Burning Question

Is autopilot making airline pilots too 'dumb' to fly?

Pilots' "automation addiction" has apparently increased the risks of flying, reports the AP — but the problem is flummoxing authorities

Hundreds of airline passengers have died in the past five years because pilots were unable to right a stalled or otherwise out-of-control plane. And according to a draft Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) report obtained by the Associated Press, part of the problem is the increased reliance on autopilot. Human pilots are "forgetting how to fly," says FAA adviser Rory Kay, and this "automation addiction" is a real problem when automatic flying systems fail. Is the reduction in hands-on flying time making pilots too "dumb" to fly?

Yes — be afraid: Yikes, says Adrian Covert at Gizmodo. If (essentially) self-flying airplanes are turning pilots into "incompetent drones," the solution would seem to be ensuring that pilots spend more time using manual flight controls. But "passengers shouldn't be Guinea Pigs" during these mid-air practice sessions. Airlines should pay for pilots to train without autopilot when there's no one on board. Otherwise, we're all hostage to a system malfunction.
"Technology is making airline pilots more dumberer"

Reporters don't understand avionics: The idea that "a 'manually' flown plane is some sort of oddity, and that pilots aren't used to it" is "bollocks," says Patrick Smith at Salon. Even with autopilot, jetliners don't fly themselves any more than an operating room performs surgery. Of course, we should train pilots on how to respond when new technology fails and an aircraft stalls, but when all your instruments go haywire, "all the experience and training in the world" won't make a difference."The myth of the pilotless commercial plane: Make it stop!"

The problem is both man and machine: With 51 loss-of-control airliner accidents over the past five years, nearly all of them fatal, we clearly have a problem, says Chris Sorensen at Macleans. But "there is no easy fix when experienced and highly trained pilots make seemingly inexplicable decisions that end with a $250-million airplane literally falling out of the sky." Pilots need practice on how to recover from deadly stalls, and technology needs to be more user-friendly, but both need to work together to make sure flying continues to be one of the safest ways to travel."Cockpit crisis"

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