Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)




With the advent of advanced, highly automated cockpits that are found in modern jet transport category aircraft, most of the tedious work of flying the aircraft solely by reference to raw data information from the airplane’s instruments is becoming a thing of the past. Pilots are no longer required to use their basic instrument skills on a daily basis and as a result, their basic instrument flying skills may diminish over time due to lack of use. The purpose of this study was to gain an assessment of professional pilots’ basic instrument skills. The study used both qualitative and quantitative measures to accomplish this task. The hypothesis for this study was that with the advent of advanced aircraft, a pilot’s basic instrument flying skills will diminish over time, and will no longer be at the level required when they received their ATP license. The two research questions were to what extent degradation in basic instrument pilot skills occurs, and can this degradation be statistically proven? The study used two groups of pilots (wide-body and narrow body) flying five basic instrument maneuvers. The maneuvers were flown without the use of any automation. Each maneuver was flown 30 times. Statistical analysis was conducted on the pilots groups looking for significant differences between groups. In addition to the quantitative portion of the study, the pilots were surveyed to gauge their individual perceptions of their instrument skill level. The survey results were compared and correlated to the data from the maneuvers flown by the pilots. When analyzed, using a t-test, all of the maneuvers showed a significant degradation below what is required for Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certification. In each case the mean maneuver grade was close to the basic instrument certification standard as defined by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). There was no statistical significance between different groups of pilots that participated in the study. The survey portion of the study revealed that most professional pilots agree that their basic instrument skills have declined over time. However the pilots in the study also believed that they could still fly the airplane by reference to raw data with a high degree of skill. Maneuver grades and survey responses indicate that the pilots overestimated their basic instrument skills. This study did not seek to investigate professional pilot’s overall flying skills which remain both safe and highly competent. It only intended to investigate a small segment of overall piloting skills. By increasing a pilot’s basic instrument skills, overall flying skills can be enhanced as well as the ability to cope with instrumentation failures that degrade the fidelity of the modern glass aircraft. The problem of decreased instrument skills will continue into the future as more older-generation aircraft are retired. Additional training and practice should be sufficient to retain these skills.