Throughout most of a pilots training we are put through our paces, taught to cope with a multitude of possible emergencies that may befall us throughout our flying career.
In fact, whilst training, I think I probably did only a couple of flights where absolutely nothing was simulated to have gone wrong. During multi-engine training I flew on a single engine nearly every flight, typically through a simulated engine fire and more often than not, it failed during the most critical point of a flight – take off. This constant bombardment of abnormal operations, failures and emergencies is done with the aim of preparing you for the worst. The result is improved situational awareness and spare mental capacity to effectively manage problems that may occur and bring the flight to the safest possible outcome.
Situational awareness is without a doubt one of the most important skills a pilot develops. This means knowing what the bigger picture is at all times, this includes knowing your aircraft, where you are in relation to fixes, airports, knowing the phase of flight you are in, what your aeroplane is doing, what systems need your attention and when, instructions from air traffic, procedures that you need to follow etc. Knowing what all these things are help to give you that spare capacity to deal with those abnormalities that might show their ugly faces.
The past three days I’ve been in the sim going over abnormal and emergency procedures that may be encountered whilst flying the Airbus A320. The first day we looked at engine failures, single and dual. It gets surprisingly quiet and warm in the flight deck when those large fans stop spinning and this is where situational awareness needs to be at a peak. You don’t want to be thinking about where you can go, what you’re going to do, you need to know those things already or at least have a couple of options.
Aviate Navigate Communicate (and for Airbus – ECAM).
Fly the aeroplane – that is you’re main priority, get the aircraft stable and under control.
Navigation – Know where you are and where you are going to go.
Communicate – Tell air traffic what you need, get them to provide any information you might need to make critical decisions such as weather for airports you might want to divert to.
For Airbus pilots there is the ECAM, this is a system designed to help pilots diagnose and rectify issues that may occur on the aircraft. It’s very good in that it prioritises those things for you and saves you having to fumble around for checklists and procedures when you should be sorting out the problem. One drawback, however, is the amount of lines the ECAM can display. This means that if there are more failures than it can show you at any one time, then it will show you what has been programmed within it to be the most important. You then have to work through the failures to bring up the next ones. This can degrade situational awareness quite a lot. The Captain of the Qantas A380 that had the engine issue fairly recently decided to clear all the failures from the ECAM first before working through and actioning them just so that he had the full picture of what was happening to his aeroplane before proceeding. There were around 54 in total and I believe it took them 50 minutes to work through them all!
The next two days were taken up with hydraulic failures, pilot incapacitation and various other issues. The Airbus, being a fly by wire aircraft, relies on it’s hydraulic and electrical systems a great deal. There are 3 hydraulic systems that actuate the aeroplanes flight controls and with the loss of 1 or more of these systems comes degraded handling. Fortunately with 3 different systems controlling the important basic controls, the chances of anything going catastrophically wrong are one in a million.
I’m actually starting to feel like I have some form of a grasp on the aircraft because of being put into situations where I’m having to go all out and manage the flight to a safe out come when things go wrong. I have three days off now and I’m going to use them to rest my burnt out mind and prepare for the next set of sims.
Next week I start the full motion simulator lessons and I can’t wait!
Until next time,