Let the Pilot Pilot

I was reading this rather intriguing blog post which scrutinizes an NTSB accident report for a Boeing 757 which overran the runway in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

The list of NTSB recommendations which are as a result of the accident, in order to minimize the risk of such an accident recurring contains the following:

2. Require all newly type-certificated 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 25 airplanes to have a clearly distinguishable and intelligible alert that warns pilots when the speedbrakes have not deployed during the landing roll.

In response to this specific recommendation, Jordan Miller—the blogger—opines:

Safety recommendation 3 of adding another alert to the cockpit is not the answer. Pilots are bombarded with alerts when problems arise. The perfect example of this is the Air France A330 crash over the Atlantic. The failure of the air data computer (ADC) because of a loss of pitot tube information was the 16th fault message displayed to the crew if I remember correctly. In the 4 minutes the crew had to prevent the crash they had to analyze the cause of 15 messages before they came to the one that actually caused the problem.

Warning messages are great when a single thing goes wrong. A crew can easily identify and correct a single message. When a fault causes a cascade of messages, in my opinion it would actually be safer to eliminate messages. Instead of overloading the crew with information, only give the crew the required information to fly. It comes back to the simple idea of aviat first. When a big red flashing light is flashing right in front of your face and an alert is blaring through your headset it is hard to ignore.

The American Airlines incident in Jackson Hole highlights how things can go wrong even when properly prepared. The boards recommendations focusing on training for multiple failures will improve safety. The recommendation to add another alert is exactly the opposite of what modern airliners need to improve safety. Pilots are bombarded with way too much information when a major problem arises. A better solution is actually to limit the amount of information to only that essential for flying at the time. Don’t distract a pilot with bells and whistles. Let the pilot pilot.

Luckily, this isn’t something we have to deal with in light aircraft, thanks be. Or there’d be a hell of a lot more accidents than there already are: whoop, whoop, whoop, whoop! Pull up, pull up!