"The Glass Revolution." (Part Two)
By Owen Zupp.
..........Perhaps, dual sequences will be flown devoid of the support of all of the myriad of EFIS functions in the same manner that instrument training falls back to ‘limited panel’. For a time there will be aircraft equipped with both analogue and glass, allowing a ready interchange between the two options. However, in time, proven reliability will lead to this arrangement just as it has on airliners where even the limited standby instruments are EFIS in nature. The evolution of the 737 was a classic case in point of this transition.
Human nature will also dictate that we make do with what we have. If a speed tape is our only source of airspeed information from day one, student pilots will adapt accordingly. With the correct emphasis in training, the fascination with the wonderful big screens will also pass as they become familiar and part of the pilot’s armoury rather than seemingly the sole weapon. The EFIS will be incorporated into a scan as opposed to transfixing it.
These various hurdles are all a part of the revolution of glass cockpits and are indicative of cultural change. Issues with technology are being countered with every new improvement and the stream of feedback from those tasked to fly the aircraft. The technology is ever-improving with each new range superseding its predecessor in terms of function and relative cost.
The philosophical change is a by-product of the transition rather than being indicative of a shortfall of the new technology. The enhanced situational awareness and available information more than offset the pain of a new generation. One must wonder if these same issues and arguments were raised when flight instruments were first fitted to frail biplanes, or man decided to fly in cloud or at night, solely by reference to instruments. Ultimately we will all adapt, however, in the short term some areas of flight training needs to catch up with equal fervour.
Getting to Know the Glass.
New aircraft are appearing on flight lines with all manner of new avionics and instrumentation and while a number of institutions offer training courses, it is nowhere near an industry standard. Training should result in the crew not only utilising the equipment to its fullest capability, but respecting its limitations. Currently, the initiative of ‘glass training’ too often rests with the pilot to download user guides and quick reference notes and undertake a course of self-education. Realistically, the initiative should not end there. Ideally a formal ground course should be available, while some dual flight time with an instructor will also reap substantial benefits. On the ground, having the facility to provide external power allows valuable ‘hands on’ time in the aircraft, to become familiar with various functions of the system without flattening the aircraft’s battery.
In the air, dual flight sequences offer not only a level of education, but a level of safety. Training on new equipment inside the cockpit will inherently drag the focus from outside the aircraft and the maintenance of aircraft and airspace separation. As well as a set of eyes, the instructor can provide limited panel training to segment the assimilation of the available information. The ability to isolating the Speed Tape or the Vertical Speed Indicator (VSI) facilitates specific training and allows the pilot to begin to correlate control inputs with the instrument format and indications in front of them.
Specific training syllabi need to be at hand to both indoctrinate the new student and convert the established pilot. Without this, a haphazard range of self-education will continue to exist that will compromise the successful integration of the new technology and prolong the process of change. Furthermore, with such a vast array of functions and no formal training, many of the glass cockpits will never be used to the fullest level of their capability.
Without doubt, the introduction of glass cockpits calls for new solutions to be brought forward by the flight training community, right across the board. As the numbers of EFIS cockpits grow, this training will inherently drift from an initiative to a necessity. The speed of that cultural change will be dictated by the quality of the associated flight training.
The revolution is here. All kinds of motivators from cost and maintenance to situational awareness and ‘wow factor’, will ensure the eventual domination of glass cockpits. They will become industry standard, just as they have in the airline world. As an industry, we need to manage this rather than be solely steered by the advent of new technology.
Aviation has a proud history of innovation and new frontiers and this is just another to add to the list. The true success of glass cockpits will not be measured by their growing presence, as this will occur regardless. It will be measured by the competence of pilots at all levels to utilise the equipment to its fullest and integrate it as one component in the overall process of safe and efficient flight. In the meantime, the challenges of the 'Glass Revolution’ remain.