"When we talk about energy state, what we mean specifically is a combination of the airspeed, altitude, rate of descent, to some degree the configuration of the flaps and the thrust," says James Wilborn, program manager for aviation safety enhancements at the transport airplane directorate division of the FAA, and the government co-chair that leads the CAST airplane state awareness study. "Not to be confused with how much fuel it has or something going on with the electrical system, it’s that overall energy of the airplane as it’s maneuvering."
During some phases of flight, a lack of external visibility can cause a flight crew to lose its perception of the critical functions of the airplane, even to the point where the crew can’t identify which way is up due to externally low visibility conditions.
At the end of its four-year study, the CAST produced an assortment of different safety enhancements. Safety Enhancement 200 (SE 200), recommends that manufacturers develop and implement virtual Day-Visual Meteorological Conditions (Day VMC) display systems, such as SVS, that will support flight crew attitude awareness, which replicates a Day-VMC-like environment to be applicable to new transport category airplane programs.
"We looked at the fact that, in the last 10 years, roughly two thirds of the fatalities in loss of control in-flight accidents involved flight crew loss of either attitude awareness — so fundamentally losing track of which way is up, losing track of roll or losing track of pitch, leading to an unrecovered roll excursion or pitch excursion — or a loss of energy state awareness losing track of the airplane’s energy state," says Michael Snow, who holds a Ph.D in Human Factors and works as an associate technical fellow for human factors engineering with the Boeing Commercial Aviation Safety Group. Snow served as the industry co-chair of CAST's airplane state awareness study.
"We produced 11 new safety enhancements, eight in the areas of air carrier operations and training and three in the area of airplane design. One of those, safety enhancement number 200, is the new one that CAST adopted at the end of 2013 that is a commitment through [Aerospace Industries Association] AIA for all four CAST represented [Original Equipment Manufacturers] OEMs to put synthetic vision in their next new type design,” says Snow. “Not anything in the current pipeline, not the [Boeing 737] MAX, not the [Airbus A320] neo, not the [Boeing] 777X, but the next all-new type design will have synthetic vision in it pending two conditions. One is that the team felt that there was some necessary [Research and Development] R&D still to be done, and secondly the need for converting that R&D to industry standards that ideally could become an Advisory Circular, so that when that next new airplane rolls around, we’ve dramatically reduced the technology uncertainty and the certification uncertainty associated with adopting synthetic vision in a new airplane," he says.
The world's biggest airframers agreed upon the conclusion of the study that their next all-new type designs will feature synthetic vision technology as part of the standard cockpit avionics package, Snow adds. Airframe manufacturers typically rollout new clean sheet airframe families every 10 years, so looking to include a next generation technology such as synthetic vision for safety purposes is a significant commitment.