Posted by: Chris Davis | March 12, 2010

Flying “Glass” Won’t Save Your…

In a recent study conducted by the NTSB it was discovered that glass panel equipped aircraft did not show any significantly better accident statistics then their steam gauge cousins.  On the contrary, glass panel aircraft actually had more fatal accidents during the period of study from 2002 – 2008.  So what does this mean to us?  Is the glass panel really all it’s hyped up to be?

As many might assume, the findings & recomendations brought forth from the study point out a very obvious issue…the aircraft are more capable than the pilots who fly them.  The contributing factors to the accidents all point towards the same glaring issue of pilots operating the aircraft beyond their personal capabilities and depending on the glass to magically help them do so safely.  The glass panel is nothing more than a computer screen readout of the old steam gauges and although they can offer much greater situational awareness they still do not make decisions, they just run programs.  A good percentage of the accidents in glass panel aircraft fall under the catagories of Loss of Control in IMC and Controlled Flight Into Terrain.  Again, both of these issues point to pilot error and not an aircraft problem.  I know what your probably thinking…”some of these aircraft may have had a Primary Flight Display (PFD) go INOP”.  So where are you going with that argument?  What happens if the attitude indicator in a steam gauge aircraft goes INOP?   Does it mean that the pilot is now helpless?  No…thats why we train for partial panel operations.  We also train for “black panel” operations in glass panel aircraft…don’t we?  According to the study, a contributing factor to the accidents is a lack of sufficient training criteria for just such an issue.

With the various models of aircraft flying with glass panels today there is not a “one size fits all” training program that will work as it did when all aircraft had steam gauges.  Just think about all the aircraft / avionics options available to todays pilot that were unheard of only a decade ago.  Gone are the days of the standard six pack gauges lined up neatly in the same standard fashion from one aircraft to another.  Today you may find a Garmin G1000, Avidyne Entegra, Aspen Evolution, or Dynon EFIS sitting in the panel with no resemblance to the old round dials that you grew accustom to.  The number of avionics options are as numerous as the aircraft they are designed for and each system has it own unique set of menus and buttons that must be understood to operate them efficiently.  Oh yeah, did I mention that these are just the flight instruments?  We have not even gotten into discussing the navigation system possibilities that work hand in hand with these avionics systems yet, but you get the picture.  I have actually been flying with another pilot who got behind the aircraft on a clear VFR day because he was trying to setup the approach into guidance system and PFD when the airport was in clear view.

All the technology is great and the situational awareness is unmatched, but if we forget to fly the plane the destination always ends up the same.  Your best friends in an aircraft are your stick and rudder along with the flight control system between your ears…rely on them first and supplement them with the “gee whiz” avionics to ensure a safe and happy arrival.

-Clear skies & Tailwinds

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