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The study found that two-thirds of the pilots either had trouble manually flying planes

A recent study commissioned by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) shows that pilots depend on automation much more than they should, and many don't know what to do when they must manually take over. 

According to a new report from The Wall Street Journal, an international panel of air-safety experts comprising of industry, labor, academic and government officials have determined that pilots rely on automation to the point of not knowing what to do when issues arise. 

"They [pilots] are accustomed to watching things happen…instead of being proactive," said the study.

While there have been studies on this subject before, this most recent study differs in that it had a larger panel of experts taking part, and they read through large volumes of voluntary safety reports filed by pilots as well as data gathered by cockpit observers on over 9,000 flights around the globe. 


The 277-page study concluded that many pilots have poor manual flying skills and fail to master the latest changes in cockpit technology. In fact, the study found that two-thirds of the pilots either had trouble manually flying planes or made mistakes using flight computers.

Automation does help to make travel by air more safe, but the panel worries that pilots depend on it a bit too much and need to be prepared in cases where automation fails. 

While pilots in the study were able to address small automation troubles before they became too serious, they had a harder time taking over with manual flying when the time came to do so. 

The report gave 18 recommendations to the FAA, and the agency has already taken some sort of action on each one through new rules, research and guidance material. Some of the changes include more focus on manual flying skills and improved pilot certification standards.

The panel also called for cockpit design changes that are easier to understand from the flightcrew's perspective.

FAA said it would discuss the next steps on Thursday at a summit with industry leaders.

Source: The Wall Street Journal



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Why do we still have pilots?
By The Von Matrices on 11/19/2013 3:37:30 PM , Rating: 2
Do we even need pilots in the cockpit? Large commercial airliners today fly themselves on major routes, and many of the largest first-world aviation accidents in recent history involve pilot error (Air France 447 comes to mind) or an unrecoverable mechanical failure. Pilots shouldn't be needed for the most common routes.

I would feel safer on commercial airplanes if there was a small staff of extremely experienced pilots on the ground extensively trained in disaster management, and they could take over the airplane's controls in an emergency. It's a much better scenario than having multitudes of less experienced pilots sitting in front of the automated cockpit unprepared to manage a disaster. It's unreasonable to expect that every pilot can deal with such a scenario effectively. Any occupation has superstars, and I want them to be controlling my flight in an emergency.




RE: Why do we still have pilots?
By aurareturn on 11/19/2013 3:48:56 PM , Rating: 4
I think most people feel less safe without a pilot on board.


RE: Why do we still have pilots?
By sorry dog on 11/19/2013 4:06:27 PM , Rating: 3
quote:
Do we even need pilots in the cockpit? Large commercial airliners today fly themselves on major routes, and many of the largest first-world aviation accidents in recent history involve pilot error (Air France 447 comes to mind) or an unrecoverable mechanical failure. Pilots shouldn't be needed for the most common routes. I would feel safer on commercial airplanes if there was a small staff of extremely experienced pilots on the ground extensively trained in disaster management, and they could take over the airplane's controls in an emergency.


You are most definitely in the minority of people that feel that way. The technology for automated flight or drone control is no where near ready for commercial operations. First of all neither one can do "see and avoid" very well which is one of the most basic skills of piloting. Also, when you consider situations like US Airways flight 1549 or United Airlines Flight 232, those situations most likely would have turned out much differently if driven by automation. Even though Air France 447 turned out awful even that flight shows the weakness of automation. The auto pilot had already failed and it turned to the pilots to take control.... unfortunately they did not take the correct actions for the situation (which had happened on other flights before where other pilots did make corrections without major incident).

Basically, there ain't no way I'm getting anywhere near a pilotless or remote controlled plane. As long as at least 1 and 5 people agree with me then I don't see a critical mass being achieved where the flying public will accept their use. Unfortunately, small drones are becoming much more prevalent and it's only a matter of time because one smacks into an airliner and these problems become more public.


RE: Why do we still have pilots?
By Samus on 11/19/2013 10:38:49 PM , Rating: 4
Exactly. What would the algorithm would for a bird-strike incident with an automated flight control system. There are so many variables.

