Flight For Control – Automation

I finished Flight For Control earlier this week. It was a great book, challenging the reader on so many different levels. It inspired me to make a new column on my blog. I’ll give a few comments on each of the questions from the book. If you haven’t read Flight For Control yet, you can get your copy HERE



Hide your kids….

As I’ve said in a previous blog post, I will post a weekly blog, trying to answer the discussion questions in Flight For Control. The first question is about automation.

The future threat to aviation includes advanced technology – what happens when it breaks? Will the pilots of the future know what to do if they are faced with flying their planes manually?
– Flight For Control by Karlene Petitt

First I have to say that automation is a very good thing. It provides for a better workload management when everything is running smoothly. When it fails, then what?

Pilots are training to the highest standards, but that usually means “pushing buttons” and controlling the advanced systems on board. Stick and rudder skills are still essential, but the training provided (both initial and recurrent) doesn’t allow enough time for the pilot to hand-fly their plane. If they can’t hand-fly during normal ops, how are they supposed to do so when the advanced technology breaks?

Simple logic tells me that would be hard. Therefore, it is very important that training programs focus on this issue. They have to allocate time to let their pilots hand fly, every time they’re in the simulator.

Even though the technology on board allows the plane to land by itself, pilots are still the ones with a brain inside this complex machinery. Human logic and reasoning will never be replaced by a computer.

– Cecilie

Posted on April 5, 2012, in Flight For Control and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Unfortunately, very little hand flying is done. There just isn’t time. Companies are cutting the training foot print, and the FAA is authorizing it because of the high reliability of the automation. Which, it is high. The question is what do we do when it breaks?
    But how can airlines afford to increase training, when they barely make ends meet now. I know that not many are a fan of government controlling our businesses. But in this case, is there any other way? Maybe each ticket will have a disclaimer on those cheap tickets…. if the automation fails, we are not responsible for how well your pilots do. Fly at your own risk.
    We do need to do something. I’m looking forward to flying this month and will hand fly every approach. If I get to fly. Sometimes we fly and we don’t get to fly. It’s all about seniority.

    I hope you get some great discussion!
    Thanks for the shout about my book!

    • I’m not a fan of government regulation, in general, but in this case, I will have to say there is no other way. But both FAA and JAA (Europe) is going in the opposite direction. You would think the AirFrance flight 447 would be a real wake-up call. And it was right after the crash. But have people forgotten about it already? The pilots stalled their plane that had lost all of its automation (basically)!

      So what can we do?

      1. Require that more of the training is done hand-flying the plane!
      2. Even when flying the real thing, do like Karlene, and hand-fly the approach. When you can do that, you can do it when the automation fails!

      When I did my long IFR-cross country (+250 nm from first airport to second airport) for my Instrument rating, my instructor suggested me to put the autopilot on. I didn’t do it. I hand-flew that Cirrus for more than one hour. I did all the approaches manually, and this was even a night flight. Besides, I’m paying a lot of money to go through flight training, I don’t want a computer to do the flying for me.

      Thanks for your comment Karlene, and I hope others will join the discussion too!

      • Cecilie, that is exactly what happened. Did you know I wrote a blog about that accident and was mandated to pull it and got a letter in my file? I don’t think they want us talking about it. I know there are numerous people angry at Airbus and finding fault with the plane. But as long as we have mechanical equipment, we will have mechanical failures. We need to know how to fly.
        Good girl on hand flying your plane. You will keep your skills sharp that way.

      • Oh really? I didn’t know that. How weird. This should be one of the most discussed topics. But it isn’t. Does it take one, two or three more accidents to happen before people open their eyes?

        As long as we know how to fly with mechanical failures, we have done what we can to prevent the worst from happening. That should be our goal.

        Thank you!

  2. As a retired A330 Check Airman and APD from a major airline, I totally agree with Karlene and Cecilie. I always encouraged my students to turn off all of the automation ( autopilot, flight directors, and autothrust) and hand fly an approach. From the blank stares that I got in response, you would think that I had told them to do a couple of barrel rolls with the airplane. When I would do this flying the line, I had FOs either tell me that they had never seen that before or that it was illegal. Unbelievable.

    The AF crash should have been a wake up call but it wasn’t.

    Karlene, I loved your book.It is awesome. You and I think a lot alike and you wrote the exact study questions that I would have written. Excellent book!!! Please write another one.

    • Roger, Thank you so very much for this wonderful comment! I really appreciate your kind words. I also smiled at the clicking off the automation. You can imagine what the captains say when I do that. I had the great opportunity in the first couple months where a captain told me I should do that, and why. I listened. But not many have that belief.
      I am so glad you loved my book. And, yes… there is another in process. You will love that too. More I hope. Flight For Safety… you know where this one will take you.

    • Roger,

      Thank you for your comment! Good to know there are several other pilots on the same page here. This is an important issue, and it shouldn’t be a surprise to pilots when they are asked to fly manually.

      Airplane accidents are always interesting to the media, but after a while, the interest fades. At the same time, more and more information becomes available, from the black box etc. Why is that so?

      And yes, Karlene’s book is fantastic. I’m already ready for the next one!

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