Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Changes in Flight Procedure Design

Once in a while I am asked whether it would be possible to only get trained in PBN/RNAV design and skip the conventional part of training. "We will never ever design conventional procedures" is the reason for that question. My answer is: no, not possible. Because all the basic concepts, turn protection, reaction time, fix tolerance area principles etc. are covered in the conventional part of a) the criteria and b) the course. PANS-OPS is structured in a way that the conventional part is the general criteria and everything else build onto that "as amplified or modified by the criteria in this chapter". So the bottom line is, the way it works now, one needs to learn the conventional basics as a foundation and then add the PBN competencies on top of that.

Now, when ICAO asked me the same question I thought that maybe it's time to at least think about it. My conclusion is: Well, it is of course possible to teach the basic concepts without "bundling" them with the conventional ground based concepts and then just build the PBN tuition on top of that. But: 1. As long as classes are a mix of students from different countries, we will always have the need for conventional procedures, even if it is just to maintain existing ones. So it would not be appropriate to say we do not cover conventional anymore. As long as there is no global policy that flight procedures are PBN only and anything is no longer supported or maintained, it will not be possible to just skip the conventional stuff.
The other question that I asked myself: Would we really gain that much time? I do not think so.

And the main question remains: Is it a good idea to get rid of the conventional training? Are pilots today just learning how to use a flight management computer and to load procedures from the database or are they still learning how to navigate with ground based navigation aids, interception procedures etc.? Does an engineering designer just learn how to use a CAD tool or does he develop some manual drafting skills?
My view for at least the next few years is: It is good for a flight procedure designer to learn where the criteria are coming from. Maybe one day it will be different. Maybe one day all VORs and NDBs will be gone and all we do is satellite navigation. This is the time where it won't make sense anymore to cover VOR no-FAF procedures etc. just like today it doesn't make much sense anymore to cover the DF chapter in classes.

What does the community out there think?