Flight 1549 was actually instructed to land at Newark but the Captain used his judgement that the plane might not make it and amazingly landed in a river with a perfect pitch-stall (<30mph vertical impact)

They put a few ace pilots in simulators and not one could recreate the scenario as well, and all computerized scenario's recommended landing at the nearest airport when after the FAA investigation they unanimously agreed the flight probably wouldn't have made it to Newark on the remaining damaged engine.

No computer program can replace expert pilots. That's why we continue to beat the Cylons time after time...

The problem is, most pilots aren't aces, and that is the issue the FAA wants to address.


RE: Why do we still have pilots?
By purerice on 11/20/2013 1:55:21 AM , Rating: 2
I remember watching a documentary on ICE (German high speed rail). They discussed exactly that type of scenario. AI can only account for variables programmed into it. Inevitably there will be real life situations where no pre-programmed variables exist. Thus ICE trains have conductors. Trains travel on essentially a 2D grid in controlled space. Airplanes travel in 3D space with that many more variables, that many more reasons to have a pilot on board.


RE: Why do we still have pilots?
By ssobol on 11/20/2013 12:38:51 PM , Rating: 2
The trick with US1549 was the decision to land in the river and not try for one of the nearby airports. After that the automation on the Airbus will do most of the flying. To land in the river at the best speed/attitude the pilot just had to hold the stick all the way back, the computers took care of the details.

As for having automated airplanes with backup crews available via a remote connection (a la drones), what do you do if the first thing that fails is the datalink?


RE: Why do we still have pilots?
By flybefree on 11/20/2013 12:57:48 PM , Rating: 2
Well said. There will always be scenarios that that the software engineers will not have anticipated. At that time, you would have to resort to a remote pilot who, number one is connected via a delayed (presumably) radio link which is vulnerable to interference or failure, particularly if the aircraft is already experiencing some kind of failure. There are sometimes systems with manual overrides that would have to then rely on additional remote relay/actuator links that may also fail - even something as simple as a circuit breaker would require a dedicated channel and motive position selector. Next, consider that the remote pilot has no visceral feedback of what is happening inside the airplane. Finally, and most insidiously, would you as a passenger rather have a pilot who's ass is in the same boat as yours and is highly motivated to do whatever necessary in an emergency or would you rather have a guy sitting in an nice air conditioned room somewhere safe who's concern may be balanced by liability issues and management/lawyers breathing down his back, thus only willing to do what's allowed by the book and what they can defend in court?

Here are some good flights to read about: Quantas Flight 32, United Flight 232, and of course US Air 1549 as mentioned by almost everyone else. I believe that Air France 447 is an example of how an airplane designed to basically fly itself can really hurt; Airbus' design philosophy centers around making the airplane so automated that you can slap any pilot from a third world country into the cockpit, and you're good to go. As such, the airplane does almost everything for you, including trim, but squanders on some things, like displaying all of the data available to the pilots. One huge piece of information that the airplane had but didn't show was the Angle of Attack; this alone could have saved the flight. Also, once there is a mis-compare between instruments, the avionics (including the autopilot) throws up it hands, gives up, and puts huge red X's in place of the indications in the displays, instead of showing the pilots all the raw data and letting them decide what is reasonable and what is not. We all know how this flight turned out.


RE: Why do we still have pilots?
By sorry dog on 11/21/2013 3:41:34 PM , Rating: 2
As for AF 447, not only did the computer throw it's hands up, but in the process it automatically trimmed the elevators to full up since it was trying (like the human pilots) to maintain altitude. Even if (both) the human pilots has commanded full down, the stall may still not have been arrested unless the pilots noticed the auto trim state and adjust that.
The Airbii design philosophy really demands a thorough knowledge of how the aircraft systems affect things that the pilot would have had to manually fly in an older high performance jet like a 727.


RE: Why do we still have pilots?
By Schrag4 on 11/19/2013 5:52:24 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
I would feel safer on commercial airplanes if there was a small staff of extremely experienced pilots on the ground extensively trained in disaster management, and they could take over the airplane's controls in an emergency.


This is a very bad idea, IMO. Sure, in a perfect world, it would be great, but as long as you have people that would do harm for one reason or another, I can't get on board with priority being given to remote control first, computer control second, and not even a third option, as you seem to suggest.


