General Aviation News recently had an article about new research from the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association Foundation’s Air Safety Institute (ASI) that revealed that the increase in glass panel cockpits in general aviation aircraft has not had a dramatic impact on safety (Be sure to check out this blog post from 2010: NTSB study: Glass cockpits do not make planes safer). Specifically, the ASI report found:
- The accident rate in lower-powered aircraft, with or without glass panels, is still higher but there was an exception as these accidents are less likely to be fatal. However, the fatal accident rate in newer aircraft models was more than 60% higher – seemingly due to the fact that these aircraft are more likely to be flown at night and/or in IMC and not necessarily because they had glass cockpits.
- Overall, glass cockpits had a “negligible” effect on accident patterns among similar aircraft. However, the research data suggested that there was consistently more accidents during takeoffs, landings and go-arounds in glass panel airplanes with the difference being smallest among the low-power models. A possible explanation for could be that analog gauges are more easily interpreted during rapid changes in airspeed and altitude while pilots in aircraft equipped with glass panels might be spending too much time staring at their displays instead of looking outside.
- Nevertheless, aircraft equipped with glass panels may have advantages when it comes to terrain avoidance and avoiding VFR flight into IMC but the data is unclear in this regard.
It was also noted by General Aviation News that there is a lack of standardization and model-specific training with glass cockpits plus there are many variations with glass panel displays. For those reasons, ASI recommends that general aviation pilots take the time to master all of the systems in their aircraft and preferably they should do this on the ground rather than in the air.
A full copy of the ASI report is available here and would be worth a quick browse by steam gauge and glass cockpit pilots alike.