Monday, 19 January 2015


Like most pilots I learnt to fly in aircraft without autopilots and I didn't encounter automation of any real sophistication until I converted to the DC10 some 8 years into my career - and guess what? I liked it. And that is something of a paradox, that we should like a system that takes away from us the very thing we love to do; fly. Of course automation was initially aimed at handling the boring bits and we pilots kept the exciting stuff for ourselves but with the exception of take-off that has all changed.

So why is automation an issue? Well most of the time it isn't, it works accurately, tirelessly and predictably - far more so than we humans. It is the rare occasions when it fails and the rather more frequent occasions when pilots misunderstand the system functionality that the problems arise. The solutions? In the case of the former it is simple, recognise the failure and fly the aeroplane (simple to say anyway) but what about the latter? When I was training pilots on Airbus fly-by-wire aircraft I would encourage them to 'think like the aircraft' - employ the same logic as the autoflight system and you will always understand what it is doing and why. Pilots must know what to expect from any selection or input they make and then confirm that they get the anticipated output. Some autoflight functionality is employed very seldom so pilots must also be prepared to read and re-read their manuals and test their knowledge on each other.

Automation really should not be an issue at all - but apparently it is...

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