If you’re under the illusion that your airline pilot actually knows how to fly the plane without using the computerized automation system, you may be disappointed.
In yet another startling revelation, a report commissioned by the Federal Aviation Administration found that airline pilots have lost flying skills as they come to rely upon automation. Passengers may not agree that basic procedures should be routinely relegated to computers. Bloomberg News obtained a copy of the report that outlines an issue that has become more important as the country installs the $42 billion, satellite-based navigation system known as NextGen.
Anyone who has ever flown knows that the skies can quickly become unfriendly. Never should a pilot say when referring to the actions of an aircraft, “Why did it just do that?” as Patrick Veillette, a corporate pilot who wrote his Ph.D. thesis on cockpit automation says happens. Veillette did not participate in the report but noted that auto-throttles, computer navigation systems and other automation on planes have improved safety. And, to be fair, airline safety is at an all-time high, according to accident statistics.
But over-reliance on computers and automation can be dangerous, especially when pilots don’t understand the systems. People around here understand all too well the bitter outcome when pilots are not properly trained.
The report, “Operational Use of Flight Path Management Systems” is similar to the findings of The Buffalo News series “Who’s Flying Your Airplane?” published in 2009 following the February crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407 in Clarence Center.
The victims’ families spent years pushing through changes to pilot training rules. Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., led the political fight and the FAA finally unveiled the rules earlier this month. But they are not set to take effect until February 2019.
The crash of Flight 3407 and several other accidents in recent years were not considered in the report but there are other examples from which researchers were able to glean information. They examined 26 accidents from 1996 to 2009 in which automation played a role.
The findings are startling, from basic manual skills that have eroded to pilots who can’t handle malfunctions of automated systems because they may not understand how they work or haven’t been adequately trained. Or, inputting the wrong information into an airplane’s guidance system.
These should be simple fixes and, in some cases, a matter of getting back to the basics. Get it done.