Should Technically Advanced Aircraft (TAA) be an Endorsement?

by HPA · August 18, 2017

Should Technically Advanced Aircraft (TAA) be an Endorsement?

by Jennifer Payne

Advancements in technology have come a long way for aircraft and the pilots that fly them. So many options are available in the flight deck from navigation guidance and radar to weather monitoring and interactive maps. Technically Advanced Aircraft or TAA, in the general sense, is defined as an aircraft in which a pilot interfaces with one or more computers in order to aviate, navigate, or communicate (, 2003). Although these are all very helpful to pilots, they can also be very distracting and dangerous if the proper training is not completed. The considerable changes in aviation technology, especially when compared to older-model steam gauge aircraft, lead to the question whether TAA should be a required endorsement for pilots.

In 2006, a study was done on the impact of the “glass cockpit experience on manual flight skills” (Fanjoy, R.O., Suckow M. W., & Young, J.P., 2007). The purpose of the study was for the development of curriculum, but it also allowed insights into the transitions from manual flight to glass and back again. Although the study only had 110 participants, it was an informative look into the comparison of the two types of flying. The participants who took part in the study were from different aviation aspects such as airline, corporate and military. At the point at which this study began, research was more focused on mode confusion or pilot misinterpretation of system information. Study outcomes imply that pilots, who are more likely to utilize “glass cockpit” systems, tend to have a less efficient crosscheck and reduced manual flight skills (Fanjoy, R.O., Suckow M. W., & Young, J.P., 2007).

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As with any advancement or change, there are always advantages and disadvantages. With TAA there is no exception. Some advantages to the use of TAA are improved aircraft and systems performances and reduction in crew, or pilot workload just to name a few. Allowing a reduced workload for the pilot so he/she can focus more on flying, or instrument charts or radios, can help keep situational awareness at the forefront. The technology can almost be considered another crewmember that takes on some of the responsibility. However, with the good there can also be drawbacks such loss of manual flying skills, lack of complete training of all the different displays and even possibly reduced situational awareness (Fanjoy, R.O., Suckow M. W., & Young, J.P., 2007). According to some of the findings, two operational extremes may occur. Crewmembers may become so involved focusing on the flight management systems in the aircraft, that they lose situational awareness of just flying the actual aircraft. At the other extreme, pilots who are uncomfortable with computers may feel overwhelmed by their presence, and therefore leave the use of this technology to another crewmember, which in turn results in a shortage of proper resource management (Fanjoy, R.O., Suckow M. W., & Young, J.P., 2007).

Pilots sometimes rely too much on the aircraft’s technology rather than their own personal knowledge and experience. This can be problematic if pilots allow the computers to, in essence, take charge of the flight, instead of utilizing their own knowledge skill set. This is an easy way for pilots to become complacent with monitoring different systems and situations in the air. Results from the 2006 study hypothesize that pilots who had more glass cockpit experience would have a less effective instrument cross check, more difficulty maintaining tolerances, and generally perform poorer in a round-dial operating environment than those pilots with less glass cockpit flight time. However, 33% of glass-experienced pilots remain uncomfortable with the operation of automated systems in the approach phase of flight. According to the study, pilots tend to revert back to flying the aircraft themselves and relying on the basic flight procedures during approach phases (Fanjoy, R.O., Suckow M. W., & Young, J.P., 2007).

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Another recurring issue is pilots finding themselves in situations that put them in jeopardy such as penetrating Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFR). Melissa McCaffrey, an AOPA Senior Government Analyst of Air Traffic Services states that “Pilots need to understand the limitations of their specific equipment. The TFR graphics, whether for natural disasters or VIP movements, on avionics displays might not be in real time”(AOPA, 2013). Wildfire season can be particularly dangerous. Not only does the smoke cause issues for an aircraft and decreased visibility for pilots, but fires can span many states resulting in a large number of TFRs to be put in place. They start up rapidly and increase in size and range. Reports have shown that many pilots violate firefighting TFRs due to their systems not displaying the updated information.

“The National Aeronautics and Space Administration awarded Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) in Murfreesboro TN a $715,000 contract to answer questions like: Do glass cockpits give a false sense of security? Will pilots become overloaded with information or too reliant on technology? Will they be so enthralled by the displays that they spend little time looking for traffic? What are the best ways to train? Should a license endorsement or even currency updating be required?” (MacDougall, 2007) Although the answers to these questions were not specifically given and cannot thoroughly be answered without enough time and studies of the impact of TAA on the flying community, it brought up some great training direction as well as consideration to the requirements of TAA curriculum. Through this contract and the training in the FAA Industry Training Standards Program (FITS) it was shown that pilots require a significant amount of time to learn the glass aircraft, but when trained properly can transition to Bombardier CRJ training seamlessly (MacDougall, 2007).


