AW&ST Automated Cockpits Special Report (Jan. 30, 1995)

From:         Christopher Davis <>
Date:         01 Feb 95 02:16:20 
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The 1995/01/30 issue of Aviation Week & Space Technology contains the
first part (of two) of a special report on cockpit automation and
pilot-computer interface problems.  Since this has been a perennial topic
of discussion on sci.aeronautics.airliners,, and RISKS, the
following summaries and notable points may be of interest.  [The original
articles are, as usual for AW&ST, quite interesting, and I highly
recommend interested readers seek them out. --ckd]

The first article is "Accidents Direct Focus on Cockpit Automation".
Despite what some posters may think, the article is not solely focused on
Airbus Industrie products ;-)

- "A top Airbus official [senior VP of engineering Bernard Ziegler]
  acknowledged that man-machine interface has been a factor in one recent
  accident [Nagoya A300-600 crash] and two incidents [Interflug A310 at
  Moscow and Tarom A310-300 at Orly]."

- "Ziegler explained that Airbus never expected both the pilot and
  autopilot to be flying the airplane at the same time."

- Ohio State University human factors researchers are focusing on "mode
  confusion" as a cause of problems.  [Apparently the cockpit designers
  have never bothered to read Donald Norman's books.  --ckd]

- Kenneth Smart, chief inspector of air accidents in Great Britain, says
  the Kegworth 737-400 crash (the "M1" crash) was due to badly designed
  "glass cockpit" engine displays.

- The three manufacturers' approaches to FBW are also contrasted; where
  Airbus has a "hard" flight envelope, Boeing's 777 FBW system will allow
  the pilot to bypass the "soft" limits by applying additional force to
  the controls.  (McDD's MD-11 system is similar to Boeing's.)  [This is
  the "if I HAVE to bend the plane, LET ME BEND IT" approach.  Past
  discussion of FBW on comp.risks has specifically mentioned the case
  where exceeding limits may be necessary to avoid a crash. --ckd]

The second article, "Incidents Reveal Mode Confusion," discusses an MIT
study that used anonymous Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS) data to
find that 74% of 184 mode awareness incidents involved vertical
navigation, while only 26% were related to horizontal navigation.

The third article, "Dramatic Incidents Highlight Mode Problems in
Cockpits," covers several recent accidents and incidents (China Air Lines
A300-600R, Nagoya; Airbus Industrie A330, Toulouse; Tarom A310, Orly) and
also includes flight recorder data graphs from the Orly incident as well
as a table of incidents and accidents with a number of aircraft types from
all three manufacturers.  The table includes the well-known Airbus
accidents (Warsaw, Bangalore, Strasbourg, Habsheim, Nagoya, and Toulouse)
as well as a number of other incidents.

The fourth article, "Modern Cockpit Complexity Challenges Pilot
Interfaces," suggests that the proliferation of modes, especially with
automatic transitions from one mode to another, has caused safety problems
and should be avoided.

The fifth article, "NTSB: Mode Confusion Poses Safety Threat," is
summarized quite well by the title.

The sixth article, "Airbus Seeks to Keep Pilot, New Technology in
Harmony," is primarily composed of quotes from Airbus Industrie officials,
though it also discusses the psychological impact and causative factors of
the A330 crash.

The seventh and final (of this first part) article, "Certification
Officials Grapple With Flight Deck Complexity," discusses the issues (and
difficulties) inherent in certifying these designs as well as covering
certification officials' views of different approaches to automation.
Christopher Davis, <>