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Computers Key To Air France Crash

kdawson posted more than 4 years ago | from the who-or-what-do-you-trust dept.

Transportation 911

Michael_Curator writes "It's no secret that commercial airplanes are heavily computerized, but as the mystery of Air France Flight 447 unfolds, we need to come to grips with the fact that in many cases, airline pilots' hands are tied when it comes to responding effectively to an emergency situation. Boeing planes allow pilots to take over from computers during emergency situations, Airbus planes do not. It's not a design flaw — it's a philosophical divide. It's essentially a question of what do you trust most: a human being's ingenuity or a computer's infinitely faster access and reaction to information. It's not surprising that an American company errs on the side of individual freedom while a European company is more inclined to favor an approach that relies on systems. As passengers, we should have the right to ask whether we're putting our lives in the hands of a computer rather than the battle-tested pilot sitting up front, and we should have right to deplane if we don't like the answer."

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911 comments

Irresponsible headline, summary (5, Insightful)

toby (759) | more than 4 years ago | (#28260143)

It's not surprising that an American company errs on the side of individual freedom while a European company is more inclined to favor an approach that relies on systems.

How fond Americans are of reductionist dualities that are unhelpful, misleading and frequently downright dangerous: American pilot with The Right Stuff in an American plane would have saved everyone; dangerous European plane and computer killed hundreds. Oversimplified sniping, or childish fantasy?

If I want real facts on flying, instead of wild-assed pseudo-political trollery, I'll go read Peter Ladkin or Patrick Smith [salon.com] : "The gist of the accident appears pretty clear: Air France Flight 447 was victimized by a terrible storm."

Re:Irresponsible headline, summary (5, Insightful)

Ethanol-fueled (1125189) | more than 4 years ago | (#28260167)

When I read TFA I had a knee-jerk reaction to hate on Airbus, as I believe that everything should have a manual override.

Then I thought of Terrain-following radar [wikipedia.org] and realized that things are not always that simple. Quote:

Under these conditions terrain-following radar is a necessity, since a human pilot cannot react quickly enough to changing terrain heights, and is much more likely to cause a crash than an automated system in the same circumstances.

Re:Irresponsible headline, summary (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28260201)

Stupid French. Air France surrendered itself to death!

Re:Irresponsible headline, summary (5, Insightful)

jd (1658) | more than 4 years ago | (#28260435)

I would argue that instead of it being one or the other, it would be better if the inputs could be merged. Humans are generally better at ingenuity (unless the herustics are really good) and computers are generally better at speed of reaction (unless there's a deadlock between threads), but there's no universal rule.

What's really needed is a way for the pilot and the computer to cooperatively function, such that the failure of either at a task is not a catastrophic failure that could destroy the aircraft.

(I can just hear Boeing and Airbus chiming in: "Yeah, yeah, socialists and their cooperatives! Gimmie a good, old-fashioned dictatorship!")

Re:Irresponsible headline, summary (2, Interesting)

davester666 (731373) | more than 4 years ago | (#28260461)

How does a pilot get 'battle-tested' if he only spends his time in a largely computer-controlled plane?

Simulators won't help (because you can run the computer system attached to the simulator 24/7/365 to see how it deals with any problems you can throw at a pilot in it)?

Re:Irresponsible headline, summary (1)

Brian Gordon (987471) | more than 4 years ago | (#28260469)

The pilot should never be able to fly into a mountain but there should always be a manual override. OK so have a super override locked behind steel doors that if you open this door then you lose your pilots license but do what you have to do! So you satisfy your nagging doubts about some fantastic crazy situation where you have to flight through a mountain.. the pilot does have the option and they're not helpless trying to hotwire the thing.

Re:Irresponsible headline, summary (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28260637)

Well sure, in that case the pilot should leave the computer in control, but it still needs to be the pilot's decision.
The pilot must always have the option of manual override. *PERIOD*

What happens when one of these "so-much-faster-and-safer-than-humans" computer systems malfunctions, and then won't let the pilot override, and crashes the plane right into the ground, when the human pilot would have at least stood a chance, even if he wasn't as good as a fully functional computer?

