Don Bateman

At the start of the jet-age, changes in aircraft design and the improvement of maintenance procedures made a significant improvement in aviation safety. One set of accidents remain stubbornly difficult to reduce. This is the tragic case where a perfectly airworthy aircraft is flown into the ground or sea. Clearly the crew, in such cases had no intention to crash but never-the-less the crash happens. Loss of situation awareness, fixation on other problems or lack of adherence to standard operating procedures can all contribute to these aircraft accidents. So often these are fatal accidents.

One strategy for reducing accidents, where there is a significant human factor, is the implementation of suitable alerting and warning systems in the cockpit. It could be said that such aircraft systems support the vigilance of the crew and thus help reduce human error.

For decades the number one fatal accident category was Controlled Flight Into Terrain (CFIT). It always came top of global accident analysis reports. Pick up a book on the world’s major civil aircraft crashes since the 1960s and there will be a list of CFIT accidents. By the way, this term CFIT is an internationally agreed category for classifying accidents[1]. 20-years ago, I was part of a team that managed these classifications.

When I started work on aircraft certification, in the early 1990s, the Ground Proximity Warning System (GPWS) already existed. A huge amount of work had been done since the 1970s defining and refining a set of protection envelopes that underpinned cockpit warnings aimed at avoiding CFIT.

UK CAA Specification 14 on GPWS dates from 1976[2]. This safety equipment had been mandated in many countries for certain types of public transport aircraft operation. It was by no means fitted to all aircraft and all types of aircraft operation. This was highlighted when an Air Inter AIRBUS A320 crashed near Strasbourg, in France in January 1992[3].

No alerting or warning system is perfect. GPWS had been successful in reducing the number of CFIT accidents but there were still occurrences where the equipment proved ineffective or was ignored.

I first met Don Bateman[4] on one of his whistles-stop tours presenting detailed analysis of CFIT accidents and the latest versions of the GPWS. At that time, he was working for the company Sundstrand[5], based in Redmond in Washington State, US. It was a time when Enhanced GPWS (EGPWS)[6] was being promoted. This version of the equipment had an added capability to address approaches to runways where the classic GPWS was known to give false results. False alerts and warnings are the enemy of any aircraft system since they reduce a crew’s confidence in its workings.

My role was the UK approval of the systems and equipment. Over a decade the industry moved from a basic GPWS to EGPWS to what we have now, Terrain Avoidance and Warning Systems (TAWS).

When I think of Don Bateman’s contribution[7], there are few people who have advanced global aviation safety as much as he did. His dedication to driving forward GPWS ensured the technology became almost universal. Consequently, there must be a large number of lives saved because of the CFIT accidents that did not happen.

He left no doubt as to his passion for aviation safety, was outstandingly professional and a pleasure to work with on every occasion. This work was an example of a positive and constructive partnership between aviation authorities and industry. We need more of that approach.









Some policies are directly targeted to fix a problem, other policies maybe aimed at indicating a direction of travel. I think the measures in France to ban domestic flights on short routes is the later.

Internal routes that can be flown in less than two-and-a-half hours, are prohibited[1]. That can be done because high-speed rail transport offers a means of connecting certain French cities.

The calculation being that greenhouse gas emissions will be reduced by this control. There had been many calls for even stricter restrictions on flying in France. Lowering carbon emissions is a priority for many European governments. Sovereignty is primary in this respect. A State can take measures to control domestic flying much more readily than they can internationally. Connecting flights will not be changed by this new legislation.

High-speed trains do take passengers from airlines and take cars off the roads. Where a mature rail network exists, there are significant benefits in focusing on rail transport between cities. Often rail and air are complementary, with major high-speed rail stations at airports.

Given the rhetoric surrounding the “climate emergency” these restrictions are a modest measure that will make only a small difference to carbon emissions. The symbolism is significant. It’s a drive in a transport policy direction that may go further in time and other States may do the same.

Flying between Paris and Lyon doesn’t make much sense when a good alternative is available. Flying between London and Birmingham doesn’t make much sense either. However, changes like these need to be data-driven transformations. There needs to be a measure reduction in greenhouse gas emissions because of their implementation. For example, displacing travellers onto the roads would be a negative outcome.

The imperative of greenhouse gas emission reduction means creative and new measure will happen. It’s far better for aviation to adapt to this framework of operations rather than push back. The direction of travel is set.



Brexit “outrage” as The Express newspaper put it. Headlines like this are signs of shear desperation. It seems every time something goes wrong, which it regularly does, the call comes out from Brexit supporters – it must be Remainers or the House of Commons or Lords or civil servants or large corporations or lefty liberals thwarting the great Brexit plan. Noting, of course, that there never was a plan in the first place.

