Interview: Terry Palmer
Terry Palmer, a senior training and safety consultant for the aviation sector and current Training Program Manager for the US Airborne Public Safety Association, spoke to AirMed&Rescue about the importance of understanding how technology is influencing training best practice
The increasing influence of technology in the rotorcraft industry has led to improved safety of operations, but there is no denying that without the skills of the pilots behind the controls, and the crews that keep the aircraft flying, such technology would be obsolete.
How have you seen the capability and growth in technology influence the industry?
Technology is an ever-increasing part of our lives. It is no longer an option, but a way of life. We need to take a serious look at how we interact with technology and adapt to changes and disruptions. Technology has had a major impact on all industries, especially aviation. New equipment on the aircraft for both the flight crew and the mission-specific crew is progressing faster than training and regulation can keep up.
How has this affected your approach to training?
In the past, regulation standards for training minimums were acceptable. Today, we need a different level of training to get and stay proficient. The industry is moving into technology faster than ever. All of this technology in aircraft is constantly evolving – the training should be evolving as well.
New aircraft are glass cockpits with many automated systems. This requires a major change in how we train. It has created more requirements for training in simulators in order to give the pilot the ability to become proficient with many displays and features. The maintenance training also needs to change. There are few regulatory requirements for maintenance training and unless a mechanic goes through factory training for specific aircraft, there is very little instruction in the new technological advances.
Have there been significant adaptations when it comes to training with technology, and how do you feel this approach has been received by trainees?
Technology is here to stay. It is important to have a healthy balance of technology and skill in any training program. Some pilots may find they are proficient in technology, but not in basic flying skills. They may find it difficult to control an aircraft if the equipment does something unexpected or malfunctions. The ability to switch from automation to hand-flying the aircraft is a perishable skill that requires practice and realistic scenario-based training. Students are finding that electronic devices assist in studying to pass a knowledge exam, but don’t help us retain information. This is where self assessment is critical. It is important to determine the manual skills needed for practice and incorporate them into a training session.
There is a constant debate about analog vs glass cockpits. Analog was the standard for most seasoned pilots. It is where they are comfortable. As much as we might dislike change, glass cockpits are here to stay and, when used correctly, offer so much more information than the analog versions. That being said, training must adapt from an analog mentality to digital high-tech and still maintain a skill and comfort level with the equipment.
Can you tell us more about that and how digital distraction influences both real-life and training scenarios?
Education has changed with technology. Most textbooks and manuals are now in electronic format. In this digital configuration, there are word search functions, so reading the entire book is rarely accomplished, and referencing page numbers is a lost resource. Virtual training now replaces many onsite courses. This is often accomplished while we are working on multiple tasks like checking email or texting. Therefore, we are somewhat distracted and not always comprehending the information.
Multitasking is something we all try with varying degrees of success. Technology in smartphones, tablets, and other portable devices including electronic flight bags sometimes leads us to believe we can accomplish more tasks while driving, flying, etc. The fact is the more tasks we try to accomplish at the same time, the less focus we have on any one of them. Distraction probability increases with each task. Recent accidents in many sectors of commercial aviation have been attributed to distraction with errors in automation and an inability to recognize simple solutions such as hand-flying the aircraft.
What lies ahead for the future development of safety and training?
There will be more demand for online training, simulation and technology interface. Drones are becoming a rapidly growing sector of aviation. Training will be needed to consider the technological advances in all the manned and unmanned aircraft sectors. The technology challenge is not unique to aviation. If you have purchased a vehicle recently with any of the new high-tech options, it takes time to understand and program the functions to match your phone, GPS, climate control and music choices. If you get a new cellphone, tablet or computer, it takes time and practice to learn the many functions. The difference is that you can operate your vehicle, phone or tablet without a total review. You can always train on some of the items later. This is not the case in aircraft, where safety is linked to a thorough understanding of the equipment and the ability to respond to most situations in a smooth, efficient manner.