Lack of ability for a human to manually override a computer is the single biggest mistake it's possible to make in designing any system that has the potential to kill or injure people.

Airbus Litany (-1, Troll)

Latent Heat (558884) | more than 4 years ago | (#28260649)

Fuselage by Messerschmidt

Wings by British Aerospace

System integration by Aerospatiale

Engines by . . . God help us . . . Fiat

Re:Irresponsible headline, summary (4, Funny)

thesaurus (1220706) | more than 4 years ago | (#28260233)

Don't hate the submitter for following standard /. article format: "simplify, then exaggerate." Next up: how this crash is actually the fault of RIAA and Airbus should have used Linux.

Re:Irresponsible headline, summary (2, Interesting)

dr2chase (653338) | more than 4 years ago | (#28260309)

No kidding. The number of crashes is small, the number where the computer-or-human choice might make a difference is smaller yet. The putdown in the Hudson, I think I give to the human, but that other relatively heroic effort in the past few decades -- where the pilot steered the plane with thrust, not rudder, ultimately crash-landing without complete fatalities [discovermagazine.com] -- apparently is NOW handled well by autopilots, probably better than a human could do it. But, at the time, the people programming the autopilots judged total loss of rudder to be too improbable to worry about. Oops.

On the other hand, not making stupid, well-known mistakes, is something computers are really good at.

Re:Irresponsible headline, summary (4, Funny)

drsquare (530038) | more than 4 years ago | (#28260379)

This is the danger of communism. Obviously, on a Boeing, Tom Cruise would have guided the plane to safety with PURE AMERICAN FREEDOM(TM).

As passengers, we should have the right to ask whether we're putting our lives in the hands of a computer rather than the battle-tested pilot sitting up front, and we should have right to deplane if we don't like the answer."

Oh fuck off.

Re:Irresponsible headline, summary (5, Insightful)

sodul (833177) | more than 4 years ago | (#28260393)

And remember that the recent plane crash in NY was caused by human error: the autopilot responded to the ice buildup by diving to maintain speed, the pilot 'corrected' what he though was an error and the plane fell to the ground like a stone.

The truth is, modern computers can be much much better pilots than 95% of the pilots out there. I don't think the autopilot would have even attempted the landing in the Hudson river, here the pilot was clearly one of the top pilots that I want on every single I fly. Also I'm pretty sure that good pilot was not overworked and was well rested before his flight. Whatever good training you have humans will always make mistakes and they get worse with fatigue. The computer does not get tired, or emotional.

So with an average pilot, I think the autopilot is much more trustable. In case of exceptional emergency, a true outstanding pilot might pull it off where the computer will not. I'm not sure the data (if it exists) favor the humans though.

Re:Irresponsible headline, summary (4, Interesting)

Rich0 (548339) | more than 4 years ago | (#28260633)

From everything I've read the landing in the hudson seems like a fluke. Apparently landing in water is far more dangerous than landing on land. Granted, with lots of buildings all around him I'm not sure the pilot had a lot of options.

I did take some exception to the term "battle-hardened" - a fair percentage of pilots who go through serious air emergencies end up dead, and since so few emergencies happen few pilots are experienced with them. On the other hand, the flight computer has the experience of every simulated and real emergency any plane has ever been through. Sure, humans can practice in the simulator as well, but the reality is that costs mean that no individual gets that much time in the simulator. Due to the magic of software when one flight computer knows how to handle some situation, they all do.

I suspect the Boeing design reflects the American legal system. If the plane goes down and it is the pilot's fault, you can sue the pilot. Maybe you can even sue the airline who trained him. On the other hand, if the plane goes down and the pilot had no control then you can sue the aircraft manufacturer. Never mind that the design saves lives - better to allow thousands to die at somebody else's hands than one to die at your own. Gotta love the tort system.

For the same reason we'll allow tens of thousands to die every year in auto accidents due to driver error but we'd never consider automating driving because maybe somebody might die every year or two due to a computer error.