“Take Back Control” has become the hollowest political slogan in British history. Rather than dimming the light of fervent Brexit advocates these repeated setbacks just pump them up. This kind of thinking is both sad and dangerous. It has a deep flavour of paranoia.

This month, shocks from the Conservative Party’s council election meltdown are another trigger for the political right to agitate. Shouting: bring back Boris Johnson is unsurprising. The dreamy magical thinking is that because he delivered a big parliamentary majority in 2019, somehow, he, and he alone, can do the same in 2024. Other conservatives are positioning themselves for the next run at being Prime Minister.

I’m not one to totally dismiss the Johnson proposition. Naturally, it would be calamitous and beyond reason but that has not been an impenetrable barrier since 2016. Brexit, as a happening, delights in causing chaos. There’re political thinkers who invite chaos and disruption to free potentially creative energies. They’re not a bit concerned about the impact of that approach on the average person.

Brexit continues to hobble aviation in UK. A large percentage of the people who worked in UK aviation, before the COVID pandemic, were EU nationals. A lot have gone. Now, it’s often the case that when EU nationals apply for jobs in the UK, the aviation industry must turn them down[1].

The legislative proposal to remove retained EU laws has created yet more uncertainty for UK’s aviation sector. The threat remains regardless that it may be in the process of being watered down. Debates in the House of Lords focused on democratic scrutiny of the process where significant changes are planned[2]. Ministers continue to wish to use arbitrary powers to make changes. There’s ambition in the policies advanced while, at the same time, there’s a wish to look all ways at once.

For a lot of aviation topics, the UK has stated it will continue to use European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) rules and guidance. Although, this is eminently sensible in an international setting it does suggest that Brexit benefits, if they exist at all, have been greatly overstated.

Given the tabloid media jitters seen in recent headlines, it’s perfectly clear that Brexit is a million miles from being “done”. A bad idea remains a bad idea, however it’s dressed up.

Expect turbulence right up to the next General Election. Change is not assured. People will have to campaign hard to make it happen. In comment on the change of the crown, “The country is in a waiting room” said historian Simon Schama.

[1] One major airline – We have had to turn down a huge number [8,000] of EU nationals because of Brexit. Another has blamed the British government’s post-Brexit immigration constraints on the labour market for fuelling staff shortages.


Working hard for the money

What goes wrong with research spending? It’s a good question to ask. In some ways research spending is like advertising spending. “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.[1]” Globally billions are spent on advertising so you might say – it must be working. In fact, far more is spent on advertising than is ever available for research in the aviation and aerospace world.

Research spending is a precious asset because of its bounds. Even so, a great deal of research spending is lost on activities that deliver no or little benefit. It’s true Governments, institutions and industry don’t often put-up funds for vague and imprecise aspirations or outlandish predictions but nevertheless money goes down a sink hole on far too many occasions.

A reluctance to take tough decisions or at the other extreme of the spectrum a relish in disruption plagues research funding decision making. Bad projects can live long lives and good projects get shut down before their time. My observations are that these are some of the cases that crop-up all too often across the world.

Continuing to service infrastructure that cost a great deal to set-up. It’s the classic problem of having spent large sums of money on something and thereby the desperation to see a benefit encourages more spending. Nobody likes to admit defeat or that their original predictions were way off the mark.

Circles of virtue are difficult to address. For example, everyone wants to see a more efficient and sustainable use of valuable airspace therefore critics of spending towards that objective are not heard. That is even if substantial spending is misdirected or hopelessly optimistic.

Glamourous and sexy subjects, often in the public limelight, get a leg-up when it come to the evaluation of potential research projects. Politicians love press photographs that associate them with something that looks like a solution in the public mind. Academics are no different in that respect.

Behold unto the gurus! There’s conferences and symposiums where ideas are hammered home by persuasive speakers and charismatic thinkers. Amongst these forums there are innovative ideas but also those that get more consideration than they warrant.

Narrow focused recommendations can distort funding decision making. With the best of intent an investigation or study group might highlight a deficiency that needs work, but it sits in a distinct niche of interest. It can be a push in direction the opposite of a Pareto analysis[2].

Highlighting these points is easier than fixing the underlying problems. It’s a good start to be aware of them before pen and ink meets, and a contract is signed.

[1] statement on advertising, credited to both John Wanamaker (1838-1922) and Lord Leverhulme (1851-1925).


Who’s in control?

