Understanding of basic aircraft systems is no longer an option, and is no longer basic! As complexity and automation layers increase, the importance of our involvement with the airplane and its systems continues to be critical. The actual workings of the airplane behind the scenes may be more automated and hidden, but they are just as important as ever. Unfortunately, without proper understanding of the layers, the actual working systems are more difficult to understand.

A recent National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report on the Asiana 777 incident in July, 2013 highlights the problem.

“The PF had an inaccurate understanding of how the Boeing 777 A/P and A/T systems interact to control airspeed in FLCH SPD mode, what happens when the A/T is overridden and the throttles transition to HOLD in a FLCH SPD descent, and how the A/T automatic engagement feature operates.”

The report cited numerous opportunities for this incident to have been avoided had the crew had better information, and had they acted on that understanding.

Systems understanding has always been important, but airlines tend to emphasize it less and depend on automation to cover the shallow understanding of their pilots. Training costs and the pressure to do more training with less time in the classroom results from economic, not safety pressures. Don’t be part of the problem. Professional pilots take the time to study and know their airplanes.