Tuesday, April 7, 2009
More Than Monitoring
Glass cockpits ease workload, but pilots shouldn’t forget to maintain their flying proficiency
After takeoff, the airplane was handed off to departure control and received traffic advisories. The pilot asked to leave the frequency in order to open a VFR flight plan. After returning to the departure frequency, the pilot asked for an altitude higher than the current 4,100 feet MSL. The flight was handed off to another controller, who approved a climb to 10,500 feet a minute and a half later. Five minutes later, radar contact with the airplane was lost. The last recorded altitude was 7,000 feet. The airplane had impacted an almost-vertical rock face about 1,000 feet below the summit of a mountain.
The CAP had established formal procedures for training its check and line pilots in flying glass-cockpit aircraft. To be qualified for VFR flight, a pilot must have demonstrated competence with the PFD, engine performance display (i.e., MFD), basic VOR and GPS navigation, and terrain avoidance and traffic information systems. For IFR flight, the pilot must have demonstrated competence with PFDs, MFDs, GPS navigation and ILS, VOR and GPS approaches, and use of the autopilot. A memo issued in November 2005 from the CAP’s headquarters informed all wing and region commanders that it would pay to send qualified check pilots to an FAA instructor training course covering glass cockpits. The memo described the CAP’s plans to work with Cessna to factory-train its instructors; it also listed some requirements for pilots to maintain currency in both glass-cockpit and CAP “round-dial” aircraft.
The Cessna 182T’s left-seat pilot was a CAP wing commander with an ATP certificate, several type ratings, a turbojet engineer rating and a flight navigator rating. He had logged more than 25,000 hours and was one of the check pilots who had received glass-cockpit and Cessna factory training. He had accumulated almost 75 hours in glass-cockpit Cessna 182Ts.
The right-seat occupant also held an ATP certificate with numerous type ratings. He had accumulated more than 28,000 hours and was a high-ranking official with the CAP, though he hadn’t been trained in its glass-cockpit Cessnas (and, therefore, wasn’t authorized to fly them).
The airplane’s MFD allowed the user to access a Terrain Proximity page, which provides terrain elevation relative to the airplane’s altitude, current aircraft location, range marking rings, heading box and depiction of obstacles. The guide issued by the avionics manufacturer states, “CAUTION: Use of Terrain Proximity information for primary terrain avoidance is prohibited. The Terrain Proximity Map is intended only to enhance situational awareness. It is the pilot’s responsibility to provide terrain avoidance at all times.”
The NTSB determined that the probable cause of this accident was the pilot’s failure to maintain an adequate terrain clearance/altitude during climb to cruise. Contributing to the accident were rising mountainous terrain, the dark nighttime lighting condition and the pilot’s loss of situational awareness.
Peter Katz is editor and publisher of NTSB Reporter, an independent monthly update on aircraft accident investigations and other NTSB news. To subscribe, write to: NTSB Reporter, Subscription Dept., P.O. Box 831, White Plains, NY 10602-0831.
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