Automation Dependency: “Children of the Magenta”

We are seeing a significant increase in accidents involving the overuse or misuse of cockpit automation. If you have not watched the American Airlines video “Children of the Magenta” please do that now. (What I am going to write here is perfectly captured by this talented presenter.) We have forgotten that in flying we are first and foremost pilots, not automation managers. The wonderful tools that are increasingly found in our small aircraft have the purpose of reducing workload…not making it harder to fly! And certainly not flying the plane because we are unable to do so. We must maintain the necessary skills to engage and take over the airplane and flight at any point.

Screen Shot 2016-01-14 at 1.18.26 PMAt the time of this video in 1997, 68% of airline accidents involved “automation dependency.” Savvy airline training programs were actively discouraging airline crews from becoming “automation managers.” Subsequently many high visibility accidents like Air France 447 and Asiana Airlines flight 214 (the “seawall approach” at San Francisco) have proved the disabling effect of automation. Now we are experiencing this same phenomenon in smaller planes as the technology propagates downward into piston planes. Increasingly the evils of “task saturation,” “loss situational awareness,” and “deterioration of hand-flying” are implicated in deviations or accidents.

bigstock_Pilots_In_The_Cockpit_3489727One antidote is careful monitoring by the pilot or crew to detect either task saturation from automation dependency, loss of situational awareness or just confusion about the operation of the flight management system in general (“what’s it doing now…?”). The necessary action is to step down a level of automation or take over the flight manually. For this reason it is imperative that every pilot maintains confident hand flying skills to fly accurately and improve the outcome of any flight. Pilots and crews that lack hand flying skills and/or confidence are increasingly involved in accidents. The FAA has issued a SAFO (Safety Alert For Operators) on the importance of hand flying citing an “increase in manual handling errors”.  The new FAA Advisory Circular on flight reviews advises flight instructors to watch for automation dependency and weak hand flying skills during flight reviews. Similarly every pilot must monitor and correct their own automation dependency. It is incumbent upon the careful pilot to maintain and sharpen their hand flying skills with regular practice or dual flight. “George” usually does a great job flying  (embarrassing too 🙂 !) but please remember to turn off the magic, take a turn flying and stay sharp! And please Join SAFE in our mission of pursuing aviation excellence. Our amazing member benefits alone make this commitment painless and fun. See you at the airport.

Plastic Student Pilot Certificates Start April 1st

PilotCertThe final FAA rule for the proposed new student pilot certificates was issued in the Federal Register today. Fortunately the idea of photos and biometric IDs was dropped, but student pilots will no longer get their certificates from their AME. Instead they will apply in person at their FSDO (unlikely), through a DPE, with a Part 141 flight school, or a CFI. The Civil Aviation Registry will then send a plastic student pilot certificate to the applicant after successful security vetting by the TSA. This plastic certificate will not expire but a separate medical will still be obtained from an AME with the current duration. Receipt of a student pilot certificate is required prior to exercising the privileges of a student pilot certificate (i.e., prior to solo flight). Current estimates indicate this could potentially take three to four weeks.

Since the student pilot certificate will be plastic, flight instructors will only endorse a student’s logbook instead of both their certificates and logbooks. This change takes effect on April 1, 2016. The CFI’s endorsement for a student pilot will remain valid for 90 days. We will provide details as they become available…

FAA Issues New Guidance for CFIs Conducting Flight Reviews

A just-issued FAA Advisory Circular (AC 61-98C) is providing new guidance for how CFIs conduct flight reviews and instrument proficiency checks (IPC).  The recommendations came from a high-level FAA committee that included SAFE representatives.  It is available free here.

AC 61-98C reminds CFIs that flight reviews and IPCs should include a check on the pilot’s proficiency in English, urges CFIs to help pilots develop a personal currency program and strongly suggests that an FAA form 8710-1 be completed for each flight review and filed through the IACRA system.