RE: Why do we still have pilots?
By Reclaimer77 on 11/19/2013 6:57:05 PM , Rating: 2
RE: Why do we still have pilots?
By Revenant Enforcer on 11/19/2013 7:08:03 PM , Rating: 2
Wow...Ignorance...

You have NEVER flown an airplane before have you? I take it you're not Type Rated for any of the modern passenger planes. If you were, you would know that the planes DO NOT just fly themselves even with computer assisted flight. Pilots actually do quite a bit in the cockpit.

I will never step into the cabin of an airliner without two highly trained pilots in the cockpit.


RE: Why do we still have pilots?
By bupkus on 11/19/2013 11:56:09 PM , Rating: 2
Okay, now I'm just curious, but what does the word "cockpit" mean?


By flyingpants1 on 11/22/2013 12:38:45 AM , Rating: 2
It means the tail end of the aircraft.


RE: Why do we still have pilots?
By tamalero on 11/20/2013 4:04:12 AM , Rating: 2
please explain to me how a computer will somehow keep the plane afloat when their own sensors are receiving incorrect or conflicting data?


RE: Why do we still have pilots?
By Strunf on 11/20/2013 8:02:12 AM , Rating: 2
You lose radio/satelite you're dead... you lose your computer you're dead, a fully automatic plane would probably have a higher failure rate than a mixed a one, and a failure in a autonomous plane = dead people.


RE: Why do we still have pilots?
By Ringold on 11/20/2013 5:55:42 PM , Rating: 2
I was going to say something similar. A lot of systems are double, even quadruple redundant, and a "single point failure" might be virtually impossible in theory, but not if that single point is a small, hot fire, or an impact of some sort, a tear in the structure opening up that didnt get caught by maintenance, or an engine shredding some of the various lines in the wing. That can all get automated systems to a point where they may not even fully be able to understand whats happening. Then there's also the terrorism/hacking angle, which the auto industry is just starting to realize is a big potential threat.

Meanwhile, nothing short of oxygen deprivation (or canopy penetration by something awful) will render inoperable the Mark I Human Eyeball and the thousands of hours of experience behind it.

When it hits the fan, as long as humans are flying as cargo, I think it'll always be worth the money to have a couple human beings up front ready to manually override or take full control.

I can totally see automating cargo planes at some point, though.


RE: Why do we still have pilots?
By 91TTZ on 11/20/2013 4:54:54 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
I would feel safer on commercial airplanes if there was a small staff of extremely experienced pilots on the ground extensively trained in disaster management, and they could take over the airplane's controls in an emergency


They have that now, except that the pilots are sitting in the cockpit. You need pilots in the plane to control it if the computer malfunctioned. If you're trying to remotely pilot it from the ground and the communications link is down, you're screwed.


RE: Why do we still have pilots?
By Danger3000 on 11/21/2013 9:57:14 PM , Rating: 2
What if the emergency was that the aircraft's automation failed and the pilots on the ground were unable to command the aircraft? Now what do you do? Hopefully have several hundred parachutes on-board, and a really quick class on how to use them?


Ho Lee Fuk
By techxx on 11/19/2013 2:23:45 PM , Rating: 2
Wi Tu Lo D:




RE: Ho Lee Fuk
By Jeffk464 on 11/19/2013 2:47:36 PM , Rating: 2
Here is an idea, how about the airlines require pilots spend more time practicing hands on flying in the simulator. I think the airlines also need to keep business type jets around so they can work on their proficiency with no passengers on board.


RE: Ho Lee Fuk
By sorry dog on 11/19/2013 4:11:53 PM , Rating: 2
One of the problems is that the operations manuals of many airlines REQUIRE the pilots to fly on automation pretty much from takeoff to final approach. This is done for passenger comfort and fuel savings, but the drawbacks to this are becoming obvious.

Like back in the 80's at General Motors when the accountants got too involved with car design to create winners like the Cadillac Cimarron, non-pilots should not be making rules for pilots.


RE: Ho Lee Fuk
By Omega215D on 11/19/2013 8:31:45 PM , Rating: 2
They are free to fly manually once they get pass a certain height but at lower altitudes, in order to fit more planes in an air space automation is require for proper spacing.

