A Canadian Multi-Crew Licence?

Canada’s Flight Training Reputation

Trying to keep Canadian flight training competitive is a laudable goal. We have a well-deserved reputation for competence, earned the hard way by flying in our terrible weather around our huge unpopulated country with plenty of pressure to get there (sooner or later) because it’s often the only way to get there.

Much training business has come to our shores because of this reputation. The way to keep it coming is to maintain and bolster our good reputation in these trying times.

Loss of Control Accidents

In the last decade the character of airline tragedies has changed completely. Modern aircraft are so reliable that engine and system failures are rare. Aircraft and crew are designed and trained to deal with these failures if they occur. What we are seeing instead are crew failures.

These have come to be called loss of control accidents. The well-known examples are AF447, Colgan Air at Buffalo, and now Asiana 214 at San Francisco. There are many more, including, most recently, Southwest at LaGuardia. These accidents were all caused by crew action (or inaction).

(That includes, by the way, AF447 and Colgan, in which icing played a peripheral role. Flying into known icing is something for which the crew is responsible.)

These accidents all have something in common: pilot incompetence.

I know that sounds harsh, but it must be said. It is an accurate statement. The pilots in these cases may have known their airplane fairly well. They may have memorized their company’s operating manual and their Standard Operating Procedures. But in all cases they did not understand some of the basics of flying an airplane. Colgan and AF447 fell into the ground or sea with the wing stalled, not flying, because the pilots pulled back on the control column and held the back pressure despite warnings and stick shakers. The Asiana crew pulled back to stretch their glide, even though they were far gone on the back side of the drag curve, within a few knots of the stall.

What is missing in these cases is basic flying training. The causes are legion and still being debated, but the fix is simple. In order to get a license, especially a license to fly a large airplane with many paying passengers aboard, a pilot must demonstrate the ability to take off, fly, and land an airplane while keeping it within its safe envelope. He must, in other words, demonstrate competence.

Commercial Reasoning

Canada’s proposed Multi-Crew Licence has this as its rationale: Canadian flight training operators providing commercial training to foreign candidates are unable to compete with foreign operators and risk losing a segment of their industry (my emphasis).

Under various names, the Multi-Crew Licence has had a role in most loss of control accidents.

On the face of it this license seems reasonable. There is always a Captain who has a real license to supervise the others with lesser licenses. But on closer inspection what we are really saying is that a pilot who cannot legally take a friend for a ride can occupy a cockpit seat while the captain is back in First Class (AF447, and the Korean Air flight shot down over the Kamchatka Peninsula). We speak of Crew Concept and Crew Resource Management, but if the only pilot who understands the basics is not on the flight deck, these concepts are moot.

Commercial pressures have brought us, step by innocent-seeming step, to where we are today. Each step seems reasonable, at least at the time. We now routinely fly two-engine airplanes on twelve hour overwater legs. Back in the 1970’s that was unthinkable and illegal. In those days airplanes didn’t land themselves. Now they can, under the right conditions, and some operations manuals even specify autolands as the normal procedure. Pilots who comply are soon incompetent, unable to land the airplane by hand. But in San Francisco last month the glidepath transmitters were shut down on both runway 28’s. Indeed, they had been off since June 1. Manual landings were the only way at KSFO.

The Multi-Crew Licence seems like a logical next step in response to today’s commercial pressures. In reality, it is the next step toward complete incompetence on all flight decks.

Public Assumptions

Airlines have done an excellent job marketing a service that whisks you to another continent at half the speed the sun moves. Even with today’s oil prices, ticket prices are (in today’s dollars) a fraction of what they were in the 1960’s. This is the new normal. Flights are uneventful. Pilots are bus drivers. Airplanes land themselves, don’t they?

An airplane crashes at San Francisco. There must have been something wrong with the engines. Or perhaps the autothrust? A nosegear collapses on landing at LaGuardia? Obviously a mechanical malfunction.

Marketing has succeeded in making aviation seem safe. But even though airplanes have changed since the 1930’s, flying is still a dangerous adventure. The safe arrival of even today’s incredible airplanes still depends on the good judgment of pilots.

We don’t want to think about that, because pilots are people and can make mistakes. But we’ll have to start thinking about it, and acknowledging it, or the crashes will continue.

Feeders, Discount Airlines, and the Elimination of Apprenticeship

Flying is an apprenticeship trade. Like any job worth doing, it takes dedication and a lifetime of learning. I have 45 years and 19,000 hours of experience and I am just beginning to understand how little I know. But I have survived so far and I am very serious about continuing to survive. Dying by your own hand at the controls of an airplane is an absolute no-no for a pilot.