Under the heading Reducing GA Accidents, the AC notes that inflight loss of control is the most common single cause of GA fatalities, lists typical areas where loss of control can occur and asks instructors to pay particular attention to those areas in flight reviews.  They include:

  1. Pilot Proficiency, where CFIs can help pilots develop personal currency programs.
  2. Traffic Pattern, specifically departure stalls, attempts to return to the field after engine failure and uncoordinated turns from base to final. It asks CFIs to emphasize the difference between Vx and Vy, go-arounds, and stabilized approaches.
  3. Criteria for Stabilized Approaches including proper glide path, heading, airspeed, configuration, rate of descent, power setting and checklists. It recommends a go-around if approaches become unstabilized at 300 feet AGL or below.
  4. Instrument Meteorological Conditions, where vertigo can affect both non-instrument-rated pilots and non-proficient instrument rated pilots.
  5. Manual Flight After Automation Failure. The FAA cites over-reliance on automation, including FMS systems or coupled autopilots, as a significant cause of loss of control.  It urges CFIs to emphasize knowledge of the equipment and navigation systems installed and proficiency in manual aircraft control.

The new AC also notes that CFIs are required to be knowledgeable and up-to-date on issues critical to aviation safety, and that staying current on that information will help build a positive safety culture to reduce GA accidents.  It suggests that CFIs use the free booklet Conducting An Effective Flight Review to prepare individual pilots for flight reviews.

SAFE has been promoting awareness of loss of control accident causes for several years.  There is material in the SAFE resource center with information on loss of control, including seminal works on the subject completed by SAFE’s Rich Stowell, here.   Additional advanced material for CFIs is available in the members-only section of SAFE’s resource center.  A login is necessary for members to access SAFE members-only information. Join SAFE in our mission of pursuing aviation excellence. The amazing member benefits alone make this commitment painless and fun. See you at the airport.

SAFE Introduces Institutional Memberships!

East Hill Flying Club in Ithaca, New York on January 1 became the first flight school in the nation to take advantage of SAFE’s new Institutional Membership.  The reduced-cost membership option for flight schools and aviation colleges extends SAFE benefits to the designated employees of the institution.

“Each of my seven CFIs now has the advantage of SAFE’s multitude of services and discounts for less than half the usual $45 for an individual membership,” said David St. George, Chief Instructor and manager at East Hill.  “It’s a way to reward our staff with most of the SAFE benefits and also promote excellence in aviation education among our people.”

The new SAFE Institutional Membership fees are based on the number of instructors employed by the flight school or aviation college and starts at $75 for up to six instructors at the institution.

GroupCFIatSchoolThe new SAFE Institutional Membership includes all SAFE benefits for each instructor except subscriptions to FLYING Magazine.  Benefits include SAFE’s Aviation Mentoring program, monthly SAFE eNews, quarterly SAFE The Magazine, a vibrant CFI-focused online resource center and substantial discounts on flight instruction products and services from nearly two dozen leading aviation companies.

Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 11.23.32 PMJust one member discount, from SAFE partner Lightspeed, provides an active CFI up to $150 off top quality Lightspeed headsets, a benefit worth more than three times the cost of a regular individual SAFE membership and six times the cost of an institutional membership.  The most recent member benefit is 66 percent off a yearly subscription to the premier aviation and astronautics publication of the Smithsonian Institution, Air and Space Magazine.

SAFE is a member-focused group of aviation educators that fosters professionalism and excellence in aviation through continuing education, professional standards and accreditation.  Its nearly 1,000 members include many of the nation’s top CFIs.

SAFE Member Discounts Pay You Back!

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SAFE membership can save you real dollars. Our sponsors value our service to aviation. Join SAFE and help us grow!

I can’t promise you free membership *but* with our amazing member benefits a savvy aviation consumer can easily earn back the “price of admission” to SAFE in only one purchase while also supporting our amazing aviation safety advocacy! Here is a single purchase from ASA for just over $500 which had a savings of $128.61.

SAFEDiscountIf you are like me and purchase an annual pro subscription to ForeFlight, the SAFE 1/3 off will pay for your whole membership *and* you get enough back for breakfast at an airport diner! SAFE member benefits help keep flying affordable. Try our SAFE Toolkit App… it has everything a CFI needs for preparing and recommending students at every level. (The new ACS knowledge test codes are now included also) For pilots find excellent mobile weather, flight tracking and N# lookup.

