The Efficacy of Flight Training and Associated Practical Test Standards – Thesis

Introduction

One of the major causes of general aviation accidents is human error. According to the Federal Aviation Administration (1991), approximately 50 percent of general aviation accidents result from pilot error. In 2006, the National Transportation Safety Board documented that 71 percent of aviation accidents resulted from poor aircraft handling and control by pilots. The rapid increase in the rate of general aviation accidents has motivated researchers to conduct comprehensive studies to help determine the actual causes of these accidents with the aim of establishing the correct remedies. These researchers focus on weather-related and fuel-management factors as the primary sources of flight failures. However, the success and shortcomings of flight training and associated test standards has not been examined in detail. Ideally, the rate of aviation accidents would be very low suppose the initial or advanced flight training for commercial license was highly effective.

Statement of the problem

The mission of FAA Industry Training Standard, (FITS), is to improve the safety of passengers by reducing human error in general aviation. FITS has developed a new training philosophy that enables pilots to acquire high-level judgement and decision making skills when carrying passengers. Its main goal is to develop adaptive training and industry standards for use by the general aviation community (FITS Master Instructor Syllabus, 2006). The flight environment is becoming increasingly challenging, which requires highly trained pilots who can effectively handle technologically advanced aircrafts. According to the Federal Aviation Administration (1991), Aeronautical Decision Making, (ADM), can be taught, but it only translates into improved performance if effective training methods are used and when the necessary concepts are covered. The ever-increasing general aviation accident rates indicate that the current flight training and associated test standards have not been effective in training safer pilots. For instance, the initial or advanced flight training for commercial license does not teach pilots to solve common problems such as engine failure during take-off, off-air night operations, and advanced auto rotations that include max glide or minimum decent. Additionally, pilots are not adequately taken through emergency procedures that they need to know before taking off. This calls for great need to train pilots to make better decisions and correct common flight failures (SAFE, 2011).

Purpose and significance of the study

The purpose of this study is to analyze the effectiveness of flight training and associated practical test standards in improving aeronautical decision making for pilots seeking to obtain commercial license to carry passengers. This study will point out the successes and shortcomings of flight training and associated practical test standards in enhancing safety of pilots and passengers. Results obtained from this study will assist check airmen, designated pilot examiners, FAA applicants, flight instructors, and general aviation inspectors to push for reforms in the flight training paradigms in order to improve the aeronautical decision making of pilots. Proper aeronautical decision making by pilots will significantly improve the safety of the overall aviation community. Additionally, transformations in flight training paradigms will help prevent aviation-related accidents and promote growth of aviation industry.

Hypotheses and research question

The two hypotheses tested in this study are null and alternate hypotheses. The null hypothesis states that, licensed pilots who received initial and advanced flight training are inadequately prepared to carry passengers. The alternate hypothesis states that, licensed pilots who received initial and advanced flight training are adequately prepared to carry passengers. The research question that this study seeks to address states, “To what extent are flight training and associated practical standards effective in preparing pilots to carry passengers?”

II.                Literature review

According to Doskow (2012), traditional flight training methods are an informal by-product of experience. Aviation accidents were first linked with pilot errors in 1970s when cockpit voice recorders and flight recorders were first used to investigate helicopter accidents (Diehl, 1992). For this reason, the Federal Aviation Administration decided to develop new training programs that will ensure that pilots receive the necessary skills that they need to keep passengers safe why on air. In addition, the Federal Aviation Administration formulated practical tests that trained pilots must pass in order to be issued with a certificate.

Flight training enables pilots to make proper decisions when carrying passengers by applying basic procedures covered in the training (Adams (1992). Some of the pilots are compelled to learn some aviation skills as they continue to encounter operational constraints and real-world problems. They rely on past experience to come up with solutions to novel situations. Experience alone is not very effective for acquiring judgment despite the fact that increased flight experience results into improved aeronautical decision making (Adams, 1992).

As AOPA (2010) points out, a significant percentage of aviation accidents involve pilots with very high certifications and prolonged flight experience. Therefore, flight training and associated practical standards are no longer adequate to produce competent pilots as evidenced by accident statistics (Diehl, 1992). Pilots need to be effectively trained to prepare them to maintain safety of flight, and without proper training, they are likely to cause accidents even if they posses commercial license to carry passengers (Jensen, 1982). To a large extent, general flight training focus on increasing pilot awareness of hazardous attitudes and how to manage personal stress when carrying passengers. Pilots are rarely trained on technical problems that they might encounter such as engine failure (Kochan et al., 1997).

The training manuals and standard flying curriculum developed by the Federal Aviation Administration and FAA Industry Training Standard have for a long time ensured that aviation students receive training that can enable them perform perfectly (FAA, 1991). According to FAA (1991), pilots in an operational training demonstrate significant reduction in overall flight accidents after receiving training in accordance with the set standards. Even though the aviation training manuals produced by FAA are supported by several researchers, they still fail to offer all the necessary training that pilots require to operate modern technologically advanced aircrafts (Doskow, 2012).

