When V1 Cuts Don't Cut It
Bob Baron, Ph.D
A long time ago, when I was a simulator instructor at a major flight training academy, I often thought to myself, “why do we practice V1 cuts over and over again?” I wondered how many pilots in the real world have had an engine failure at exactly V1. The answer was, unsurprisingly, very few.
Then I realized that, while we were making these pilots “V1 cut experts,” they didn’t always perform as well in a “normal” flight during a line oriented flight training (LOFT) session. There were problems with decision making, problem solving, delegation of authority, and other soft skills issues. In some cases, the LOFT flight would end in a crash, not because there was anything technically wrong with the aircraft, but because the pilots let “subtle situations” rapidly evolve into dangerous flight conditions.
The Real World
The crew had just finished recurrent training. The instructor praised both pilots for exemplary performance in the simulator, and attested to that fact with positive comments on both pilots’ grade sheets. Both pilots had thousands of hours of flight experience and thousands of hours of combined time in the particular make and model they were flying. They were back on the line the following day. On their first leg, both pilots and five passengers were killed when the aircraft descended prematurely on a non-precision approach at night.
The pilots had flown into this airport on numerous occasions, albeit during daylight hours. The weather was reported to be good visual flight rules (VFR), the wind was calm, and the runway was 10,000 feet long. Visual approach slope indicators (VASIs) were available. But for some reason, the crew descended below the VASIs prematurely, causing the aircraft to impact the ground five miles short of the runway threshold.
The Captain, who was the pilot flying, attempted a night visual approach to the runway, even though the VOR RWY 17 instrument approach was briefed and set up earlier. When the First Officer queried the captain on this discrepancy, the Captain’s reply was, "I want to shoot the visual approach since the weather is good and it will save us some time." That was the last communication recorded on the cockpit voice recorder (CVR) before the sound of impact, approximately two minutes later. A perfectly airworthy airplane, under complete control, was flown unintentionally into the ground without prior awareness by the flight crew. A classic controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) accident.
Based on the above, it’s pretty clear that exceptional technical skills cannot offset deficiencies in non-technical skills (NOTECHS). Years ago, however, training was based strictly on technical skills with very little, if any, NOTECHS integration or measurement. It did not take industry long to realize that the gulf between these two skill sets needed to be addressed better, as the majority of accidents that were occurring were caused by NOTECHS issues.
Crew Resource Management (CRM)
With the advent of crew resource management (CRM) and its six iterations since (see figure below), much more emphasis has been put on NOTECHS in flight operations. CRM has progressed considerably from its inception in the early 1980s—where the focus was on psychological testing and non-aviation specific management training—to today, where the emphasis is on the concepts of threat and error management (TEM). Additionally, the latest CRM iterations address organizational factors such as safety culture, or lack of, which can be a significant threat to flight safety.
The Evolution of CRM (Courtesy Transport Canada)
Advanced Qualification Program (AQP)
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued the first advanced qualification program (AQP) Advisory Circular (AC 120-54) in the early 1990s. “AQP is a training program that emphasizes crew-oriented training and evaluation. It seeks to integrate the training and evaluation of cognitive skills at each stage of a curriculum. For pass/fail purposes, pilots must demonstrate proficiency in scenarios that test both technical and crew resource management skills together. Air carriers participating in the AQP must design and implement data collection strategies which are diagnostic of cognitive and technical skills. In addition, they must implement procedures for refining curricula content based on quality control data” (Source: FAA). These training and evaluation applications are now grouped under the general term of line operational simulations (LOS), and include:
- Line Oriented Flight Training (LOFT)
- Special Purpose Operational Training (SPOT)
- Line Operational Evaluation (LOE)
Evidence-Based Training (EBT)
Evidence-based training (EBT) is a relatively new paradigm for training and assessment, and builds upon AQP principles. EBT is based on evidence collected in operations and training on a global basis, and the large dataset provides crucial baseline data. These data sources include surveys, safety reports, line operations safety audits (LOSA), and flight data analysis (FDA).
EBT measures outcomes according to a given set of behavioral indicators, and differs from AQP in that it measures competencies rather than criterion-based test conditions (i.e., pass/fail). EBT builds resilience by focusing on the management of threats, errors, and undesired aircraft states (precursors to accidents and incidents). This type of training better prepares flightcrews for unforeseen situations (i.e., ‘Black Swan’ events). Although every possible scenario cannot be anticipated, or trained for, EBT enhances pilots’ skill sets so they are able to effectively, and synergistically, work through various situations that may occur.
EBT, like AQP, is not mandatory, but is endorsed and supported by most State Regulators. There is a strong possibility that EBT will become mandated in the near future, as some oversight authorities see the significant value of this approach to training. In fact, as of this writing, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has promulgated a notice of proposed amendment (NPA) for mandating EBT. Other Regulators will likely follow the EASA lead.
EBT implementation requires a considerable amount of time (approximately 2-3 years) using a phased approach. The program cannot be something “off the shelf,” or simply copied from another airline. Each airline, or aviation training organization (ATO), must tailor its training based on its specific needs and operational environment. The investment in time and resources will provide long-term benefits by improving safety and providing a quantifiable return on investment (ROI).
We have made significant progress in improving airline pilot training. We have gone from simply training and checking on technical skills—to AQP—to the current paradigm known as EBT.
Sure, we will still train V1 cuts and other standard training maneuvers. But with the advent of EBT, we now have a more effective pilot training methodology, based on evidence, that addresses expected, as well as unexpected, events and situations. Also, by incorporating EBT, an airline or ATO can focus on the training areas that are most relevant to the organization, based on the large amount of data collected as part of the EBT process.
Keep in mind that EBT is not a brand new, stand-alone program. It incorporates previously mentioned training programs such as CRM and TEM, which are part of the AQP programs that are still being used extensively. In time, however, there will be a noticeable shift to EBT. Whether your airline implements EBT electively (proactively), or by regulation, it’s going to be the next step in ensuring pilots are receiving the most effective training for both technical and NOTECHS skills.
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