In a recent article published in a very well known Business Aviation Association website related to Performance Based Navigation I became very concerned when I read a recommendation that hand-flying an aircraft was not recommended. Needless to say, it caught my attention and I found out why all the red flags, bells and whistles were going off in my head. The recommendation being proposed was in fact correct but poorly written to be too generic. In the article it referenced pilot deviations at a major airport and further stated that 20% of these deviations were done by corporate pilots. The article then went on to describe 4 outstanding recommendations to avoid RNAV SID deviations by utilizing the flight director autopilot departures and letting the aircraft fly the SID’s. As I said earlier, I do agree with the proposal but on a limited basis.
At the 12 to 14 heavily congested airports in the US utilizing parallel runways with very tight tolerances I completely agree. At airports other then these airports I do not recommend such a practice. Over the past 5 years, my associates and I have conducted numerous pilot employment and performance observations and it has become clear that the skill set of most pilots has degraded to what we now refer to as “AUTO-PILOT FLYERS” which lack the understanding of momentum and energy of an aircraft during manual operations. Utilizing the aircraft’s coupled systems to fly the aircraft does in fact maintain a smooth ride for the passengers if programed correctly with proper procedural departures. However, what happens when these systems fail or are inoperative? Where is the continuing skill set and experience of hand-flying the aircraft when the majority of our time is spent selecting AP Armed, A/T ARMED, liftoff, LNAV FD guidance? As professional pilots we should continue to develop our personal experience and skill set by continuing to practice flying the “V-BARS” whenever possible.
My comments are not meant to diminish the ability of pilots but rather to help them think logically about maintaining their professionalism and skill set. If you disagree please say so as I welcome all of your comments.