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Safety expert shatters glass cockpit myths

Glass cockpits can deliver multiple safety benefits to general aviation pilots, but pilot training has to evolve with it. 

AOPA Air Safety Foundation Executive Director Bruce Landsberg recently went upriver and into the heart of Cirrus to carry that message about the challenges of technologically advanced aircraft (TAA).

"TAA are neither as good as proponents say nor as bad as detractors contend," said Bruce Landsberg, speaking at M5, the fifth annual migration (fly-in) of the Cirrus Owners and Pilots Association (COPA). "These aircraft provide situational awareness tools that have dramatically improved aspects of GA safety. But those tools are not enough to overcome a pilot's faulty decision making or a lack of experience in how those aircraft are operated."

The foundation has conducted a study to analyze accidents that occurred between 2003 and 2006 of new and existing aircraft designs that were outfitted with glass cockpits. The manufacturers were Beechcraft, Cessna, Cirrus, Columbia, Diamond, Mooney, and Piper. The study updates an earlier report published in 2004 and will be published later this month.

Landsberg said that industry excitement over TAA has reinvigorated GA aircraft sales and attracted more people to learning to fly. The new study finds that some TAA capabilities such as a moving maps, fuel management systems, and widescreen attitude indicator displays have helped to substantially reduce fuel management and maneuvering flight accidents as compared to aircraft equipped with traditional "steam gauge" instrumentation.

However, the report shows that TAA fare worse than the non-TAA fleet in areas including landing and go-around accidents, perhaps related to the high-performance aerodynamic design of many new aircraft. Weather-related accidents are also an area of concern since these aircraft are largely used for transportation.

"These accidents are not the fault of the airplane," said Landsberg. "As the famed aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry said, 'The machine does not isolate us from the great problems of nature but plunges us more deeply into them.’ No matter how good the tools, the operator still needs some skill and judgment in using them appropriately.”

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