Three recent additions to the SAFE sponsor page are the CloudAhoy flight recording and debriefing system. This application allows you to “digitally debrief” every flight with your students adding a huge value and learning opportunity to their flight lesson. The Modern Pilot has their ForeFlight PowerUser course (and complete annual membership) for only $69. This very well produced educational program will familiarize you with every aspect of ForeFlight and make you a safer pilot. Aerovie is a comprehensive flight planning and enroute tracking application that incorporates the official FAA weather into your prebrief and provides digital PIREP filing and many advanced features. Aerovie is FREE to every SAFE member (as are the Flying Magazine and GA Aviation News…the list goes on!) Don’t wait, please support our effort to raise the level of aviation excellence…join SAFE today!

Please “follow” our SAFE blog to receive notification of new articles. Write us a comment if you see a problem or want to contribute an article. We are always seeking more input on aviation improvements and flight safety. There are many highly qualified aviation educators out there…join the group at SAFE.

CFI Improvement: Becoming A CFI Professional!

It is amazing our aviation industry has survived at all with the well-documented 60-80% drop-out rate we experience during initial flight training. Imagine how healthy general aviation could immediately be if we could just cut that drop-out rate in half. We could instantly reinvigorate aviation with more excitement, customers, airplane gatherings. How many dreams have we ruined and how many motivated people have we disappointed because we do not teach them well and carefully manage their expectations?

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AOPA Flight Training Study

The common misconception, (that has become a pervasive excuse) claims the primary reason people quit flying is due to excessive cost. This is false. A massive and very scientific study by AOPA clearly reveals that the disappointing “quality of instruction” is actually the most frequently mentioned and persistent issue among dissatisfied aviation consumers. They are not getting expected value for their dollars. We have failed to provide the experience they walked in the door for; organized professional instruction geared toward their needs and schedule. A golf pro, personal trainer, or even your car mechanic all cost much more per hour than a CFI, but people engage these people and continue that relationship because they obtain enduring value…it meets their needs.

The active competition to aviation are mostly all the other ways to have fun. And while most competing recreational activities do not require our level of skill and training (and thus have a lower barrier to entry) don’t forget humans value achievement and  mastery, the essence of successful aviation. People who drop out in aviation desperately want to succeed, we just fail to correctly manage and maintain their motivation and expectations to help them achieve their goals. An organized syllabus with clear communication and defined sub goals is a great starting point. Understanding and valuing the customers needs is also critical.

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Click for wonderful (but dated) Ralph Hood Video

To be more effective and successful, a CFI not only needs the aviation toolkit but must also thoroughly understand human relationships. To provide a quality educational experience we must comprehend and engage our customer on a personal level, motivating them with professional and  honest educational content. I personally think teaching flying is much more about human interaction and psychology and less about molecules of air and Greek letters. A book on relationships (suggested by Nick Frisch in our SAFE Instructor Resource Center) might be the best place to start growing as a CFI. I would personally recommend To Sell Is Human by Daniel Pink. A great majority of human interactions in every sphere involve “selling” in the larger sense: influencing and motivating others to  change and embrace new ideas. Running a successful flight school largely involves aggressively “selling” both fun and safety while simultaneously empowering people to achieve both with aviation tools.

AOPA Flight Training Study
AOPA Flight Training Study

Certainly every new student coming into a flight school or engaging a CFI wants to learn to fly. The AOPA study reveals they also want an organized course of instruction that meets their expectations as a professional. Though they certainly need to learn aerodynamic subjects and skills, they also need to understand and embrace the bigger picture; how they will use aviation in their lives and achieve their goals of challenge and adventure? They must also be inspired to become life-long learners and pursue excellence to be safe (and not merely “wiggle the stick”)

I would encourage every CFI to spend time to learn their student’s specific motivations and fulfill their unique needs. Though studies reveal that 65% of students entering flight training are pursuing aviation for recreational purposes, almost all are taught like they will become airline pilots. Most of our young CFIs are directed toward the airlines but the majority of their students are pursuing recreational flying. We often forget that achievement and enjoyment are essential motivators and the original reason most of our clients pursue aviation. Also, we often neglect social and personal engagement which is an incredible motivator keeping learners involved and training.

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Not all students want to fly for the airlines!

For aviation to be successful our CFIs must also embrace a larger role in our community and understand their job goes far beyond teaching students. As professionals, we are not just “teaching flying” but also necessarily acting as “aviation ambassadors” for our whole community. CFIs are the public face of General Aviation and our role also involves teaching at career days in the local schools, participating in EAA Young Eagle events, and building the larger aviation community (not just hours). CFI professionalism requires personal dedication and perseverance as well as creativity and entrepreneurial spirit. As Bob Wright points out in the SAFE Instructor Resource Center; “Beyond initial FAA certification, there is clearly a gap between the minimum FAA certification standard and what customers and employers want instructors to know and how they want them to perform in the real world. This need clearly calls for some kind of professional accreditation of instructors that would be voluntary but would clearly improve their credibility and employability in many flight instruction venues.”

