider, and student pilots instead to get a far better “non-technical” and “technical” picture of hand-flying/muscle memory/proficiency, etc.

    //Tin-foil hat: On
    I predict the outcome of this study in 3 years will be that autopilots should fly and autoland the airplane as much as possible to reduce risk (an autopilot/drone can crop-dust a field, right?). Some kind of legislation will quickly follow requiring more nanny modes in autopilots and one-button (or rip-cord) emergency solutions. FAA/military/company ops. remote-control-override autoland wouldn’t surprise me either (e.g. if you violate airspace, emergencies, etc.). This will also help justify single-pilot cockpits for freight and other 2-pilot-required-today operations.
    //Tin-foil hat: Off

    Otherwise, this sounds like an investigation to fix a problem that does not exist. CFI’s must teach to a single PTS standard given myriad different learning styles and comfort of “technology” of their students. Can a project like this capture all of that variation? I guess we’ll see…

  6. Training eliminates the need for thought, education demands it.

    Can’t remember who said that, but it’s right. If thinking is required at the same time as flying a lot of pilots I know are in trouble. With enough valid training thought is minimal during flight. Most pilots these days are there. It’s an improvement over our history which is borne out in the accident statistics.

    But she’s quite right to concerned about methodology. Any study can be completely invalidated by faulty methodology. Sadly the cynic in me predicts the answer will support the Embry Riddle training model. And while that might wind up being the correct answer, the researcher being employed by that institution ( or really any aviation training entity) necessarily dilutes the trust and authority that can be placed in the final product.

    Also given the seemingly infinite paths to certification – or competency – it would seem a herculean task to fairly and dispassionately evaluate them all. I wish her and her team the best and am hopeful they can exercise true scholastic integrity and talent to make this comment sound foolish in time. Of course I am skeptical.

  7. I am surprised that no one has yet offered the Top Gun line, “You don’t have time to think up there, if you think, you’re dead.”

  8. There is a lot of we do that because we always did that in flight training. I think taking a big step back and asking the “why” questions in flight training instead of just the “what” questions is a good idea.

    There has been a lot of academic research on how people learn. It would seem to me that applying that to flight training is worthwhile.

  9. Is this kinda like can you walk, juggle and chew gum simultaneously? If the FAA gives me $100K, I’ll do a study and report back.

  10. Not to knock the value of training, but Embry Riddle is going to study whether more flight training could improve pilot performance.

    Embry Riddle is going to study that.

    I mean, don’t get me wrong, Embry Riddle does great work. But, just given that much information, do we really think that “new training techniques will reduce the total amount of flight training needed” is going to be the headline on that report?

  11. There goes another $1M of Government ‘waste’ … right down the commode. And in their very next breath, the FAA will be whining for MORE money …