I'm a pilot with 3000 hours (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28260395)

I'm a pilot, and I fly both Boeing and Airbus planes, quite often at night, when its really windy. I've watched the news and seen the preliminary reports, and it is clear to me that the Air France crash was caused by icicles forming on the propellors, making them get stuck. With such a reduction in thrust, the plane would have been in danger of stalling. The common procedure in this situation, which I have followed on a number of occasions, is to put the plane into a steep nosedive to regain some speed, before using full thrust to get back up to the desired height.

There is no doubt that the Air France pilots put the plane into a near vertical dive, as required by procedure, but then hit some waves on the sea before they could pull out. Once they find the black box then we will know for sure, but for now this is the most likely answer.

Re:I'm a pilot with 3000 hours (3, Funny)

Ethanol-fueled (1125189) | more than 4 years ago | (#28260609)

it is clear to me that the Air France crash was caused by icicles forming on the propellors, making them get stuck.

You forgot one thing. The pilot's bible states that before the pilot puts the plane into a steep nosedive they should send a co-pilot or flight attendant out on the wing to try to spin the propellers themselves to break the ice.

Nosediving should only be done as a last resort.

Re:Irresponsible headline, summary (5, Insightful)

abigor (540274) | more than 4 years ago | (#28260501)

Bloggers need to say stupid shit like that in order to drive traffic via provocation. kdawson, you should be ashamed of yourself for posting this tripe.

Re:Irresponsible headline, summary (1)

demachina (71715) | more than 4 years ago | (#28260527)

As best I recall the airplane that crashed in Buffalo was stalling and the proper response was to put the nose down, dive and gain airspeed. The autopilot started shaking the stick to warn of a stall and nosed the plane down. The pilot did exactly the wrong thing grabbed the stick and pulled the nose up which is probably an instinctive reaction but exactly the wrong thing to do in a stall. I think pilot error finished putting the plane in to a stall and it dropped like a rock. The pilot apparently had inadequate training and didn't fair well on his exams. Considering the incredibly low wages, poor working conditions and not so great pilots many U.S. airlines have now I'm not entirely sure you really want to place that much trust the pilot in all cases either.

Re:Irresponsible headline, summary (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28260551)

The problem is, the computer will not push the plane past it's design parameters, but anyone that understands basic engineering knows that the design parameters always err on the side of safety. The issue comes when you are in a scenario where your choices are:
1. Push the plane past it's limits and hope it survives the process
2. Crash for sure

Re:Irresponsible headline, summary (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28260591)

Posted by kdawson

What the heck is 'battle tested' supposed to mean? (5, Insightful)

Omnifarious (11933) | more than 4 years ago | (#28260169)

What a dumb phrase. Do you only want former airforce pilots who've actually seen combat flying commercial planes? How exactly is that going to keep you up in the air in a civilian airliner experiencing an electronic or mechanical malfunction?

And if what you really mean is experienced pilots, what about some pilot who's been flying for years and has never had an emergency situation and then makes a mistake and then (s)he makes a judgement error in a critical situation? Are you then going to call for the iron calm of a computer rather than a fallible human pilot?

No, the answer is statistics. What's safer and more reliable in the long run? How many crashes have we had due to computer error rather than human error given x hours flown by each?

The very wording of this ridiculous post presupposes an answer. And in the future it is very likely the wrong answer. Sure computers will make errors. But in general people will make them more often, and computers are just going to get better.

And casting this as some kind of bizarre collectivist vs. individualist ideology debate is ridiculous as well. What does towing some ideological line have to do with safely getting to your destination in an airplane?

This Slashdot article is full of simplistic drivel designed to provoke ideologically based knee-jerk responses instead of any kind of reasoned debate.

The linked to text is much, much better, even though offering people a choice is problematic given how the whole non-refundable ticket system and airline logistics systems currently work, not to mention that making a choice at the gate when you get on the plane will throw off your schedule.

