Brian Gruis raised an interesting point several days ago that demands more attention. He questioned the presumption that more advanced avionics means easier accessibility and safer flight. He suggested that increased avionics system complexity will require a more intense training commitment on the part of new GA pilots.
Several related questions come to mind.
*In GA aircraft, will more sophisticated systems actually increase accident rates as pilots become emboldened by the technology and take on risks inappropriate for their level of skill and training? *Safe flying is more about pilot judgement than physical ability. Will new pilots develop reasoned judgement if the perception of risk is minimized? *Will pilots understand the new systems thoroughly enough to be able to handle cockpit distractions and still control the aircraft?
If you think these questions absurd, you’d better read on. Commercial aviators have been through this already.
The following excerpt is from the NTSB report # AAR-73-14 and is available in complete form by contacting NTIS. The report covers the investigation of EAL Flight 401 from NY to Miami on Dec 29th 1972. On approach to MIA, the L-1011 flight crew became preoccupied with a malfunction of the nose landing gear position indicator light. Following a missed approach, the flight crew engaged the autopilot to maintain 2000 feet msl and continued to trouble shoot the malfunctioning light. The flight crew failed to detect an unexpected descent caused by an inadvertent disengagement of the altitude hold function. The aircraft hit the ground, killing the flight crew and 96 passengers. The Captain had 29,700 hours total time (TT) and 280 hours in type (IT). The FO had 5,800 hours TT and 306 hours IT. The SO had 15,700 hours TT and 53 hours IT. The L-1011 was newly delivered 3 months before the accident and had 986 hours and 502 landings.
The report states:
“Another problem concerns the new automatic systems which are coming into service with newer aircraft and being added to older aircraft. Flight crews become more reliant upon the functioning of sophisticated avionics systems, and their associated automation, to fly the airplane. This is increasingly so as the reliability of such equipment improves. Basic control of the aircraft and supervision of the flightÂ’s progress by instrument indications diminish as other more pressing tasks in the cockpit attract attention because of the over-reliance on such automatic equipment.”