Re: A320 cockpit visit)

From:         Robert Dorsett <>
Date:         24 Jun 93 00:37:52 PDT
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In article <airliners.1993.466@ohare.Chicago.COM> (Mike Collins) writes:

>In article <airliners.1993.456@ohare.Chicago.COM> writes:
>>what ever the reason, the FACT remains that there have been three A320 
>>crashes, in as many years.  No other aircraft of similar technological
>>vintage--757/767, A310, A300-600, 747-400--can claim the same.  It is 
>>very puzzling that, considering the "glassy" similarities among these air-
>>planes, there haven't been more problems, fleet-wise.  Perhaps one
>>difference is that on the other airplanes, pilots are more in the loop,
>>on their toes--whereas with the A320/330/340, one is in that blasted 
>>*cocoon*, and taught to BELIEVE! 
>But hang on here. I can remember as a kid in the mid sixties reading about 
>a series of crashes involving the B727. Uk newspapers were running headlines
>like "Jinx Jet Crashes Again". Well they would wouldn't they? They were trying 
>to sell the Trident. But the fact remains that the cause of these crashes (as 
>far as I remember) was pilots were upgrading from piston craft to jets and
>had no idea of the true handling "quirks" of the 727.

Two points:

1.  The A320 should be compared to aircraft with similar avionics and
operating philosophies: those are the airplanes listed.  There have been
no 757 crashes (released 1982), one 767 (1983) crash, two (?) A310 (1982)
crashes, one (?) A300-600 (1982) crash, and no 747-400 (1988) crashes.
Yet in the first three years of operation, the A320 had three.  Something's 
wrong, there.  Yeah, it *could* be bad luck--that happens.  But the circum-
stances gel quite well with critics' theories and concerns raised by pre-
existing research.

2.  The 727 situation was a different era, and should be viewed accordingly.
The pilots were upgrading to *jets*, and had no experience with jets.  In 
particular, jet aircraft can sustain very high rates of descent, quietly, 
which is believed to have played poorly on the "flying instincts" of the 
previous-generation prop pilots.

I would suggest that the 707, 727, and DC-8 provided the "learning curve"
for the jet age: they had higher accident rates because they were first.  If
one looks at the post-60's accident record, the 727 fares as well as other, 
more modern aircraft.  It WAS a learning curve drawn in blood, though, one 
which we should honor, with incremental, need-driven airframe and avionics 

Now, Airbus, of course, would have us believe that *its* interface is the
"future" of jet transport, and, if we accept that, then its accident rate
is as easily "justified."  The problem here, though, is that they haven't
changed that much about airplanes fly--only how they're flown--and NOBODY
else is jumping on the same bandwagon.  The FBW is proprietary, and their
control laws are unique.  They are vaguely similar to what Boeing was con-
sidering on the 7J7, but guess what--Boeing's opting for a "conventional"
control law and interfaces on the 777.  

The industry's exploding in many different directions, many different 
standards, and we're going to pay for it in more blood.  I think we're 
reaching the point of negative returns on systemic safety "improvements."

> The common problem was
>allowing speed to decay on the approach. 

This was discussed in depth on airliners a few months ago; see the airliners
archives on for more information.  There aren't many 
parallels that I can see: only a fool would purposely fly a 727 on the back 
side of the power curve, yet it seems to be par for the course for many pilots 
on the A320. :-|

>Perhaps half the problem lies with who airlines choose to be their pilots.
>If they put a "boy racer" in charge of a multi million dollar arcade game 
>like the A320 what do they expect. 

It's really a question of philosophies.  There are two major philosophies for
the future (three, if you count keeping things like they are). 

The first is to continue with the automation of technology, and isolate the 
pilot.  One day, perhaps, he will become superfluous: yet, by regulation, now, 
he must be in the loop.  There is strong evidence that insulated pilots tend 
to become careless pilots, "out of the loop."  So do we accept the 
"management" philosophy, and choose people who are basically clerks, who 
can be trained to push the right buttons and take orders, and hope that the 
innate reliability of the systems doesn't *require* a stick & rudder man?  

The other approach is to "keep" the pilot in the loop, yet somehow "protect"
the airplane from his mistakes.  This is the "cocoon" approach.  Let him
maneuver with some discretion, give him things to do, but forbid things from 
getting too far out of hand.  This may be undesirable, too, in that the pilot 
may grow to rely on the "protections" being there to save his bacon.

There is a theme unifying these approaches, and that's to drive down the 
novelty of the personnel requirements which "make the pilot."  This appeals 
to third world and European countries, which either don't have a military or 
civilian pilot pool to draw from, or forbid their military pilots from flying 
with air carriers.  More pragmatically, it eventually opens the way to 
piloting as being a mere technical skill, something that anyone with a a two-
year college degree or high school diploma can handle just fine (as British 
Airways is currently doing with its ab initio program).  If you lessen the 
personnel requirements, you eliminate the novelty, you vastly broaden the 
pilot pool, and you end up getting to pay pilots a small fraction of what 
they're currently making.  I don't know about you, but I'd rather not have a 
$20,000/year kid flying my $140,000,000 747, responsible for the lives of 600 
people, worrying about how he's going to pay for his kid's braces.  Is such
a person going to shout down company management if he feels the airplane
is unsafe?  Ha! (cf. Continental and Eastern under Lorenzo)  Yet we have
technocrats from all directions who are happily trying to make this the case:
ATC automation/authority proponents, the airlines, the manufacturers.  Just
what we want: a committee responsible for airplane safety--with their butts 
safely on the ground, naturally. :-)

But for now, is continued evolution along the automated/cocoonish tract
as safe as previous approaches?  Probably not!  Is one unnecessary crash 
every five years unacceptable to the bean counters?  Probably not!

IMHO, the A320 combines the worst of the two mainstream "modern" control
philosophies.  It has a very high degree of automation (the pilots only touch 
most system switches, for instance, during pre-flight, to verify that 
everything is functional), together with the promises and pitfalls of 
protections.  All the while providing a NEW method of flight control, in the 
form of three major control laws, and countless permutations within those 
control laws.  Plus the known human factors problems of FMS-based flight 
guidance systems (i.e., cumbersome and too "heads-down").  I could accept one
of these problems--but not all three, not in the same airplane.

Perhaps some of the Honeywell or Boeing people on the net would like to 
comment on the 777 cockpit philosophy?  I understand it makes some attempts
to keep the pilots in the loop, but I haven't read anything on it, recently.

>I think the voice commands from the FMS should, every 5 minutes, repeat what
>every pilot learnt at his instructors knee."There are old pilots and there are
>bold pilots but there are no old bold pilots"

Yeah, but how do you reconcile the old/bold parable with pilots who are 
selected and trained to view it as a 9-5 job, and are neither bold nor 
timid? :-)  In other words, "boldness" isn't the problem, it's the environ-
ment and training and their very strong influences on human behavior.  If
you are aware of the problem, you can work around it; if not, you can fall
victim to the environment and make a mistake that kills you and your 

Robert Dorsett
Senior Luddite!!rdd