I was lucky. I have had (and still have) many fine teachers. When I was a young airline pilot most captains still took their teaching responsibilities seriously. Today’s young pilot is not assured of the same. Pressure on unions and pilot salaries is being applied by business methods: spawning and dividing feeders and discount airlines foremost among them. The goal is to lower costs, but the (perhaps unintentional) byproduct is the interruption of the contact between old and young pilots and the teaching and learning that allows. (I believe that lowering wages also directly reduces respect for the job and the job satisfaction of the worker, but that is an argument for another time.) The FAA’s response to the Colgan Air crash was to raise the experience requirement for First Officers to 1500 hours, even though it was the captain who was flying and who stalled the airplane and even though the airline had given insufficient training to both pilots on icing and how their aircraft handles ice. I have always understood that pilots are paid to be responsible. I am bemused by today’s response to accidents, where band-aids are liberally applied to wounds which obviously require surgery.

Conclusion

Introducing a Multi-Crew Licence in Canada would be just another band-aid papering over the serious issues facing aviation today. Don’t do it!

Developing Pilot Judgment

 

Watching Landings

You’re at the local airport. You watch landings, because pilots always do. Today, because there is a lot of traffic and you’re not pressed for time, you watch for awhile. Twenty, maybe thirty landings go by. What do you see? Fifty percent (this is a flight school strip) touch down halfway down the runway. One or two touch down in the last 1000 feet.

What do you take away from the experience?

Gossip, certainly – if you’re standing there with fellow pilots. Comfort, possibly – if you feel you can do better than most of what you’re watching. Or perhaps chagrin, if the reverse is true and a recent example of your own work sticks in your craw.

But there is a more important take-away: forming an opinion or evaluation by discerning and comparing.That is the dictionary definition of judgment. And the aviation version of judgment is more practical: if I find myself in this situation, can we do it?

The we in the last paragraph refers to you and your airplane. You learn skills and you memorize your airplane’s limitations. You are a team.

The situation is whatever pickle you’re going to get into on your next flight. Can I land on a 2000-foot runway?

You look up the Landing Distance Required in your Flight Manual or Pilot Operating Manual. For my N-Model Bonanza I find 1600-2000 feet (no wind, 75°F. or less, 2000 feet pressure altitude or less). So we can do it, right?

Not so fast. The runway at my local airport is just under 4000 feet long. I consistently turn off on the center taxiway, but not without some braking. I have a bit too much speed over the fence and I float too long. So I’m not quite ready for that 2000-foot strip. My airplane is, but I am not.

Here is another clue. My POM also lists Landing Distance Required for a Short Field Landing. Same configuration, but the over-the-fence speed is 5 knots less. Instead of 1600-2000 feet, the required distance is 1200-1400 feet. Add five knots and add five hundred feet! Nope: my energy management – hey, my hands and feet, if you get right down to it – are not good enough yet.

Why not, you may ask? After all, I have been a pilot for 45 years. Well, two things: first, I’m 68 years old; and second, after I retired from airline flying I didn’t touch a yoke for six and a half years. So I had to write exams and do a lot of re-learning. Now I’m learning the hands and feet again.

In short, for the moment my airplane is better than I am.

Hours, Experience, and Judgment

How do we discern and compare on the road to developing pilot judgment? First, look at the one or two Bottom Guns who touched down in the last 1000 feet. “Good enough,” they say. I guess so, if their airplane can stop in that distance. Then the fifty percent who touched halfway down. “Plenty of runway left. No sweat.” These guys are like me. Their airplanes are better than they are. It’s just a matter of how much better.

What’s missing? A path to learning judgment.

Experience is measured in hours. Judgment, theoretically, comes from experience. But it is not automatic. Hours of flight or even hours of practice take you nowhere unless they are accompanied by some discernment and comparison. Neither the Bottom Guns nor the halfway-down-the-runway pilots are safe trying to land on a 2000-foot runway. But do they know that?

Instrument Flying: Behind the Basics – 3

INTEGRATING the ILS

We’ll start with a new image today – the megaphone. Put the small end at the touchdown point, line it up with the runway, and tilt it up three degrees. This is the ILS, or at least a useful image of it.

The picture helps because it gives an instinctive feeling for what we have to do to fly an ILS:

  • Maneuver into the big end of the cone
  • Fly down its axis
  • Make smaller corrections as we get closer to the runway

Last time we talked about how to stay on the localizer – maintain the published track – and how we were using integration. Looking closer, we can take the integration back several levels:

Bank –> Heading Change (and thus Track Change) –> Lateral Displacement

A shallow turn for a short time means a small heading change, changing the track. Imagine the new track drawing an arrow – this is your velocity vector. The longer you stay on the track, the longer the arrow. Visualize (I’ll add diagrams when I learn the software) the arrow: if you are correcting back to the on-course you’ll want to return to your tracking heading when the tip of the arrow gets there.