Many planes do have an option for auto landing but that's only reserved for certain circumstances but a pilot or two still needs to be there to monitor things.


RE: Ho Lee Fuk
By sorry dog on 11/19/2013 9:08:42 PM , Rating: 2
Actually, many are not free to hand fly. Their airline operation manual tells them not to, so the AP and flight director are on beginning in climb-out all the way to final. With recent accidents and reports to the contrary some airlines have changed this practice, but I'm sure the issue is still there.

By the way, at least right now, the automation is not really for air traffic control spacing, the airlines mainly want it on for efficiency and passenger comfort. Now there are some upcoming GPS based approaches like a GLS approach that give a continuous direct descent that may give larger safety margins for ATC.


Real world pilot here...
By Nfarce on 11/19/2013 11:16:18 PM , Rating: 2
..albeit lowly private pilot (not current). I'd hand fly except at cruising altitude where a basic navigation 2-axis autopilot would kick in. Of course the airlines are more automated for many reasons (including operating the engines at better efficiency through the auto throttles).

I've spent a lot of time in airline simulators with a good friend who's a line check captain, and have seen check rides of crews from the observation seat. He runs the crew up for a check ride through all kinds of scenarios programmed from his operations station located behind the cockpit in the simulator (scenarios like engine out right at liftoff, various equipment failures including *real* smoke simulated in the cockpit, adverse weather conditions, runway excursions, etc.).

Every pilot had passed and handled the scenarios by the book. most of it was managed as hand flying, especially the engine out landing approaches. Point being: I haven't seen any issues with pilot aptitude in manual flying from a 757/67 simulator observer's seat.




RE: Real world pilot here...
By DougF on 11/20/2013 5:17:43 AM , Rating: 2
My one "but" on your post is that aircrews are prepared for lots of emergencies and problems being thrown their way on the checkride. They know to pass the sim, they have to stay ahead of the aircraft and be proactive at all times. In the air, the question is, do they have the same situational awareness they took into their last sim?


RE: Real world pilot here...
By Nfarce on 11/20/2013 9:46:38 PM , Rating: 2
The issue is if the pilots have lost their manual flying skills. I can answer a definitive no from what I see/saw.


It is stating the obvious...
By Amiga500 on 11/19/2013 3:11:13 PM , Rating: 2
But unfortunately too many pilots are not keen to take it on board.

More worried about people's perception of their job than the reality of their function these days.




Expectations.
By drycrust3 on 11/19/2013 4:48:15 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
In fact, the study found that two-thirds of the pilots either had trouble manually flying planes or made mistakes using flight computers.

This statement obscures the fact that pilots relate differently to a plane from the onboard computers.
I spoke to a person associated with aeroplanes some time back, and he gave an example, I can't remember the exact details, but it was something like a good pilot can fly a plane to within 1.5 metres of the intended altitude, but the computers can fly it to within about 16 cm. I wouldn't say a pilot who can fly that huge and cumbersome thing to within 1.5 metres of their intended altitude is a bad pilot, nor would I say they were having trouble flying the plane, in fact I would say they are doing a very good job, but that is the impression one gets if you expect the plane to be flown to within 16 cm - that pilot is having trouble or is making mistakes. Conversely, if your expectation is the plane be flown to within, say, 30m of the intended altitude, then those same pilots are much better.
Another factor that is overlooked is the pilots aren't the only ones responsible for the way the plane flies or where it goes, there are a huge number of people involved, and they too make mistakes.




By Cakemeister on 11/19/2013 5:49:30 PM , Rating: 2
than a stinking computer.




No Autopilots?
By Omega215D on 11/19/2013 8:42:45 PM , Rating: 2
I'm surprised you didn't use the pic of the "autopilots" from the movie Airplane.

Even though pilots are more towards systems management in modern airliners they should always keep their stick and rudder skills fresh. My recent issue of Flight magazine touches up on this very topic.




Aircraft Automation
By Danger3000 on 11/21/2013 9:52:10 PM , Rating: 2
There's an old aviation saying that still rings true:
If you don't fly the airplane, nothing else matters.




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