The subject of artificial intelligence (AI) in an aircraft cockpit stirs-up reactions that are both passionate and pragmatic. Maybe, it’s a Marmite issue[1]. Mention of the subject triggers an instant judgement. 

Large passenger transport civil aircraft are flown by two human operators. Decisions are made by those two human operators. They are trained and acquire experience doing the job of flying. A word that has its origins in the marine world is used to describe their role – pilot.

One of my roles, early on in my career, was to lead the integration of a cockpit display system into a large new helicopter[2]. New, at the time. The design team, I was part of comprised of people with two different professional backgrounds. One had an engineering background, like me, and the other had qualification associated with psychology. The recognition that an aircraft cockpit is where the human and machine meet is not new. A lot of work was done in simulation with flight crews. 

The first generation of jet aircraft put the pilot in full-time command. It’s as we moved from purely mechanical interactions with aircraft, the balance of flight control has been shared between pilot and aircraft systems. There’s no doubt, in the numbers, that this has improved aviation safety.

Nobody is calling for the removal of aircraft autopilot systems. Much of the role of the formerly required flight engineer has been integrated into the aircraft systems. Information is compressed and summarised on flat screen displays in the aircraft cockpit.

Today, AI is not just one thing. There’s a myriad of different types and configurations, some of which are frozen and some of which are constantly changing as they learn and grow. That said, a flawless machine is a myth. Now, that’s a brave statement. We are generations away from a world where sentient machines produce ever better machines. It’s the stuff of SiFi.

As we have tried to make ever more capable machines, failures are a normal part of evolution. Those cycles of attempts and failures will need to lead into the billions and billions before human capabilities are fully matched. Yes, I know that’s an assertion, but it has taken humans more than a million years to get to have this discussion. That’s with our incredible brains.

What AI can do well is to enhance human capabilities[3]. Let’s say, of all the billions of combinations and permutations, an aircraft in flight can experience, a failure that is not expected, not trained, and not easily understood occurs. This is where the benefits and speed of AI can add a lot. Aircraft system using AI should be able to consider a massive number of potential scenarios and provide a selection of viable options to a flight crew. In time critical events AI can help.

The road where AI replaces a pilot in the cockpit is a dead end. The road where AI helps a pilot in managing a flight is well worth pursuing. Don’t set the goal at replacing humans. Set the goal at maximising the unique qualities of human capabilities.




First Encounter

My first encounter with what could be classed as early Artificial Intelligence (AI) was a Dutch research project. It was around 2007. Let’s first note, a mathematical model isn’t pure AI, but it’s an example of a system that is trained on data.

It almost goes without saying that learning from accidents and incidents is a core part of the process to improve aviation safety. A key industry and regulatory goal is to understand what happened when things go wrong and to prevent a repetition of events.

Civil aviation is an extremely safe mode of transport. That said, because of the size of the global industry there are enough accidents and incidents worldwide to provide useful data on the historic safety record. Despite significant pre-COVID pandemic growth of civil aviation, the number of accidents is so low that further reduction in numbers is providing hard to win.

What if a system was developed that could look at all the historic aviation safety data and make a prediction as to what accidents might happen next?

The first challenge is the word “all” in that compiling such a comprehensive record of global aviation safety is a demanding task. It’s true that comprehensive databases do exist but even within these extremely valuable records there are errors, omissions, and summary information. 

There’s also the kick back that is often associated with record keeping. A system that demands detailed record keeping, of even the most minor incident can be burdensome. Yes, such record keeping has admirable objectives, but the “red tape” wrapped around its objectives can have negative effects.

Looking at past events has only one aim. That’s to now do things to prevent aviation accidents in the future. Once a significant comprehensive database exists then analysis can provide simple indicators that can provide clues as to what might happen next. Even basic mathematics can give us a trend line drawn through a set of key data points[1]. It’s effective but crude.

What if a prediction could take on-board all the global aviation safety data available, with the knowledge of how civil aviation works and mix it in such a way as to provide reliable predictions? This is prognostics. It’s a bit like the Delphi oracle[2]. The aviation “oracle” could be consulted about the state of affairs in respect of aviation safety. Dream? – maybe not.

The acronym CAT normally refers to large commercial air transport (CAT) aeroplanes. What this article is about is a Causal model for Air Transport Safety (CATS)[3]. This research project could be called an early use of “Big Data” in aviation safety work. However, as I understand it, the original aim was to make prognostics a reality.

Using Bayesian network-based causal models it was theorised that a map of aviation safety could be produced. Then it could be possible to predict the direction of travel for the future.

This type of quantification has a lot of merit. It has weaknesses, in that the Human Factor (HF) often defies prediction. However, as AI advances maybe causal modelling ought to be revised. New off-the-shelf tools could be used to look again at the craft of prediction.




