What Scares Me about Aircraft Automation

Am I the only one?

Just a quick note here…I just read “Air France jet’s flight-control system under scrutiny” in the Los Angeles Times. These two paragraphs reminded me what bothers frightens me about today’s airliners:

One of the messages reported that one of the plane’s navigational control units had failed and that, almost simultaneously, the autopilot system had disengaged.

The sequence of events forced the crew of Flight 447 to fly the jet manually, a difficult task on an Airbus traveling at high altitude near its maximum speed, aviation experts said. Any significant change in airspeed could have caused the plane to lose lift or stability, both potentially deadly conditions.

There’s a lot in these two paragraphs, but the two points I take away is:

  • Airliners have automated systems that pilots rely on during flight — even “straight and level” flight.
  • Pilots could lack the skills necessary to fly the aircraft if those automated systems fail.

Isn’t anyone else bothered by this?

Thanks to @MattHammer on Twitter for sharing the link.

3 thoughts on “What Scares Me about Aircraft Automation

  1. What bothers me most is the line “The sequence of events FORCED the crew… to fly the jet manually…” and that’s apparently a “difficult task?”

    So what we’re saying here is that we have a passenger plane that is hard to fly without the aide of computers? How is this okay and why does this make sense to the FAA?

    Sigh… If I ever get a pilot’s license I’m going to fly a Sopwith Camel.

    Daniel Messer´s last blog post: Why Did This Have To Be A Jingle?

    • I can understand an aircraft being difficult to fly without computerized assistance — just as my Robinson Raven II would be difficult to fly if the hydraulics failed. Difficult, however, should not mean impossible. I can fly and land my helicopter if the hydraulics fail. I’ve been trained and tested on this.

      But can the pilots of these huge airliners fly and land their planes when the computerized systems fail? Shouldn’t they be trained and tested, too? After all, if I fail, I’ll just take up to 3 passengers and perhaps few people on the ground with me. An airline with 230 or more people on board each plane should expect more of their pilots.

  2. It frightens me also to read this article. I have never flown a jet, so I don’t really know but if it is impossible to fly a jet without automated systems piloting and if the pilot’s aren’t capable of flying an aircraft manually during any condition and has to rely on an automated system, that really scares me. If an aircraft cannot be flown manually, safely by the Pilot in any condition then I would not want to travel on that type of aircraft. Maybe I am naive. I understand that automated systems/computers are essential in flying complicated aircraft. They are programmed to analyze and control the aircraft in every situations simultaneously. However, automated systems still can fail and thats when the pilot & copilot are supposed to take over. We have pilotless drones that the military use but would you want to get on a aircraft that has the pilot flying the aircraft from the ground somewhere in the midwest? I wouldn’t!

What do you think?