The same method – integrate and visualize – works for the vertical axis:

Power + Pitch –> Vertical Speed

Use V/S as you would track to manage vertical displacement – to track the glideslope, if you will. The same method works in both axes:

  • Before you start the approach, have targets in mind – the published track,  and a target vertical speed you calculate from your planned airspeed on approach: airspeed/2 X 10 = 600 fpm for 120 knots (if you have GPS, use your groundspeed).
  • Fly into the big end of the cone and center the localizer.
  • Fly the target heading and see what happens. Now you know something about the wind. Adjust your target. (If you have GPS, flying the published track will keep you on the localizer.)
  • Correct back on, then fly the new target. Repeat and get it nailed (at least for this altitude).
  • As the glideslope comes down to meet you, do what you need to get your target V/S. (It should be as little as possible and preferably only one thing: reduce RPM or MP a certain amount; put the gear down.)
  • See what happens. Adjust your target. (If you have GPS, glance at the groundspeed. If it’s only 100 knots, your new target is 500 fpm.)
  • Correct back onto the glideslope by adjusting V/S, visualizing the arrow (your velocity vector in the vertical axis) intercepting the G/S. When you’re back on, fly the new target.
  • Continue as above, visualizing the megaphone as it gets smaller, guiding you to that window 200 feet above the approach lights. (Your corrections are getting smaller and smaller.)
  • KEEP YOUR TARGETS IN YOUR HEAD RIGHT DOWN TO MINIMUMS. (They are now accurate to a degree or two of heading and 50-100 fpm.)

That’s it! Simple, right?

Actually, it is, and it works, but it does take some thinking about. For example: if the needles are centered, are you flying down the axis of the megaphone?

We’ll look at that next time.

Instrument Flying: Behind the Basics – 2

INTEGRATION

Maintain the published track and you’ll stay on the localizer.

Sounds simple. Makes sense. But it’s not instinctive. You have to think about it.

Here’s a thought experiment. You are running a train down a straight track. You can’t see outside. You have a stopwatch, a remote paintgun, and an accurate speedometer. Your task is to make two marks on the track a mile apart.

Simple, right? You accelerate to 60 mph, hit the paintgun remote and the stopwatch at the same time. Exactly 60 seconds later you hit the paintgun remote again. Mission accomplished!

But what if you are flying an airplane doing 120 knots? You are on (over) the track and you hit the paintgun. You wait 30 seconds and hit it again. Where is the second blob of paint? Sure, it’s 1 nautical mile ahead, but is it on the track?

Yes, if your track hasn’t changed. That’s easy for a train but a big IF for an airplane. The wind could change. Your heading could change. Then the second blob of paint will not be on the track. It will be off to one side. Your localizer needle will be off to one side.

In math this is an example of integration. You are adding up what happens to your position as a result of your velocity vector. The INS or IRS in an airliner does it. Experienced pilots do something like it in their heads.

If you have a Garmin 430 in your airplane you can go to NAV page 1 and fly so TRK is the same as DTK. If you don’t you’ll have to do it the old-fashioned way, flying heading to compensate for drift. Either way, try to have the picture in your head.

We’ll speak more about integration in future blogs. It’s a great help if you want to fly IFR with precision.

Instrument Flying: Behind the Basics

P + P = PP

Power + Pitch = Predictable Performance. That is how an old friend, mentor, and instructor puts it. We were speaking of it recently in relation to the AF447 crash.

But sometimes we don’t even have attitude available. If, for example, we were to blunder into cloud in a J-3 Cub with only the most rudimentary instruments, we might still pull it out of the hat using the turn and bank: don’t touch the power or trim; roll into a coordinated rate one turn and hold it for one minute. With luck we will have maintained level flight and turned 180 degrees. (Of course without attitude, altitude, or vertical speed available our nose has dropped slightly in the turn to maintain 1G flight and during the turn we have been in a gentle descent.)

The point of the formula is that control can be maintained in cloud with very little information. In the J-3 Cub example, the natural longitudinal stability of the airplane, the needle and ball, and a timepiece are almost sufficient.

But not quite! What is missing?

It is the pilot: specifically the pilot’s brain with its ability to visualize and integrate. The visualization is often referred to as situational awareness and is recognized as an essential component of the instrument pilot’s skills. The integration is equally essential and will be the subject of this mini-series: Behind the Basics.