FAA Encourages Pilots To Hand Fly More

A reminder to switch off the autopilot to improve hand-flying skills.

FAA SAFO Pilots

FAA SAFO Pilots

Recognizing that pilots’ stick-and-rudder skills may be atrophying in an increasingly high-tech world, the FAA has issued a new safety alert for operators (SAFO) reminding crew members to continuously maintain and improve their hand-flying skills by switching off the autopilot every once in awhile.

An analysis of flight operations data including several incidents and accidents has identified an increase in “manual handling errors,” according to the SAFO issued on January 4.

Too much reliance on the autopilot, the FAA says, “does not reinforce a pilot’s knowledge and skills in manual flight operations.” Autoflight systems, the agency notes, are “useful tools for pilots and have improved safety and workload management, and thus enabled more precise operations. However, continuous use of autoflight systems could lead to degradation of the pilot’s ability to recover the aircraft quickly from an undesired state.”

Pilots are being encouraged to hand fly their airplanes more often, “such as in non-RVSM airspace and during low-workload conditions,” while operators are being encouraged to adjust their procedures to include the changes. The SAFO applies to pilots of all stripes, but seems mostly geared toward corporate jet and airline crews that rely most heavily on cockpit automation.

For more on improving your stick-and-rudder skills, check out our November 2012 feature article,** "Getting Back to Hand Flying."**