Good enough

It’s not a universal rule. What is? There are a million and one ways that both good and bad things can happen in life. A million is way under any genuine calculation. Slight changes in decisions that are made can head us off in a completely different direction. So much fiction is based on this reality.

Yes, I have watched “Everything Everywhere All at Once[1]”. I’m in two minds about my reaction. There’s no doubt that it has an original take on the theory of multiple universes and how they might interact. It surprised me in just how much comedy formed the core of the film. There are moments when the pace of the story left me wondering where on earth is this going? Overall, it is an enjoyable movie and its great to see such originality and imagination.

This strange notion of multiple universes, numbered beyond count, has an appeal but it’s more than a headful. What I mean is that trying to imagine what it looks like, if such a thing is possible, is almost hopeless. What I liked about the movie is that small difference are more probable and large difference are far less probable. So, to get to the worlds that are radically different from where you are it’s necessary to do something extremely improbable.

Anyway, that’s not what I’m writing about this morning. I’ve just been reading a bit about Sir Robert Alexander Watson Watt. The man credited with giving us radar technology.

Perfect is the enemy of good is a dictum that’s has several attributions. It keeps coming up. Some people celebrate those who strive for perfection. However, in human affairs, perfection, is an extremely improbable outcome in most situations. There’s a lot of talent and perspiration needed to jump from average to perfect in any walk of life.

What the dictum above shorthand’s is that throwing massive amounts of effort at a problem can prevent a good outcome. Striving for perfection, faced with our human condition, can be a negative.

That fits well with me. My experience of research, design and development suggested the value of incremental improvement and not waiting for perfect answers to arise from ever more work. It’s the problem with research funding. Every paper calls for more research to be done.

In aviation safety work the Pareto principle is invaluable. It can be explained by a ghastly Americanisms. Namely, let’s address the “low hanging fruit” first. In other words, let’s make the easiest improvements, that produce the biggest differences, first.

I’m right on-board with Robert Watson-Watt and his “cult of the imperfect”. He’s quoted saying: “Give them the third best to go on with; the second best comes too late, the best never comes”. It’s to say do enough of what works now without agonising over all the other possible better ways. Don’t procrastinate (too much).


Radio on the hill

We take radio for granted. I’m listening to it, now. That magic of information transferred through the “ether[1]” at the speed of light and without wires. This mystery was unravelled first in the 19th century. Experimentation and mathematics provided insights into electromagnetics.

The practical applications of radio waves were soon recognised. The possibility of fast information transfer between A and B had implications for the communications and the battlefield.

It’s unfortunate to say that warfare often causes science to advance rapidly. The urgency to understand more is driven by strong needs. That phrase “needs must” comes to mind. We experienced this during the COVID pandemic. Science accelerated to meet the challenge.

It wasn’t until after he failed as an artist that Samuel Morse transformed communications by inventing the telegraph with his dots and dashes. There’s a telegraph gallery with a reproductions of Morse’s early equipment at the Locust Grove Estate[2] in Poughkeepsie. I’d recommend it.

The electromagnetic telegraph used wires to connect A and B. Clearly, that’s not useful if the aim is to connect an aircraft with the ground.

The imperative to make air-ground communication possible came from the first world war. Aviation’s role in warfare came to the fore. Not just in surveillance of the enemy but offensive actions too. Experimentation with airborne radio involved heavy batteries and early spark transmitters. Making such crude equipment usable was an immense challenge. 

Why am I writing about this subject? This week, on a whim I visited the museum at Biggen Hill. The Biggin Hill Museum[3] tells the story the pivotal role played by the fighter station in the second world war. The lesser-known story is the origins of the station.

It’s one of Britain’s oldest aerodromes and sits high up on the hills south of London. Biggin Hill is one of the highest points in that area, rising to over 210 metres (690 ft) above sea level. 

It’s transformation from agricultural fields to a research station (south camp) took place in 1916 and 1917. Its purpose was to explore the scientific and technical innovations of that time. Wireless in particular.  141 Squadron of the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) was based at Biggin Hill and equipped with Bristol Fighters.[9] RFC were the first to take use of wireless telegraphy to assist with artillery targeting.

These were the years before the Royal Air Force (RAF) was formed.

100 years later, in early 2019, the Biggin Hill Museum opened its doors to the public. It’s a small museum but well worth a visit. I found the stories of the early development of airborne radio communications fascinating. So much we take for granted had to be invented, tested, and developed from the most elemental components.

