Pilots flying in hazardous weather are required to execute a missed approach procedure if the runway is not in sight at a specific altitude or the pilot decides it is unsafe to attempt to land — a situation that is highly demanding and stressful. New research sheds light on the relationship between specific flight experience and missed approach incidents among commercial aviation aircrews.
The findings have been published in The International Journal of Aerospace Psychology.
“As an airliner for almost 14 years with an experience of more than 30 missed approaches, I keep wondering why each go around procedure that I perform looks different from all the other,” said study author Jack Limor, an El Al Israel Airlines captain. “Luckily, I had the opportunity to study this topic during my master degree in safety engineering. I joined Dr. Avinoam Borowsky who is a senior lecturer in the Department of Industrial Engineering and Management (IEM) at Ben-Gurion University, and an expert in human factors engineering.”
The researchers gathered data on unsafe events by searching commercial aviation databases. After excluding safety reports that did not provide detailed information on the aircrew’s performance, the researchers ended up with 59 relevant reports on missed approach events between the years 1990 and 2014.
As expected, the researchers found that first officers with less specific flight experience on an aircraft were more likely to be involved in a missed approach safety incident. Captains with high levels of specific flight experience were also less likely to be involved in safety incidents.
Surprisingly, however, captains with an intermediate level of flight experience (500 to 2000 type-specific flight hours) were more likely to be involved in a crash compared to captains with less experience.
The researchers believe that captains are more likely to closely comply with an airplane’s limitations and regulations when first starting to fly it. “It is suggested, however, that acquiring some experience with the airplane may have resulted in overconfidence regarding their abilities,” they wrote in their study.
The study also revealed that an unsafe missed approach procedure incident was more likely to occur when the captain was the pilot flying than when the first officer was the pilot flying.
Why would that be the case? It could be that when the first officer is the flying pilot, the captain is better able to monitor and override his or her performance, the researchers explained. First officers may be worse at monitoring the performance of their captains — and less likely to try to correct their superior.
“I believe that each airline pilot, depending on his or her position in the aircrew (captain or first officer) should be aware of human factor-related risks that are associated with this kind of maneuver. Furthermore, all pilots need to know that these risks are highly correlated with their specific flight experience on the airplane on which they are qualified to fly. Accordingly, they should adjust their mental perception and the descent briefing,” Limor told PsyPost.
The researchers also examined the impact of general flight experience but found “it was less relevant for the purpose of our study.”
“The notion that total flight experience rather than specific flight experience will help pilots during missed approach situations is probably, to my opinion, a hindrance that will prevent us from operating efficiently,” Limor explained.
“My major argument is that the aircrew’s experience on the specific airplane they are flying plays a significant factor in affecting the aircrew’s performance. There is still a lack of knowledge regarding the decision-making processes that pilots apply when deciding to initiate a go-around. Based on the reports I reviewed, there were too many safety incidents that occurred due to wrong decisions, even though all information was available for the crew.”
The study, “Does Specific Flight Experience Matter? The Relations Between Flight Experience of Commercial Aviation Aircrews and Missed Approach Incidents“, was authored by Jack Limor and Avinoam Borowsky.