The Dissertation…

It’s been a while since I last posted. Why? I’ve been exceptionally busy studying towards Module 3 of my ATPL’s whilst completing University coursework, managing the Aviation Society Committee and of course, completing shifts at work!

A great deal of time in recent weeks has been spent researching, writing and preparing my dissertation. Thankfully, myself and my research partner have finally finished our experimentation phase of the project, and can now go on to discuss and analyse the results and get our dissertations completed.

The dissertation is one of the largest parts of the degree and certainly the largest part of third year. As part of the Aviation degrees at Leeds, we are lucky in the sense we can opt for a specific topic of our choice and even ask for a particular member of academic staff to supervise the project. Myself and my research partner, Nyal, opted to conduct our dissertation into the topic of Operator Proficiency Checks, the 6 monthly checks conducted by airlines in the Simulator. These are mandatory and regulated by the Civil Aviation Authority and relevant competent authorities worldwide. We are specifically looking at the effectiveness of such checks, particularly in preparing pilots for genuine emergencies. We’ve been asking questions alike “Will the pilots respond in exactly the same manner, fashion and timescales in a genuine emergency?” In order to answer and evaluate this question, we created an experimental process to test nine University students, all of which had at least a PPL or military equivalent within the University Air Squadron.

We initially desired to conduct our experimentation on the University’s Airbus A320 simulator. However, this simulator proved extremely unreliable and faulty, requiring a great deal of money and resources to fix. As a result, we opted to instead use the University of Leeds very own Flight Navigation Procedures Trainer II (FNPT II), this is the simulator commonly used to train pilots for their Instrument Rating. The University’s version is based upon a Piper Seneca and is extremely realistic; where failures, weather conditions and the environment can be manipulated to mimic realistic scenarios. We conducted 20 experiments in total, testing a control and experimental flight based upon an extended circuit at Leeds Bradford Airport on a ‘tester’ to ensure the experiments were valid and effective. We then repeated these experiments for the nine experimental subjects. We obtained data pertaining to a continuous heart rate, video footage and a NASA ‘Task Load Index’ where the experimental subjects essentially assessed their own performance. All data was then collated in an excel spreadsheet to prepare graphs for the dissertation itself.

Overall, we found that proficiency checks are effective to some extent, but should be specifically tailored to individual pilots and not uniform across all pilots of an airline. This ensures that pilots are not aware of what emergency/abnormal scenarios face them and thus will gain more from the checks and react in a manner similar to a genuine emergency. This would perhaps enhance safety amongst airlines and across pilots. We recommended further experimentation and also, factors we would change should we repeat the experiment. The dissertation, including a 10 000 word report and presentation, seemed extremely daunting, but was in fact not bad at all. Despite this, it was extremely challenging, but allowed me to gain knowledge that will be extremely useful in the future. It was one of the highlights of the degree, especially submitting the dissertation and feeling proud of myself and the piece of work I had achieved with the help of my research colleague and supervisor.

Only a few weeks left and that will be it! Four years of University will soon be completed.


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