POST 1: Now, I wish I’d be able to attand this lecture – Isle of Wight Branch: The Development of Airborne Wireless for the R.F.C. (

POST 2: The bigger story





The long history of data communications between air and ground has had numerous stops and starts. It’s not new to use digital communications while flying around the globe. That said, it has not been cheap, and traditional systems have evolved only slowly. If we think Controller Pilot Data Link Communications (CPDLC)[1] is quite whizzy. It’s not. It belongs to a Windows 95 generation. Clunky messages and limited applications.

The sluggishness of adoption of digital communications in commercial aviation has been for several reasons. For one, standardised, certified, and maintainable systems and equipment have been expensive. It’s not just the purchase and installation but the connection charges that mount-up.

Unsurprisingly, aircraft operators have moved cautiously unless they can identify an income stream to be developed from airborne communication. That’s one reason why the passengers accessing the internet from their seats can have better connections than the two-crew in the cockpit.

Larger nations’ military flyers don’t have a problem spending money on airborne networking. For them it’s an integral part of being able to operate effectively. In the civil world, each part of the aviation system must make an economic contribution or be essential to safety to make the cut.

The regulatory material applicable to Airborne Communications, Navigation and Surveillance (CS-ACNS)[2] can be found in publications coming from the aviation authorities. This material has the purpose of ensuring a high level of safety and aircraft interoperability. Much of this generally applicable material has evolved slowly over the last 30-years.

Now, it’s good to ask – is this collection of legacy aviation system going to be changed by the new technologies that are rapidly coming on-stream this year? Or are the current mandatory equipage requirements likely to stay the same but be greatly enhanced by cheaper, faster, and lower latency digital connections?

This year, Starlink[3] is offering high-speed, in-flight internet connections with global connectivity. This company is not the only one developing Low Earth Orbit (LEO)[4] satellite communications. There are technical questions to be asked in respect of safety, performance, and interoperability but it’s a good bet that these new services will very capable and what’s more, not so expensive[5].

It’s time for airborne communications to step into the internet age.

NOTE: The author was a part of the EUROCAE/RTCA Special Committee 169 that created Minimum Operational Performance Standards for ATC Two-Way Data Link Communications back in the 1990s.

POST 1: Elon Musk’s Starlink Internet Service Coming to US Airlines; Free WiFi (

POST 2: With the mandate of VDLM2 we evolve at the pace of a snail. Internet Protocol (IP) Data Link may not be suitable for all uses but there’s a lot more that can be done.






Just H

What is the future of Hydrogen in Aviation? Good question. Every futurologist has a place for Hydrogen (H) in their predictions. However, the range of optimistic projections is almost matched by the number of pessimistic ones.

There’s no doubt that aircraft propulsion generated using H as a fuel can be done. There’s a variety of way of doing it but, the fact is, that it can be done. What’s less clear is a whole mass of factors related to economics, safety and security and desirability of having a hydrogen-based society.

H can be a clean form of energy[1], as in its purest form the process of combustion produces only water. We need to note that combustion processes are rarely completely pure.

It’s an abundant element but it prefers to be in company of other elements. Afterall, the planet is awash with H2O. When H is on its own it has no colour, odour, or taste. In low concentrations, we humans could be oblivious to it even though there’s a lot of it in the compounds that make us up.

Number one on the periodic table, it’s a tiny lightweight element that can find all sorts of ways of migrating from A to B. Ironically, that makes it an expensive element to move around in commercially useable quantities. H is often produced far away from where it’s used. For users like aviation, this makes the subject of distribution a fundamental one.

Part of the challenge of moving H around is finding ways of increasing its energy density. So, making it liquid or pumping it as a high-pressure gas are the most economic ways of using it. If this is to be done with a high level of safety and security, then this is not going to come cheap.

There are a lot of pictures of what happens when this goes wrong.  Looking back at the airships of the past there are numerous catastrophic events to reference. More relevantly, there’s the space industry to look at for spectacular failures[2]. A flammable hydrogen–air mixture doesn’t take much to set it off[3]. The upside is that H doesn’t hang around. Compared to other fuels H is likely to disperse quickly. It will not pool on the ground like Kerosene does.

In aviation super strict control procedure and maintenance requirements will certainly be needed. Every joint and connectors will need scrupulous attention. Every physical space where gas can accumulate will need a detection system and/or a fail proof vent.

This is a big new challenge to aircraft airworthiness. The trick is to learn from other industries.

NOTE: The picture. At 13:45 on 1 December 1783, Professor Jacques Charles and the Robert brothers launched a manned balloon in Paris. First manned hydrogen balloon flight was 240 years ago.