Re:What the heck is 'battle tested' supposed to me (5, Funny)

acehole (174372) | more than 4 years ago | (#28260257)

What a dumb phrase. Do you only want former airforce pilots who've actually seen combat flying commercial planes?.

Who wouldnt want to be on a commercial flight where random barrel rolls, climbs and dives occur?

Re:What the heck is 'battle tested' supposed to me (1)

jd (1658) | more than 4 years ago | (#28260467)

Barnstormers got their nickname by flying through barns where the doors were open at both ends. Hey, just dump the passenger section mid-way like Thunderbird 2, and you could eliminate all those annoying waits to taxi in.

Re:What the heck is 'battle tested' supposed to me (4, Interesting)

dr2chase (653338) | more than 4 years ago | (#28260487)

A gazillion years ago, I rode on some airline (Muse? Love? Some weird four letter name) about two days before they were scheduled to shut down, and I guess the pilot just felt like flying figure-8s over the Grand Canyon ("bad weather in Las Vegas", yeah, right).

It was really something, a view like you would not believe, and if we had not been doing our figure-8s over something that impressive, I would have been really pissed, because my tummy was also doing figure-8s.

What's the average salary of an airplane pilot? (1, Interesting)

spun (1352) | more than 4 years ago | (#28260275)

A new pilot, working for a regional airline, starts at around $15,000 per year. Working for a national or international carrier, they might make twice that. Think about that next time you board a plane, rather than worrying about the computer.

Re:What's the average salary of an airplane pilot? (2, Informative)

raddan (519638) | more than 4 years ago | (#28260479)

While it's true that starting pay is low, it's not in the $15K range; more like $20-$25K. But it's also true that that you don't stay in that pay range for long. See here [payscale.com] .Your post is very misleading. Average pay and starting pay are very different things!

I come from a family of pilots (IANAP), and they all live quite well. The low pay is a known problem, because many pilots do extra duty to make ends meet, but it also has the effect of encouraging only the truly motivated ones to stick around.

<loaded question>How much do military pilots make? Do you feel unsafe with them?</loaded question>

Re:What's the average salary of an airplane pilot? (1)

jd (1658) | more than 4 years ago | (#28260535)

That's about $7/hour, which isn't a whole lot above minimum wage. Fills you with a lot of confidence, knowing that there are people in the McDonald's in the airport earning more than the guy you trust your life to.

Re:What the heck is 'battle tested' supposed to me (2, Interesting)

Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) | more than 4 years ago | (#28260305)

No, the answer is statistics. What's safer and more reliable in the long run? How many crashes have we had due to computer error rather than human error given x hours flown by each?

Statistics is only the answer if it measures the right thing. At a minimum your suggestion doesn't qualify because computers fly planes on autopilot almost all of the time anyway. Sure there are better statistics to be looking at, I can think of a few myself off the cuff, but better than junk doesn't mean good or useful.

So beware the fallacy that we do know the answer, it may ultimately be that we are simply incapable of measuring the correct variables to make a mathematically sound evaluation.

Overreaction (1)

docbrody (1159409) | more than 4 years ago | (#28260433)

I think you are overreacting to the phrase 'battle-tested.' Its a commonly used phrase that does not mean specifically someone who has been in an actual war. It just means they have real world experience. We say things like, 'that teacher has been battle tested in the Public school system,' or 'that broker has been battle tested through good and bad markets.' Its a common American English usage.

As to the rest of your post, I think you are over reacting there too. It actually summarizes a very old debate. The original poster is NOT in fact the first person to make the statement, 'an American company errs on the side of individual freedom while a European company is more inclined to favor an approach that relies on systems' - it cuts to the very essence of the debate. Just google 'Fly-by-wire vs computer controlled debate'. You will find numerous references to the cultural differences that drive both philosophies - by member of the aviation industry on both sides of the Atlantic.

What is interesting is your comment that 'the answer is statistics' - both sides use statistics to support their argument.

Re:Overreaction (1)

Omnifarious (11933) | more than 4 years ago | (#28260593)

I would guess it's an old debate. But I don't think the debate is best answered by resorting to arguments from ideology.

