Accident Causes

Following analysis of data from many accidents, review of years of human factors research, and piloted simulations, Skow and Reynolds determined that the common taxonomy in these accidents was a loss of airspeed that is unnoticed by the pilots. 

The penalty for improper energy management can be de-stabilized approaches, excessive pilot workload leading to distraction, and ultimately inadequate altitude or airspeed to recover from a loss of control event. Poor energy management during flight phases in which the aircraft is close to the ground are most often unforgiving and lethal.
— Steven Jacobson, NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center

The unnoticed loss of airspeed can be attributed to two primary underlying causes:

1. Over reliance on or over-confidence in automation, resulting in complacency

Humans are not well-suited to the task of actively monitoring a parameter being controlled by a high-authority automatic system - no matter how important the parameter is. Vigilance reduces, complacency results. All human pilots are susceptible to this.


2. low situational awareness

Because automatic systems have proliferated the flight decks of modern aircraft, pilots have transitioned from being ‘aviators’ to ‘systems managers’, touching the stick on average just 3.5 minutes out of an entire flight. This has led to an erosion of airmanship skills, and a degraded ability to correctly assess the situation when things go wrong.

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...the Board concludes that a requirement for the installation of low-airspeed alert systems could substantially reduce the number of accidents and incidents involving flight-crew failure to maintain airspeed.
— NTSB recommendation that the FAA require the installation of “low-airspeed alert” systems

Recognizing the importance of improving energy state awareness, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), Commercial Aviation Safety Team (CAST), and other aviation safety organizations have championed the development of low-speed alerting systems for new and existing commercial aircraft. As part of this effort they've developed design guidelines and recommendations for would-be technology solutions. The guidelines have four core components.

Design Guidelines


1. The alert should come on early

Technologies are needed that identify and warn of degraded energy states.
— Steven Jacobson, NASA Dryden Flight Research Center

2. The alert meaning should be unambiguous

Alerting must be readily and easily detectable and intelligible by the flight crew under all foreseeable operating conditions, including conditions where multiple alerts are provided.
— Avionics System Harmonization Working Group

3. the alert shouldn't produce false alarms

The alert function must be designed to minimize the effects of nuisance alerts.
— ARAC Recommendation on Low Speed Alerting Systems


The focus of this Safety Enhancement recommendation is on low cost, low technology solutions with ease of retrofit and production incorporation.
— CAST Intervention Strategy (Safety Enhancement SE 205.3)

With a deep understanding of the problem at hand and guidance from industry safety experts, Skov Aero set about designing algorithms and intuitive display formats for an effective energy state monitoring system to reduce the rate of approach/landing and loss of control accidents in business/corporate and commercial aviation. Prototypes were built and successfully tested, and international patents applications were submitted. The result (and flagship product) is called the Q-Alpha Flight Energy Awareness Display.