Curtailing Causes of CFIT

Posted Wednesday, December 18 2013 as Blog, Industry News

CFIT is associated with a great many helicopter accidents and a focus of many safety discussions

Curtailing Causes of CFIT

Excerp from Enhancing Pilot Situation Awareness for Increased Safety
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Controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) and inadvertent instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) are associated with a great many helicopter accidents and, therefore, the focus of many safety discussions. Both CFIT and inadvertent IMC involve diminishing visibility and, in turn, a loss of situational awareness—or knowledge of one’s surroundings.

“CFIT has been a major aviation safety issue for several decades,” Robert O. Phillips of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) admitted in his report, “Investigation of Controlled Flight into Terrain: Descriptions of Flight Paths for Selected Controlled Flight into Terrain (CFIT) Aircraft Accidents, 1985-1997.”

“A CFIT accident occurs when an airworthy aircraft, experiencing no contributory systems or equipment problems, under the control of a certificated, fully qualified flight crew no suffering from any impairment, is flown into terrain (or water or obstacle) with no demonstrated prior awareness of the impending collision on the part of the crew. Or, if the flight crew was aware of the impending collision, they were unable to prevent it,” Phillips wrote, referencing David Spiller of the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center in Cambridge, Mass. (Spiller wrote: “Investigation of CFIT Accidents Involving Multi-Engine, Fixed-Wing Aircraft Operating under Part 135 and the Potential Application of a Ground Proximity Warning System” in 1989.)

“Most CFIT accidents have in common a chain of events leading to what human factors experts term ‘lack of situational awareness’ on the part of the flight crew,” Phillips affirms. “Conditions of limited visibility (due to darkness or weather or both) are typically a major contributing factor.”

A majority of such accidents involve high-speed impacts and, as a result, typically have disastrous consequences. In fact, statistics from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in Washington indicate that 60 percent of all CFIT accidents are fatal. For this and other reasons, CFIT accidents “continue
to be a primary cause of fatalities and airframe losses in aviation,” explained Major Michael L. Moroze and Dr. Michael P. Snow, Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio, in their paper, “Causes and Remedies of Controlled Flight into Terrain in Military and Civil Aviation.”

“Over 50 percent of CFIT mishaps have situational awareness components listed as contributing factors,” Moroze and Snow wrote. “Several authors suggest that one of the most common attributes of CFIT accidents is pilot or crew lack of situation awareness. Other authors investigating this issue more specifically identify this behavior as a lack of terrain situation awareness or terrain awareness. In any case, it is the overall lack of the crew’s understanding of where they are and where they are going in three-dimensional (3D) space that enable
CFIT to occur.”

“CFIT accident prevention has been the focus of considerable effort over the past 30 years on the part of government and industry,” Phillips described. “Preventing Enhancing pilot situational awareness for increased safety CFIT is, unfortunately, not an issue to be addressed solely by pilot training and experience.” Similarly, Moroze and Snow concluded in their 1999 paper that “systems are needed to improve flight crew situation awareness, especially terrain awareness.”

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