If the article had linked to various instances of this debate between knowledgeable parties and talked about how this crash revived the debate, I wouldn't have responded nearly so heatedly.

As it is, the article basically gives an answer to the question that comes from a solely ideological basis. And I don't think that's the right place to be arguing about airplane safety from.

Re:What the heck is 'battle tested' supposed to me (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28260543)

I would like to see a computer land a plane on the Hudson River.

Re:What the heck is 'battle tested' supposed to me (1)

Frosty Piss (770223) | more than 4 years ago | (#28260585)

Do you only want former airforce pilots who've actually seen combat flying commercial planes? How exactly is that going to keep you up in the air in a civilian airliner experiencing an electronic or mechanical malfunction?

Air Force pilots don't only fly fighters. [wikipedia.org]

Re:What the heck is 'battle tested' supposed to me (2, Insightful)

wasted (94866) | more than 4 years ago | (#28260617)

What a dumb phrase. Do you only want former Air Force pilots who've actually seen combat flying commercial planes? How exactly is that going to keep you up in the air in a civilian airliner experiencing an electronic or mechanical malfunction?

"Battle tested" may have been used in this context to refer to the long history of human pilots compared to the shorter history of using computers to control aircraft. If it refers to actual combat flight, flying military aircraft teaches one to expect something to break and know how to determine what is broke and what needs to be done to land safely. Military aircraft experience a lot more stresses than civilian aircraft, and thus tend to break more.

And if what you really mean is experienced pilots, what about some pilot who's been flying for years and has never had an emergency situation and then makes a mistake and then (s)he makes a judgement error in a critical situation? Are you then going to call for the iron calm of a computer rather than a fallible human pilot?

In a perfect world, the pilot would recognize a computer mis-evaluation if one occurs due to his simulator training, and over-ride the computer to land safely. In practice, this does not always occur - crashes have resulted from both non-overrides and incorrect overrides.

No, the answer is statistics. What's safer and more reliable in the long run? How many crashes have we had due to computer error rather than human error given x hours flown by each?

Although the computer may be statistically safer, if the pilot is able to over-ride obvious computer errors and is trained to recognize those errors, isn't that the best of both worlds?

...The linked to text is much, much better, even though offering people a choice is problematic given how the whole non-refundable ticket system and airline logistics systems currently work, not to mention that making a choice at the gate when you get on the plane will throw off your schedule.

I always check which type of aircraft will be used on my flight prior to committing to purchase the ticket, and do not fly Airbus. I live near an airline hub, though, so it is easy for me to decide which aircraft to avoid. If a person's local airport has limited service, that choice may not be available to them.

Philosophical Divide (4, Insightful)

Adrian Lopez (2615) | more than 4 years ago | (#28260213)

It's not surprising that an American company errs on the side of individual freedom while a European company is more inclined to favor an approach that relies on systems. As passengers, we should have the right to ask whether we're putting our lives in the hands of a computer rather than the battle-tested pilot sitting up front, and we should have right to deplane if we don't like the answer.

Lemme' guess... you're an American.

Re:Philosophical Divide (0, Troll)

raddan (519638) | more than 4 years ago | (#28260351)

Lemme guess. You're an asshole.

Probably just as accurate, no?

Re:Philosophical Divide (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28260581)

Not so much an asshole. A moron maybe. For blathering some stereotypical response based on unknown information (somewhat like the article itself). Apple falls not far from the tree eh?

Re:Philosophical Divide (0, Flamebait)

raddan (519638) | more than 4 years ago | (#28260653)

No, I just like to point out that anti-Americanism is as useful and pigheaded a sentiment as pro-Americanism. Maybe if I point that out in a completely offensive way, it'll stick. I used to take the high road, but... life's too short. Sometimes you just need to rub a dog's nose in its own shit and get it over with.

What's the fuss? (1)

ramk13 (570633) | more than 4 years ago | (#28260223)

What are the odds that this difference will actually come into play for you in your lifetime? I would guess small. On any given flight? That has to be tiny. I'd rather fret over more relevant decisions like cost, service, legroom, etc rather than worrying my plane was going to crash.

