TO THE LETTER

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Awareness of the conditioned response in training

As a designated approved check pilot(DACP) doing check rides for various companies, I see some things that need feedback exposure. Some smaller companies conduct training without the benefit of exchanging methods with others and, without a view from outside, can introduce inappropriate practices. There is no industry forum to advance safety in this regard and in its worst form, this results in the attitude that "we have always done it that way." A fresh viewpoint may point out certain pitfalls not recognized. We become what we train for at times of urgency and should understand that subtle quirks of the training can lead to inappropriate responses.

Typically, I see a general lack of proper response to fire on aircraft(i.e. no sense of urgency to get the aircraft back on the ground). I believe the cause is the method of training. What we do in training is perform the checklist, pretend the event has been brought under control, and then proceed to another exercise. The end result is a repetitive pre-conditioned programming that everything is going to be okay. The threat of death-by-fire is defused.

Smoke in the cockpit after departure hopefully initiates a checklist routine, but only at the end of the procedure does the option of returning to the airport come into play, if at all. "Okay, that’s done, let’s carry on," is the lesson actually learned in the training and carried forward into the flight test. Survival is only a secondary consideration. In view of the incapacitating nature of smoke(eyes, lungs, etc.), the heightened sense of alarm, passengers panicking and the unknown factor of whether the fire is actually out, surely the first item should be to start on a plan to land as soon as possible? Nowhere is this perhaps exemplified more thoroughly than in the Swissair disaster off NovaScotia. The crew, apparently, were more concerned with landing the aircraft above its approved landing weight than evacuating. Could their repetitive training have given them the false sense of security that the problem would pass? I believe at some point they had reason to think the fire was out. But fire is a pervasive, persistent chemical reaction. It is not out until a suitably long time lapse has proven it to be the case. That time lapse is better spent outside the aircraft, on the ground.

And what of the unfortunate crew of the Navajo in 2005 who had only 30s between fire recognition and disintegration?(Transportation Safety Board of Canada[TSB] ReportA05P0080) In its report, the TSB recommended the following: "...it is important that the crew members accomplish the critical action checklist immediately...and to land as soon as possible."

Recently, an engine fire was simulated while holding at 10000ft(6500ft above ground level [AGL]), after ATC cleared the approach. The aircraft remained level while the fire checklist was completed.(Interestingly, ATC subsequently questioned the delay in descending.) Further prompting that the "passengers are complaining about smoke and flame" resulted in a 1500 ft/min descent and full non-directional beacon(NDB) approach, which meant 9min 10s had passed after the passengers’ complaints of fire before the aircraft was stopped on the runway. Total fire-event time was in excess of 12min. Similarly, another captain candidate, too nonchalant about coping with an engine fire, was given the "passengers reporting flames" prompt. He turned to the safety pilot and said, "Is he trying to tell me something?" The response was, "I think he means hurry it up already!" I thought this dialogue distinctly showed the captain was not into the exercise, although he expedited most of the rest of the approach. Still, many valuable minutes were wasted while his aircraft was in a dubious state of airworthiness.

Another pilot, cruising with one engine simulated shut down, quickly shut down the remaining engine when its reliability was called into question. It was a knee-jerk training response. How will these(good) pilots actually respond in a real emergency? In view of their training, we hope, successfully. However, it would be human nature to resist drawing attention by requesting(demanding) a priority approach. Turning back after departure is like a sense of failure. Coupled with the conditioning of training that the fire always goes out, the priority of evacuation may be low on the list. A British737 burned up because the crew chose to taxi off the runway with disastrous results due to the time delay.

Nowhere in these examples was any consideration given to the damage done while the fire was active. Is the wing going to detach? Since it is not an "engine" fire (misnomer!), but actually a "nacelle" fire, what fuel, hydraulic, electrical and other lines have been destroyed? Is the fire actually out, or is it still consuming vital components? Will the landing gear extend...and if it does, will the tires or the brakes still be there or will they fail on touchdown? Is there a need to land gear up? How long does it take to burn through thin aluminium? Just how much time will elapse before I can evacuate this aircraft? One candidate did not favour diving the aircraft if it was on fire because his instructor had warned(trained) him of the blowtorch effect. I explained the fire triangle to him.

Training gives us conditioned and mechanical responses to situations we may face. In real-life situations, it can be very revealing to see what we have actually trained ourselves to do. Military psychiatrist, Lt-Col. David Grossman, in his book On Combat, tells of a policeman who trained himself to become very adept at snatching a pistol from a person’s hand. He practiced repetitively snatching the weapon, handing it back, snatching the weapon, handing it back, etc. Eventually, one day, he actually snatched a pistol from the hand of a real perpetrator...and promptly handed it back to him. He was only saved by the frozen astonishment of his opponent.

So, we have to be careful just what we are training ourselves to do. What is the actual conditioned response we have filed in our brains? Sometimes it can be surprising...maybe deadly.

I would recommend that a fire drill conducted in training be followed by an expedited landing at the nearest airport, with a view to evacuation. That would hopefully glue the correct and timely response in trainees’ minds, while instilling the sense of controlled urgency that must be demonstrated in coping with any life threat. While none of the above is meant to foster an unreasoned and rash response to a fire, remember:
TIME x FIRE = THREAT TO LIFE.

John Warner
Calgary, Alta.



The Power of Flight: 100 Years of Connecting
Canadians and the World

The Power of Flight: 100 Years of Connecting Canadians and the World

In February, the Honourable John Baird, Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, declared February 23 as National Aviation Day, so that each year Canadians can celebrate past achievements and open new chapters in aviation excellence.

There was a time when connecting citizens meant meeting in the village square to exchange news and debate issues. As society became more complex, and because of great distances separating people, visionaries looked for new ways to bring people together.

February 23, 2009, marked the 100th anniversary of connecting communities from coast to coast to coast of our vast country through powered flight. Very few nations in the world owe more to flight than Canada. Aviation opened up the country and remains a lifeline to many remote and northern areas.

From the 1909 Silver Dart to Bombardier’s 2008 launch of its "green" fuel-efficient jets, Canada has much to celebrate. National Aviation Day is meant to honour the pioneers who opened the skies as a way to connect people and move goods safely and quickly-within our large nation and around the world. It also allows Canada to celebrate the aircraft engineers and operators, air force personnel and veterans, airport planners and air traffic controllers, lawmakers and safety and security experts who share the credit for Canada’s aviation strength and success at home and abroad.

Canadians are celebrating the 100th anniversary of the first powered flight in Canada.

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