The FAA does not currently require an endorsement to fly a Technically Advanced Aircraft. Just because it is not a requirement does not mean pilots should not treat it as if the knowledge behind it is unimportant. When a pilot is transitioning from round dial instrument training to the advanced glass cockpit, it is just as important to learn the systems in that aircraft the same way anything else was learned prior. Aircraft are continually changing over to TAA, so it is becoming more commonplace for training to be done initially with glass. This does help with some of the gaps in knowledge that may be seen now. It is also important that pilots know that each model of aircraft has their own flight systems and each one will differ to some degree and that just like flying a different model aircraft, it is important to learn the differences prior to taking off. An endorsement may not currently be required to fly a TAA, but just like all of the other Federal Aviation Regulations that are written in “blood”, if too many accidents occur, it could always become an FAA requirement.

Jennifer Payne is a technical article writer with experience in flight instruction. She has a bachelor’s degree from Spartan College of Aeronautics and a Master of Science degree from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

How it Started

One of my best friends in high school, (Doug Gray) was a private pilot. He offered to take me up for a flight in a 1967 Cessna 150, N6228S. We took off from Calhoun, Georgia, and he took me on a scenic tour of the area, I was hooked. I later found out that my English teacher, (Jan Haluska) was also a flight instructor and the school was offering a ground school course the next year, which he taught, along with flight training with the goal of becoming a private pilot. I managed to talk my dad into funding the training, at the time the total cost was right around $500. Cessna 150 rental rates where $12 an hour, and the 172 we used for cross country was $15 an hour including fuel.

Training Begins

It started August of 1977. The fall semester rolls around, and I am enrolled in ground school, and if memory serves me, we met twice a week. First came the paperwork for my student pilot certificate, which at the time was included with the 3rd class medical. I loved ground school, especially learning navigation, plotting courses on the sectional, again this was before iPads and GPS, so we did a lot of dead reckoning and VOR navigation for cross countries. At the end of the course, I made an 83% on the Private Pilot written exam, remember this was before we had the question-and-answer books that on future test I would consume before taking a written.

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The fun really began on August 22, 1977, it was my first flight. To my surprise we used the same Cessna 150, N6228S that my friend Doug Gray had taken me for a ride in. The Cessna 150 had a standard VFR instrument panel, with one NAV/COM, and one VOR CDI. No intercom, so no headset, at the time I didn’t know what I was missing. I didn’t get my first headset until I started my instrument training in 2003. I was a big guy, I was 6’ 4” and weighed 245 lbs. but I do not remember being uncomfortable in the 150 even with the instructor in the right seat.

First flight lasted .8 hours, and we accomplished orentation, shallow turns, stability, and effects of flight controls. Over the next few months we added steep 720’s, slow flight, stalls, turns around a point, S-turns, emergencies, landings, (short field, soft field and normal).


At this point I want to talk about a training experience that still stands out. We were close to solo and were practicing takeoffs and landings. Turning base to final Jan got very upset at the way I was cross controlling the aircraft. Cross control is when you are in, say a left turn, and use opposite rudder to line the nose up with the runway. So, he had me depart the pattern and head east to the practice area, and climbing up to 5500 feet MSL, he had me slow down to just above stalling speed, start a left shallow turn and add right rudder. As the airplane stalled I had the strangest sensation, no roller coaster has ever come close, instead of blue sky in the windscreen I was looking at brown ground, and as far as I could tell we were upside down, through the terror of the moment Jan talked me out of the spin, controls neutral, oposite rudder, pull slowly out of the dive. As we leveled off he asked me what altitude we were at, as I remember it was around 2,800 feet MSL. Then he asked me what would happen if I experenced this on base to final in the traffic pattern. The answer was obvious, I would be a pile of wreckage off the end of the runway with a very short-lived aviation career. Needless to say this cured my cross-control tendencies.

Another training event the sticks out in my mind was the first time we did takeoffs and landings at the High School runway. The runway was 1,500 feet long, not sure of the width, but it seems like we had about 5 feet on each side of the wheels when on the center line of the runway. Landing from the south you also had to go between a cutout in the trees to be able to stop in time on the runway. After getting confortable landing here every runway since seemed huge. I remember landing at Chattanooga (KCHA) on a night cross country and commenting to Jan, that I felt like I could of landed sideways on the runway, it felt that large.

Very soon after this I started wearing old shirts to all my flight lessons, the reason for this occurred on February 8, 1978. The lesson that day was stalls, takeoffs and Landing. As we were taxing back in Jan told me it was time for my first solo. I was very excited, and after some last minute advice from Jan, including watch for floating on landing the plane will be light with him not in the right seat, complete 3 takeoffs and landings to a full stop. It was a blast, and at the end of my shirt was shorter in the back because Jan cut the tail out of it signed and dated my solo [an aviation tradition]. Total flight time accumulated on the day of my solo was 18.1 hours. I was now officially a pilot with solo priveleges.

In my next article I start cross country training, when Jan decided that it would be best accomplished this in the 172. Checking out in N5970R was like moving into a 747, this started a love affair with one of my faviriote planes to date. Since this time I have flown over 900 hours in many different models of the 172 and feel like I am stepping into an old friend every time.

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