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Don’t Get Distracted by Technology

Aviation electronics provide pilots and FBOs with an unprecedented level of situational awareness. But as anyone with a smartphone knows, modern technology can also be a heck of a distraction. Here are suggestions on how to stay focused, courtesy of “Battling the Art of Distraction” by Susan Paron in the May/June issue of FAA Safety Briefing.

In an FAA Safety Briefing article, active general aviation pilot and flight instructor, Susan Paron, wrote about how “our glorious glowing gadgets tempt us to shirk not only our see-and-avoid responsibilities, but also a vast swath of the flight management work.”

For all of their benefits, are modern avionics actually dulling our critical thinking abilities? Are LCD displays hypnotizing us from true situational awareness abilities? Here are some suggestions to help you avoid the “fatal attraction of distraction.”

Understand your equipment
It’s one thing to use technology to help you with an actively-managed flight, but try to avoid relying too heavily on computers for a non-managed flight. Regardless of how good the piece of equipment, program or app is, avionics and handheld devices are only as good as what we command them to do. Also, they can always glitch out, and you don’t want to start panicking because you’ve been relying too heavily on a machine to get where you’re going.

The point is to know and understand your equipment inside and out. Know when it’s working properly, and when it’s not, so you can react and avoid those potentially dangerous “what’s it doing?” situations. You want to be comfortable with any piece of equipment you plan on using, including its limitations — what it can and can’t do for you.

Reboot and reset
Should you find yourself in a situation where you’ve become uncertain of your course or the navigation equipment is acting strange, turn it off and reorient yourself. This is when your manual flight management and navigation skills come in handy. Training! This doesn’t just apply to the autopilot, but it also includes panel-mount, hand-held, or tablet-based navigators. Bottom line: If you don’t understand where they are taking you — or if you have any doubts as to the safety of the suggested course — reboot, reset and remember the magenta line can guide you to anywhere, including into restricted, prohibited, or controlled airspace, natural or man-made obstacles.

Stay awake and aware
If you feel comfortable with your autopilot equipment, that’s no excuse to be lulled into a false sense of safety. Even if autopilot is taking care of the basic flying chores, make sure your focus steadily stays on other crucial flight management variables such as positional awareness and overall situational awareness, including the status of weather, fuel, engine indications, etc.

The challenge, of course, is to overcome the very human tendency to lapse into complacency that could cause you to miss something like an abnormal indication on an engine gauge. Find ways to keep yourself awake and aware. For example, use callouts to maintain positional awareness; announce changes to heading, altitude, and frequency; record those changes in an abbreviated navigation log — the act of speaking and writing bolsters your awareness; and announce any change to navigation source autopilot modes. Read each item on the autopilot status display aloud every time there is a change stating which modes are armed and which modes are engaged.

Also, don’t forget the importance of pre-flight rituals such as good nutrition and getting enough sleep.

Again. Modern aviation technology offers an unprecedented level of situational awareness. Just make sure your pilot skills are not getting dulled, and you know your equipment well enough to know when it’s working properly, or not.

Source: May/June issue of the FAA Safety Briefing magazine

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