Research is of fundamental importance. It seems obvious to say so given the benefits it has given us. When proposals come forward to exploit new technologies there needs to be that moment when everyone steps back and takes a long hard look at the implications of its use.
In basic technical research it’s not the most important consideration is to focus on the drivers for change. They can be multifarious: economic, environmental, social, safety, security, political, and maybe just a matter of preference. Policy directions are taken by the industry and governments not constrained by what is happening now as much as what might happen tomorrow.
Research has delivered incredible safety improvements in aviation. This is not only in the basic design and construction of aircraft but all aspects of their operation. So, to see that the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) sponsoring research to study the implications of aircraft Single Pilot Operations is a wholly good measure.
My history goes back to the early days of fly-by-wire aircraft systems. This is where the mechanical and physical connection between an aircraft pilot’s actions and the control surfaces that determine flight are replaced by digital computers. Back in the 1980s, a great deal of research and experimental flying proved the technology to make fly-by-wire work. It first found favour with the military. One reason being that an aircraft’s capability could be extended well beyond what was formerly reached. This change was introduced with caution, analysis, testing and much detailed risk assessment.
At the time, there was a significant body of professional pessimists who predicted a diminishment of aviation safety. Today, four decades on, studies show that even as air traffic has increased so civil aviation safety has improved. A momentous achievement. An achievement that has, in part, been because of the well-regulated adoption of advanced technologies.
It is important to look at potential changes with an open mind. It’s easy to come to an instant opinion and dismiss proposals before a detailed study has been conducted. The detailed technical research can then be part of the challenge and response that is necessary to before approval of any major change. First difficult questions need to be tabled and thoroughly investigated.