Friday, August 17, 2018
Transport Canada - Aviation Safety Letter COPA Corner: The New Aircraft Avionics

COPA Corner: The New Aircraft Avionics

by John Quarterman, Manager, Member Assistance and Programs, Canadian Owners and Pilots Association (COPA)

Canadian Owners and Pilots Association

This spring, COPA staff participated in familiarization and conversion training on one of the relatively new, four-place, single-engine, glass cockpit aircraft, which COPA now uses to attend COPA events, fly-ins, and aviation meetings across our region. Normally, pilots are required to take a manufacturer’s training course when these aircraft with their modern and sophisticated avionics are bought new from the factory. In order for a pilot to fly a used aircraft, many insurers insist on the same factory course or an aftermarket equivalent. These new aircraft are very pleasant to fly, with capable autopilots, instant situational awareness, and hundreds of different helpful displays and features available at the push of a few buttons.


Modern glass cockpit in a general aviation aircraft

Photo: K. Psutka

Modern glass cockpit in a general aviation aircraft

For pilots used to the rather sparse instrumentation of the seventies-era flying-school aircraft equipped with two navcoms—if working—a somewhat unreliable automatic direction finder (ADF), perhaps distance measuring equipment (DME), hardly ever an autopilot, these new aircraft are like a dream come true.

What has become apparent to all our COPA pilots is that the new aircraft instrumentation requires a discipline that we didn’t previously need to the same degree. There is so much to look at, so much to “play with,” there are so many functions to use that we have found it very tempting to fly “heads down,” watching and using all the new instrument features available. The discipline to maintain a careful scan of the airspace around us while flying in visual meteorological conditions (VMC) is an important part of learning to fly these new aircraft.

An essential safety factor in flying these aircraft is currency. It is our experience—and this is echoed by many COPA members who own these aircraft—that the sophistication of the new avionics requires constant practice in order for pilots to stay proficient in finding and using the features in these units quickly and while keeping up with cockpit workload. This same issue was found to be a challenge with the new GPS units that emerged around the turn of the decade and that were retrofitted into our round-dial aircraft. The challenge is now even greater, as the number of features, consequent screens, soft keys, and buttons have multiplied with the new factory-equipped, glass-panel aircraft. Using all these features effectively means using them must be second nature to the pilot operating in high-stress, busy environments.

Recently, a spate of informal media surveys indicated that pilots are cutting back on training and flying hours due to increased costs—especially fuel costs. While these surveys do not represent scientific data, and while there are no recently published Transport Canada statistics, it is clear from anecdotal evidence that pilots are feeling the pressures of increased costs. Certainly, flying less to lower costs does not fit well with the necessity for pilots to stay proficient in the technology and operations of their new aircraft.

Several options can help minimize the effects of decreased flying hours. For example, computer simulation programs are available from all the major avionics manufacturers, allowing the pilot to practice nearly all actions, features, flight-planning and instrument-approach capabilities of the avionics fit while on the ground. Supplementing this avionics familiarization and practice with regular simulator sessions to keep current with instrument procedures is another option that helps maintain the pilot’s currency. Finally, regular review of the new, more complex systems, planning requirements, engine management features, and of all the other familiar flying rules, procedures, weather knowledge, and other facets of safe aviating can help to make our transition to flying in the twenty-first century safe. For more information on COPA, visit



This article was published by Transport Canada in TP 185E -. Reprinted with permission

Add comment

Security code