According to Wright (2002), flight training manuals and aviation test standards have been created to help improve pilot performance and reduce rates of flight accidents. Unfortunately, flight accidents have not improved in the recent past, an indication that current flight training does not bring about measurable impact on safety of passengers. This conclusion has motivated researchers to investigate the effectiveness of current flight training materials in order to come up with suggestions to improve flight training, by incorporating additional concepts and implementing better training methodologies (Irving, 1992).

Current flight training procedures extensively rely on formulaic procedures (Irving 1992). These formulaic procedures only guide pilots to apply the skills taught, but not to explore alternative solutions. For instance, pilots are trained to perform in structured scenarios, with additional skills to be learned from experience. In order to improve general flight training effectiveness, the Federal Aviation Administration needs to clearly define the goal of training, develop clear training requirements, outline specific training strategies, and evaluate effectiveness of training (Doskow, 2012). According to Helmreich and Foushee (2010), commercial airlines can reduce accidents by eliminating human errors by providing the right flight training to pilots. Furthermore, during flight training, the instructor needs to present an account of real world situation and give pilots an opportunity to analyze the situation, come up with possible solutions, and arrive into the correct conclusion (FAA, 2008).

III.             Methods

The study involved 100 participants, 80 of them selected from a population of former students of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University who have already obtained a commercial license to carry passengers, and 20 of them selected from a population of current students in their final year in the same institution. Participants who have already obtained a license to carry passengers graduated from the University in 2011. With the help of the University’s administration, students who graduated with Aeronautical Science Degree from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University were reached through mobile phones and asked whether they have already obtained a license to carry passengers. Those with license were requested to participate in the study and only 80 of them accepted the request after being informed about the risks and benefits of participation. Being a comparative study, the sample was divided into two groups, with the students acting as a control group and the licensed pilots acting as the experimental group.

Both the experimental and control groups completed two scenario-based training sessions using Advanced Aviation Training Device. The first session was intended to establish the participant’s level of aviation knowledge and the second session used to establish any changes in the participant’s level of competence after being allowed to operate an aircraft. The Advanced Aviation Training Device sessions involved four flight training scenarios. These scenarios were developed based on common decisions that pilots encounter when on a visual flight rules cross-country flight. Each of the four scenarios replicated a visual flight rules (VFR) cross-country flight in a single-engine propeller-driven aircraft known as Cessna 172s NAV III Skyhawk. This aircraft had a 36-foot wingspan and it was equipped with the Garm in G1000 avionics suite.

Before entering the Advanced Aviation Training Device, each participant was briefed on what they were to expect in every session. The participant was allowed to sign a Consent Form and issued with cross-country planning materials. Cross-country planning materials that every participant was provided with include standard weather briefing, weight and balance form, flight plan, VFR charts, navigation log, and Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) low-altitude enroute charts. The participants were allowed enough time to review the materials before being guided into the Advanced Aviation Training Device. On entering the device, participants were guided to fly the training device like they would do to a real Cessna 172 on a real cross-country flight. The flight departed from Hurlburt Field, near Pensacola and followed visual landmarks to Southwest Florida International Airport near Naples. A debrief was conducted at the end of every session to assess the participant’s level of situation awareness and degree of decision making.

The Scoring Sheet was used as the data collection device during the two Advanced Aviation Training Device sessions. This data collection device was used to record seven variables: problem comprehended, problem detected, timely manner, projection, safe outcome, problem resolved, and decision process used. Problem detected, problem solved and safe outcome were grouped nominal variables with YES or NO responses, while problem comprehended, timely manner, projection and decision process used were categorized as ordinal variables.

Three decision points were used to enter scores for ordinal variables. Each variable was scored as 1, 2, or 3 meaning inadequate for the situation, adequate level of judgement but not exceptional, and exceptional level of judgement respectively. The overall score for each participant was obtained by calculating the average scored for all variables. For instance, suppose the first participant scored, 2,2,3, and 1 for problem comprehended, timely manner, projection, and decision process used respectively, the overall score for that participant would be 2+2+3+1divided by 4 which gives a score of 2 (adequate level of judgement but not exceptional). The collected data was analyzed using correlation regression analysis.

IV.             Results

During Advanced Aviation Training Device session one, 85 percent of the control group detected the problem, 61 percent solved the problem, and 68 percent reached a safe outcome. During the second session of the Advanced Aviation Training Device, 88 percent of the control group detected the problem, 78 percent solved the problem, and 75 percent reached a safe outcome. During Advanced Aviation Training Device session one, 82 percent of the experimental group detected the problem, 68 percent solved the problem, and 58 percent reached a safe outcome. During the second session of the Advanced Aviation Training Device, 100 percent of the experimental group detected the problem, 82 percent solved the problem, and 85 percent reached a safe outcome. During the first AATS sessions, the control group had an overall score of 1.69 for the ordinal variables while the experimental group had a score of 1.82. The control group had a score of 1.91 for the ordinal variables while the experimental group had a score of 1.95 during the second AATS sessions.

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