The predicted overall growth of Air Traffic on the one hand, and the strong demand for airlines efficiency on the other, will increase the occurrence of events where the pilots’ attention and actions will be required at the highest level, especially during the take-off, climb, descent, approach and landing phase. Certain combinations of unpredictable situations, such as difficult meteorological conditions, multiple system failures or cockpit crew incapacitation, can lead to peak workload conditions. The amount of information and actions to process may, in these specific and difficult to predict cases, exceed the reasonably acceptable workload of the crew. As accidents are more likely to occur when workload in the cockpit is high, improving crew performance in peak workload conditions is thus critical to enhance safety.
The ACROSS project aims to develop pioneering solutions to reduce pilots' peak workload and support them in dealing with difficult situations, thus enhancing safety and performance.
In particular, ACROSS will work on three objectives, all driven by an integrated research approach that will lead to the improvement of safety levels of daily flight operations - increasing at the same time the efficiency of air transport network:
- Develop, integrate and test new flight deck solutions facilitating the management of the peak workload situations that can occur during a flight, to reduce stress for pilots and thus improve safety for passengers.
- Develop, integrate and test new cockpit-based technologies to allow a reduced crew to operate safely in a limited number of well-defined conditions such as crew member having a planned rest time as part of fatigue prevention or one crew member being incapacitated..
- Taking into account initial learning about evaluations done on workload reduction and reduced crew operations, ACROSS will identify the main aspects to consider for future implementation of single-pilot operations.
The three high-level objectives of ACROSS address crew issues, so the ACROSS approach focuses on human factors with a crew-oriented view. This is also reflected in the structure of the project, which identifies six main pillars. The first four pillars focus on the tasks which determine the crew's workload at any time. The remaining two pillars focus on technologies which can help evaluate the crew's workload at any time, as well as temporarily performing essential crew tasks and in the most extreme cases replacing the crew under certain conditions.
- Aviate. The pilot flying concentrates on flying the aircraft to capture and maintain the desired operational (e.g. speed/altitude) targets, vertical flight path and lateral flight path. The pilot non flying supports the pilot flying by monitoring flight parameters and by calling any excessive deviation.
- Navigate and Manage Mission. Pilots monitor threats on the flight plan such as weather, traffic, loss of infrastructure capability; evaluate consequence of an aircraft failure or decide what to do after a cabin medical urgency and then adapt the flight plan accordingly, until a complete re-routing for a new destination, if necessary.
- Communicate. Effective crew interaction involves different modes of communications amongst the cockpit crew members, with ATC (Air Traffic Control), with the cabin staff (if applicable), and with the AOC (Airline Operations Centre) to enable the sharing of goals and intentions and enhancing the crew’s situational awareness.
- Manage Systems. Pilots monitor and evaluate the aircraft systems status and use relevant procedures to reconfigure the appropriate systems to ensure optimum aircraft efficiency and safety.
- Crew monitoring. Today, the crew basically monitors each other in a multi-pilot cockpit, and is monitored by the cabin staff. ACROSS aims at providing crew monitoring functions allowing to evaluate the crew physiological and behavioural condition as they operate the systems, and to adequately address peak workload situations and reduced crew operations.
- Crew incapacitation. The extreme situation of incapacitated crew, which is encountered very rarely in a two-pilot configuration, must be addressed even more specifically in a reduced crew/single pilot concept, to identify and develop automatic functions and safety nets.
Transverse work packages on architecture, human factors, safety, regulation, certification and validation will drive the ACROSS app
Less stress for airline crews
A novel suite of high-tech systems promises to make flying less stressful for cockpit crews, taking safety in the aviation sector yet another step higher.
While aviation accidents have decreased in recent years, the EU is constantly striving to reduce the possibility of a mishap due to human error as much as possible. This is particularly important since air traffic is growing, requiring the utmost efficiency in operating an aircraft. In this vein, the EU-funded project 'Advanced cockpit for reduction of stress and workload' (http://www.across-fp7.eu (ACROSS)) is working on improving crew performance during high workload periods to upgrade safety.
To achieve its aims, the project is working on developing and testing new flight deck solutions to better manage peak workload situations during a flight and to reduce pilot stress. It is improving on cutting-edge automation systems to support the flight crew during intense workloads.
ACROSS is also working on novel cockpit-based technologies that enable a reduced crew to operate safely in certain conditions. This involves different scenarios such as intentional reduction of crew during long-haul flights, partial crew incapacitation and even full crew incapacitation. For example, in rare instances where a pilot may suffer from physical or psychological issues, this particular solution could be very useful.
Another important project aim is to identify challenges concerning the implementation of single-pilot operations in the future, which stands to minimise operational costs while maintaining safety standards. In this context, the team is looking at single-pilot operations as a case study that spurs innovation and solutions to raise safety standards.
Overall, the tools and guidelines emerging from the project promise to increase overall safety in air transport, including possibly the avoidance of future incidents and accidents. In addition, the envisioned systems will reinforce the image of a very safe mode of transport. They will also help to reduce crew in the long run to improve cost effectiveness, providing a competitive advantage to airlines and benefiting passengers.
Other benefits include enhanced primacy for the European air transport industry and new opportunities for the aviation equipment manufacturing industry. Once the project is completed, it will represent yet another valiant effort to enhance safety and strengthen Europe's leading position in the sector.