American airline pilots are failing to keep up their flying skills and get full training so that they can safely take control of an aircraft from automated systems during an unexpected event, according to a US Transportation Department report.
It is the responsibility of the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to ensure that the skills of airline pilots are up to date but a report released on Monday suggests that the government body is failing to do so.
The report by the department’s Office of the Inspector General concludes that the FAA cannot determine how often pilots fly manually and has not ensured that airline training programs adequately focus on manual skills.
• Pilots reveal scariest near misses
Airline pilots typically fly planes manually on landings and take-offs, leaving the aircraft under the control of automated technology 90 per cent of the time. While automated systems have generally improved aviation safety, experts say the practice and the growing complexity of automated technology have raised concerns about flying skills.
• Airline staff reveal industry’s biggest secrets
The government watchdog also found that the US aviation regulatory agency lacks the ability to ensure that pilots are fully trained to use and monitor automated flight systems.
“The agency is missing important opportunities to ensure that pilots maintain skills needed to safely fly and recover in the event of a failure with flight deck automation or an unexpected event,” the report said.
The Boeing 777 passenger jet lies burned on the runway after it crash landed at San Francisco International Airport Photo: AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
An FAA spokesman declined to comment yesterday but pointed to an FAA memorandum contained in the report, in which the agency shared the inspector general’s concerns and said it was developing training guidelines and discussing operations and training with industry stakeholders including airlines, pilots and flight attendants.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in 2014 found that an Asiana Airlines Boeing 777 crashed and caught fire at San Francisco International Airport in 2013 because the pilot lacked critical skills and the flight crew relied too heavily on an automated system it did not fully understand. Three people died and 49 others were seriously injured in the crash.
In a separate case, the NTSB said that 49 passengers and crew members aboard a Colgan Air Inc Bombardier DHC-8-400 regional flight died in 2009 after the flight crew failed to monitor the plane’s slowing airspeed while on instrument approach to Buffalo-Niagara International Airport in upstate New York. The crew responded incorrectly to an automated warning of an imminent stall.
• What flight attendants really think of you
The plane crashed into a residential area, killing everyone on board and a man on the ground.
The tail of the commuter plane at Buffalo-Niagara International Airport