EBT Competencies: AFPM – Automation

Evidence-based training (EBT) is growing increasingly relevant, with very positive outcomes for Business Aviation operators. This month Mario Pierobon continues his review of EBT competencies exploring Aircraft Flight Path Management (AFPM) - Automation.

Mario Pierobon  |  30th October 2023
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Mario Pierobon
Mario Pierobon

Mario Pierobon holds a Master’s Degree in Air Transportation Management from City University London,...

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How to hone Advanced Flight Path Management automation skills


According to a 2013 document developed by the EASA Internal Group on Personnel Training (IGPT), modern aircraft are increasingly reliant on automation for safe and efficient operations, whether commercially operated or not.

“Automation has brought significant advantages for flight safety and operations and is required for certain types of operations and for precision navigation. Automation can however be challenging for instance to senior pilots who may be less comfortable with automation while the new generation of pilots may lack basic flying skills when the automation disconnects or fails or when there is a need to revert to a lower automation level, including hand flying the aircraft,” the document says.

Some automation advantages have to do with technical reliability. Computer technology is more reliable than mechanical technology. It is also light and cheap, and can be used to increase redundancy.

Automation allows control of unstable aircraft or attitudes, and it is used to improve aerodynamic performance and lower fuel consumption. It also increases passenger comfort, according to the EASA IGPT document.

“EFIS and map displays enhance navigation awareness. Systems monitoring displays coupled with diagnostic assistance systems (ECAM/EICAS) have enhanced pilots’ and maintenance staff’s understanding of aircraft system states,” the document says.

“Automation relieves pilots from repetitive or unrewarding actions and from actions that humans are less suited to. Automation globally reduces workload, frees attentional resources, and reinforces the gratifying parts of pilots’ jobs such as decision-making”.

Nevertheless, automation also presents some challenges. The EASA IGPT identified more than 100 flight crew-automation interaction issues which it grouped into several themes that include ‘monitoring and intent recognition’, ‘managing automation vs. flying the aircraft’, ‘complacency’, ‘over-reliance on automation’, ‘decision making’, ‘information processing’, ‘integration and formatting’, ‘diagnostics’, and ‘troubleshooting’.

Mastering AFPM – Automation with EBT

To capitalize on the advantages of automation and to address its challenges, AFPM – automation can be mastered as a competency in accordance with EBT principles.

ICAO Doc 9995 (Manual of Evidence-Based Training) describes the AFPM - automation competency as the ability to control the aircraft flight path through automation, including the appropriate use of flight management system(s) and flight guidance systems.

According to ICAO, a competent pilot:

  • Controls the aircraft using automation with accuracy and smoothness as appropriate to the situation.
  • Detects deviations from the desired aircraft trajectory and takes appropriate action.
  • Contains the aircraft within the normal flight envelope.
  • Manages the flight path to achieve optimum operational performance.
  • Maintains the desired flight path during flight using automation, whilst managing other tasks and distractions.
  • Selects the appropriate level and mode of automation in a timely manner considering the phase of flight and workload.
  • Effectively monitors automation, including engagement and automatic mode transitions.

AFPM – Automation Best Practices

According to the FAA Advisory Circular (AC) 120-123, strategies for using automated systems sometimes refer to levels of automation, defined as simple hierarchies of combinations of certain auto flight systems.

“While the concept of levels may be useful for communication, such a description assumes a linear hierarchy that is difficult to apply operationally. The various features of the auto flight system (AP, FD, AT, FMS, etc.), can be, and are, selected independently and in different combinations that do not lend themselves to simple hierarchical description,” the AC says.

“Therefore,” it concludes, “operator’s policies should provide strategies for the pilot to use the appropriate combination of automated system features for the situation, without rigidly defining them in terms of levels, except for the highest (everything is on) or the lowest (everything is off).

The strategies should provide flight crews with the options that match the specific operationally relevant scenario, but also allow flexibility for those unusual operations that occur.”

Equipping flight crews with practical strategies may also equip them with the knowledge to select the appropriate combination of automated systems and modes for those unexpected events that require informed and timely decisions (e.g., those events which may not be addressed in flight crew checklists), according to AC 120-123.

Training should ensure that pilots have a thorough understanding of the knowledge and skills to apply the combinations of flight guidance and flight control automation (e.g., given a certain set of circumstances, what will happen next?).

“Training should also ensure pilots are proficient and can transition seamlessly between combinations/levels of flight guidance/flight control automated systems (including manual flight) during line operations,” the AC says.

“Training should be enhanced to teach pilots to interpret the FMA and other FPM systems relative to aircraft state and to know what to expect based on programming, configuration, and aircraft state. Training should explicitly address the management of deviations or off-path operations and include strategies for managing ‘automation surprises’ and unknown situations.”

In Summary

With the risk of automation overreliance associated to the extensive availability of automation in flight, AFPM - automation is indeed a core competency that should be thoroughly considered, emphasized and developed under an EBT program. We’ll continue to look at core EBT competencies in upcoming articles. Stay tuned...

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