The term, glass cockpit, sounds like a follow up to The Glass Menagerie, but it’s really just a souped up term to describe the large glass displays that help pilots monitor their avionics while in flight. Also known as flight management systems (FMS), the screens provide critical details to the cockpit including flight info, cautions and warnings, and procedural steps. Most modern aircraft are equipped with avionics screens of some sort, also referred to as a technically enhanced cockpit. Alerting systems are one of the valuable components of avionics that utilize the visual aid of the glass cockpit.
An alerting system helps identify malfunctions and errors in the mechanics and avionics of an aircraft. Cockpit alerting systems act as a safeguard for any failures or complications that installed monitors might have missed. If there is a problem within the operation of an aircraft, the user interface of these systems will show two specific types of alerts to the pilot— a cautionary alert or a warning alert.
A cautionary alert is for any error that is not an immediate threat to flight progress but may become an issue in the future. Reminders to replace components are one example of the notification a caution might entail.
A warning alert is provided by the alerting system whenever a malfunction is an immediate threat to an aircraft’s ability to complete its current flight cycle. Alerts of this nature must be addressed with priority because they can indicate anything from engine failure to overheating electronics.
Alerting systems provide a comprehensive overview of an aircraft moment to moment. In a crisis, the information provided by alerting system devices can help a pilot make focused, informed decisions in critical situations. The systems can also help streamline aircraft maintenance by providing reminders for maintenance checks or necessary parts replacements.
Despite the many benefits of an alerting system, there are a few downfalls. As an electronically powered unit, the system is vulnerable to failure, and/or errors itself. A pilot should remain sensitive to the possibility of this sort of problem, though they are usually rare. The ability to cross reference information provided by avionics, paired with a thorough aviation background, may help in situations where the automated alerting system cannot. Fuel monitoring and weather navigation skills are two examples of expertise that a pilot should stay abreast of in case of alert system failure.
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