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Audit: Enhanced FAA oversight could reduce flight deck automation hazards
13 January 2016

The U.S. Office of Inspector General completed an audit on the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) oversight of the use of flight deck automation by air carrier pilots, concluding that enhanced oversight could reduce hazards associated with increased use of flight deck automation.

The Office of Inspector General initiated the audit in Februari 2014 at the request of Ranking Members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and its Subcommittee on Aviation. Reason for the audit was the fact that some safety experts have expressed concerns that pilots rely too heavily on automated systems, which could erode manual flying skills.

While airlines have long used aircraft automation safely to improve efficiency and reduce pilot workload, recent accidents have shown that pilots who typically fly with automation can make errors when confronted with an unexpected event or transitioning to manual flying.

FAA has established certain requirements governing the use of flight deck automation during commercial operations. In particular, FAA has developed limitations regarding minimum altitudes at which autopilot can be engaged and how automated systems within the cockpit are configured to provide ease of use. FAA also requires that pilots be trained, tested, and proficient in all aircraft they operate, including any onboard automated flight deck systems. However, FAA does not have a sufficient process to assess a pilot’s ability to monitor flight deck automation systems and manual flying skills, both of which are important for identifying and handling unexpected events during flight, according to the auditors. In addition, they say that FAA is not well positioned to determine how often air carrier pilots manually fly aircraft. FAA has also not ensured that air carrier training programs adequately focus on manual flying skills.

Two recommendations were made to enhance FAA’s ability to ensure that air carriers sufficiently address pilot monitoring and manual flying skills. FAA partially concurred with one recommendation and concurred with the other as written.

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