A Required Paradigm Shift to Overcome Loss of Control In-flight
by Aviation Performance Solutions CEO Paul BJ Ransbury
Loss of Control In-flight (LOC-I) is a leading killer in aviation (Figure 1). In fact, LOC-I is a threat on every flight, during every phase at nearly every moment; yet most pilots are not prepared. To mitigate this threat, a paradigm shift is required by every pilot to overcome the risk of LOC-I. The status-quo is no longer acceptable. At the air carrier level, the most recent annual Boeing report on the Statistical Summary of Commercial Jet Airplane Accidents – Worldwide Operations 1959 – 2020 reveals the same fatal prominence of LOC-I.
Surely, licensing and certification training has prepared pilots to address any survivable flight condition they face, hasn’t it? Now that the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) issued robust, comprehensive, and actionable guidance in 2014 structuring a substantial mitigation of the LOC-I threat, national aviation authorities like the FAA and EASA have implemented effective solutions, haven’t they?
Sadly, the answer is ‘no’ in both cases.
Existing Pilot Licensing and Certification Are Insufficient
Most would agree that a threat responsible for nearly 50% of all fatalities in aviation over the past 10 years at every level of fixed-wing flight operations locally, nationally, and globally merits laser focus. While a reasonable proposition, the severity and prevalence of LOC-I is not well understood by pilots. Furthermore, the required competencies necessary to effectively implement the training structured in the ICAO Manual on Aeroplane Upset Prevention and Recovery Training (ICAO UPRT) exist largely outside and beyond the capabilities of the aviation industry’s existing training systems. Barriers include the absence of expertly qualified instructors, insufficient focus on the crucial role human factors play in a life-threatening airplane upset event, and inconsistencies in UPRT techniques being taught by flight instructors.
100s of LOC-I Deaths are Unnecessary
A paradigm shift to overcome Loss of Control In-flight is required. The hundreds of people at risk of fatal injury as a result of LOC-I in the years to come is completely unnecessary. The right kind of training executed with sufficient intensity by qualified experts can remove LOC-I as the leading killer in aviation. However, the stark reality is that without an effectively implemented UPRT, subject to expert oversight, in conjunction with licensing or regulatory requirements, pilots must take action on their own to seek out this transformational training.
The good news is that comprehensive solutions exist and, in the meantime, National Aviation Authorities are doing their best. In the United States, the FAA requires comprehensive type-specific stall and upset prevention and recovery training for all Part 121 air carriers. FAA Advisory Circulars 120-111 and 120-109A powered by FAR 121.423 Pilots: Extended Envelope Training are steps in the right direction. Safety is improving, especially in LOC-I awareness. However, the actuality is that the required simulator-only training is significantly limited in its effectiveness due the inability to generate startle factor and the prevalence of inaccurate motion cueing in UPRT. Extended envelope simulators offer a minor expansion in training footprint over traditional Level D Full Flight Simulators, and the instructors charged with implementing Part 121.423 are-with a few exceptions-struggling to effectively implement the needed solutions. In many instances, the traditional approach to stall and unusual attitude training that established LOC-I as the top fatal threat in aviation is being delivered, just with new labels of Upset Prevention and Recovery Training, and Stall Prevention and Recovery Training. UPRT ‘Instructor Drift’ back to the status quo that they originally learned is a major limitation to making an enduring change.
In Europe, EASA has implemented FCL.745.A Advanced UPRT at the type-rating level. While a wonderful initiative and a full step in the right direction, these programs are delivered by flight schools with severe downward pressure on both course pricing and costs. This has resulted in EASA Advanced UPRT being delivered – again, with a few exceptions – by inexperienced instructors in airplanes that can’t effectively impart the required training to properly prepare pilots to mitigate the threat of LOC-I as intended by regulation. Not ideal. Notwithstanding, the industry is on a path pointed in the right direction and is giving all indications it will continue to eat the ‘LOC-I Elephant’ one small bite at a time. The problem is that effective UPRT implementation is a very big elephant.
Every Pilot’s Paradigm Shift
So where does that leave the owner/operator, business aviation, corporate/executive flight departments, and on-demand operators? It leaves them on their own. Fortunately, there are providers in the industry, especially in the United States, that take solving the threat of LOC-I very seriously.
A Paradigm Shift is defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as ‘an important change that happens when the usual way of thinking about or doing something is replaced by a new and different way’. There is, in fact, a new and better way. While ICAO UPRT frames the structure of necessary Paradigm Shift needed, the devil is in the details; it’s all about operational implementation of solutions. For the time being, the traditional aviation training system has a long, long way to go.
For those looking for a solution, consider the following factors when seeking out effective Upset Prevention and Recovery Training to substantially improve the safety of your day-to-day flight operations and to overcome LOC-I. 25 years spent perfecting UPRT solutions has revealed:
- Layers of Mitigation: Awareness, recognition, prevention, and recovery must all be focus areas. While upset recovery training has value, solutions must include intensive focus on pre-recovery layers of mitigation,
- Integrated Solutions: Assuming UPRT experts are providing the training;
- While essential to integrated LOC-I solutions, simulator training alone is very limited. On-aircraft training alone is more effective but also limited. Robust academic training, while again essential to any practical UPRT, on its own is of very little operational value.
- As espoused by ICAO and proven over decades of field testing, integrated solutions that include targeted academics, on-aircraft piston and jet UPRT (based on the pilot-in-training’s current operations), and advanced simulation provide, without question, the most effective solutions.
- Training Intensity: The intensity of training is critical to success. The entire integrated UPRT program should be delivered within one session of no more than five (5) days for optimum retention value and transfer of skill. Programs spread out by more than 5 days drop in effectiveness substantially. Programs interrupted mid-point by just a few weeks result in reduced effectiveness and, in some cases where instructional methods are not harmonized, result in confusion and, potentially, overall competency regression.
- Designed for the Pilot-in-Training: Solutions should be specifically designed around how the pilot-in-training operates. While aerobatic piston UPRT is essential and foundational to all pilots, jet pilots require the integration of jet UPRT; ideally, both on-aircraft and in simulation. Similarly, turboprop pilots require the integration of turboprop UPRT.
- CRM: Pilots that operate as a crew must participate in UPRT solutions that have flight department crews occupying both the left and right seats to solve a wide diversity of upset conditions as a crew, implementing their departments UPRT call-outs and standard CRM protocols.
The Choice is Yours
In all fairness, the aviation training industry is doing its best. Progressive organizations like Delta Air Lines, United Airlines – in particular the United Aviate Academy – and CAE and FlightSafety International are advancing considerably to keep us all safe both today and in the future. Nonetheless, we must continue to keep our eye on the demonstrated threat of LOC-I as one our biggest and most complex adversaries in aviation safety. Substantial reduction of the frequency of fatal LOC-I is the target outcome. Proper UPRT solutions address the entire error chain leading up to LOC-I. This includes improved awareness, recognition, prevention, and, if necessary as the final layer mitigation, upset recovery. Pilots now have a choice when it comes to Loss of Control In-flight; robust solutions are available today. If you’re a pilot, then your life, crew, family, and passengers depend on what you decide to do next. Shift your Paradigm to overcome the threat of LOC-I.
Paul BJ Ransbury is the CEO at Aviation Performance Solutions (APS) and has spent 25 years researching solutions to Loss of Control In-flight (LOC-I) through the targeted implementation of operationally-specific Upset Prevention and Recovery Training (UPRT). To learn more, visit apstraining.com.