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NTSB: Specific Training Would Improve Glass Cockpit Safety Record

Flying car

Flying car

March 11, 2010The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released results of a five-year study that concludes glass cockpit avionics do not improve the safety record of light aircraft. Nearly all new piston-powered light airplanes are equipped with primary digital flight displays and a growing number of older aircraft are undergoing retrofits. The NTSB says that training; especially on specific equipment, is needed to maximize the safety potential of glass cockpit technology.

From 2002-2006, the NTSB compared accident statistics between light aircraft equipped with conventional cockpits to those with glass. The analysis showed that while glass cockpit aircraft had a higher fatality rate, the overall accident rate was lower than conventionally equipped aircraft.
Further analysis revealed that conventionally equipped aircraft generally had accidents in the takeoff, approach, and landing phases, while glass cockpit aircraft accidents typically occurred in climb, cruise, and approach. Of the accidents in glass-equipped aircraft, many involved loss of control, flight into terrain, and encounters with weather.

EAA Sport Aviation technology columnist Max Trescott says the study’s conclusions are not surprising, “The NTSB Glass Cockpit Safety Study came to the same conclusion as other similar studies,” he said. “Glass cockpits have the potential to increase safety. However pilots need additional training, both initially and on a recurrent basis, to reap the benefits of these technologies.”  (See further analysis of the report at his blog.)

When examining the aircraft uses and the pilots involved at the time of the accident, conventional aircraft were more likely to be used for instruction involving younger pilots, while glass aircraft were used for business and personal travel. Glass-equipped aircraft tended to be operated by a single pilot who was older, instrument-rated, with more overall hours but fewer hours in the specific aircraft.

The NTSB recommends that the FAA include questions about glass cockpits on FAA Knowledge exams; that pilots receive equipment-specific training on the technology installed in the aircraft they use, including the use of simulators; and how to report malfunctions. It was also recommended that manufacturers provide more information about what a pilot will see when glass cockpit avionics equipment fails.

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