Screen Shot 2015-12-26 at 11.26.42 AMThe AOPA Flight Instructors Field Guide to Flight Training is a wonderful tool to start a journey into this larger world of aviation student needs and motivations with checklists and worksheets. It opens up a new understanding of human relations that is essential to the success of a professional aviation educator.

Screen Shot 2015-12-22 at 1.21.21 PMThe Master Instructor Program enables and requires exactly this larger professional perspective that leads directly to greater success and higher wages. Accreditation as a Master Instructor requires participation in professional organizations, community events, educating in the community as well as publishing in professional journals and newspapers. Even if you are going on to the airlines this kind of expansive understanding and professional accreditation is exactly what future employers want to see. For those staying in the instructor ranks, master certification is essential resulting in greater professional and financial success. For those of you who run flight schools, SAFE now has an institutional membership (at a lower rate) to get your staff involved and on the road to CFI professionalism. Please pursue excellence as an aviation educator. Both the aviation industry and your students deserve and need this level of professionalism.  Joining SAFE in our mission of building aviation excellence is a great place to start this initiative. Our amazing member benefits alone make this commitment painless and fun. See you at the airport.

 

 

CFI Improvement is Necessary: 911!

Improving CFI competence and professionalism is the key to increasing our student retention rate, rebuilding aviation and creating safer pilots. Our whole industry will benefit!

I think all honest pilots will confess that every new certificate or rating means we have only the basic “starter kit” or “license to learn.” If you are like me you are shocked in retrospect by how little you originally knew (and they let me do all that stuff!) This is especially true for the flight instructor certificate (but unfortunately very few seem to act that way or seek improvement). Teaching anyone the essential skills of aviation should be approached with the greatest humility and care. So many things can go wrong both in the immediate present but also with the latent habits you create (or not). I believe both our depressing student drop out rate in general aviation and also our continually miserable safety record could both be greatly improved if we could increase the level of professionalism in our Aviation Educator ranks. This is a key mission of SAFE.

As a 141 chief instructor running a flight school for 25 years (which included being a DPE evaluating the “finished product”) I have witnessed great and wonderful moments but also every form of CFI abuse and defect. I confess to some serious incompetence and arrogance myself when I first earned my CFI certificate. “Wow, I’m a CFI…the government said so, it must be true” At the time we had that amazing FAA instructor manual we quietly called “good dog, bad dog” (because of it’s totally behaviorist approach to “training” ..not education!) Fortunately the handbooks have greatly improved and in my case I had two very important influences early in my career that made all the difference and for which I shall be forever grateful.

FTaward2012One positive influence for me was a demanding chief instructor and mentor John “Stick” Stickle. He was alternatively kind and sharing and also imperious and unyielding on technique and safety.  The other essential influence was the guidance and inspiration from Greg Brown’s amazing book “The Savvy Flight Instructor” and the associated Master Instructor Program developed by Sandy and JoAnn Hill (Greg was the their first Master Instructor). It’s unfortunate but you really don’t start out “amazing” (or even “good”) in the CFI world and improvement doesn’t come without effort and feedback. You are granted the “starter kit” in the 8060-4 (temporary) and have to work and learn every day if you want to improve.

StickandChampSavvyCFIIt is very easy to fool yourself into a self-satisfied, god-like incompetence (you can find one at every airfield). Inherently trusting students tend to worship even the most incompetent CFIs. It is essential to keep learning and challenging yourself to raise the bar and get better.  I highly recommend a mentor who is honest and caring to test and improve your skills and technique. If you are not able to work with a locally senior instructor, SAFE is retooling the mentor program (up and running soon). Screen Shot 2015-12-22 at 1.21.21 PMParticipation in the Master Instructor Program is also essential if you want to keep your skills sharp and gain ground in the world of aviation education. We will discuss CFI improvement more thoroughly in future articles. The flight instructor is the essential source  for aviation student retention and superior instruction will result in fewer accidents.