India’s aviation regulator has found that most pilots in the country are not adequately trained to fly an aircraft in the automated mode, which is used on half of all domestic flights.
The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA told airlines in a circular last month that from now on they should fly their aircraft only in the manual mode until they train their pilots to operate the automated technology.
They are two modes of flying. In the manual mode the pilot uses physical control to set and change parameters such as speed, height and direction, steering the aircraft from take off to touchdown. In the automated mode the pilot keys in commands into a computer in the cockpit to control these parameters.
The move is critical because about 95 per cent aircraft fleets used by domestic carriers have automated system of flying. Only the Boeing 737-200 aircraft and turboprop such as ATR aircraft require manual flying.
The safety concern came to light after the Safety Enhancement Data Review Team comprising senior DGCA officials found 50 cases where pilots failed to rectify an error when the aircraft was flying in the automated mode.
For instance, on November 10, a Kingfisher flight skidded off the Mumbai runway and its wheels caught fire because the pilot failed to control the descent of the aircraft flying in the auto mode.
“Inadequate training and system knowledge is one of main reasons behind the problem,” said a DGCA official requesting anonymity. Air safety experts feel that lack of quality in training standards is the principal cause of the problem.
Last December, a Jet Airways trainer pilot put the lives of 100 passengers from Delhi to Mumbai at risk when he pull out a circuit breaker that controls the navigational devices to test the pilots skills. The pilot had to revert back to manual flying to make a safe landing.
“Most of training Captains themselves don’t understand the new automated systems. Therefore, the product must be bad,” said Captain Mohan Ranganathan, an air safety expert.