You only want humans to override the controls (2, Funny)

raddan (519638) | more than 4 years ago | (#28260229)

when James T. Kirk has the conn. He doesn't believe in a no-win scenario!

Great persuasive argument (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28260235)

Everything is bulletproof when wrapped in the flag of patriotism.

Summary? (1)

Stiletto (12066) | more than 4 years ago | (#28260237)

Would it hurt to include a single sentence in the summary about what "Air France Flight 447" is and why anyone cares? Even just a link? Before launching into an editorial tirade? I bet some find this topic interesting, but without context...

Pick your poison (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28260243)

The Continental flight that crashed in Buffalo on the 12th of February crashed because the inexperienced pilot pulled up when the plane stalled. A computer controlled system might have nosed down to get airspeed and saved 50 lives. Of course I doubt a computer controlled system would be able to make a flawless landing in the Hudson.

Re:Pick your poison (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 4 years ago | (#28260451)

Having the computer be able to override things like that can make sense, but not allowing the pilot to ever fully override the autopilot is a huge mistake. You don't have to make it the most convenient thing to do, but it's important to allow for human judgment.

Unfortunately for airbus passengers, if the company maintaining the plane didn't keep it up to date or the sensors fail, a lot can go wrong. A pilot at least has sensors that aren't interconnected into the plane's AI.

Re:Pick your poison (4, Insightful)

Falconhell (1289630) | more than 4 years ago | (#28260459)

I doubt a computer controlled system would be able to make a flawless landing in the Hudson.

Quite so, but your average pilot couldnt either.

Sully was a very experienced glider pilot( Including a CFI instrutor rating, as was the captain of the Gimli glider.

When the engines stop, just hope the pilot is experienced in flying without power

Computers and People (2, Insightful)

W.Mandamus (536033) | more than 4 years ago | (#28260247)

Well it's quite simple really. Boeing doesn't expect anybody to be flying one of their big jets without years of experience. If you have a mechanical failure do you really want to have a machine, that may be getting fed bad data, trying to figure out what to do next. (Also doesn't help airbus that they seem to be having many more crashes then Boeing over the last five years).

Re:Computers and People (1)

Knave75 (894961) | more than 4 years ago | (#28260547)

Well it's quite simple really. Boeing doesn't expect anybody to be flying one of their big jets without years of experience. If you have a mechanical failure do you really want to have a machine, that may be getting fed bad data, trying to figure out what to do next.

The pilot would in all probability be getting fed the same bad data, and could easily come to the same wrong conclusions. The only difference is that the pilot has extra ways to screw up... his input paths could be faulty. Sick, tired, drunk, distracted or just plain old with failing senses could result in the pilot taking good data and destroying it before it gets to the processing unit, I mean... brain. Then, even when the processing unit has the information, the clock speeds are so slow that a real computer could play an entire chess games before the pilot actually reacts. And the outputs can also be messed up, the pilot means to output "climb" but his hand hits "nose dive" instead. Unlikely? Of course it is, pilots are well trained, but computers are trained even better. I would happily fly a plane without a pilot, especially if I could save a few bucks.

Give the pilot control! (-1, Flamebait)

SIGBUS (8236) | more than 4 years ago | (#28260271)

If the Gimli Glider [wikipedia.org] or Flight 1549 [wikipedia.org] had been on an Airbus, there would have been a lot of dead people. When something goes wrong, Rule 1 is FLY THE FUCKING PLANE. Well, if the computers fail on an Airbus, good luck flying it!

A critical factor in the Gimli Glider situation was that the pilot was able to put the plane into a forward slip - a maneuver that glider pilots routinely use, but is something that would normally Not Be Done in an airliner. In an Airbus, if the pilot tries to perform such an action, the computer will say "I'm sorry Dave. I don't think I can do that."

Re:Give the pilot control! (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28260385)

"If the Gimli Glider or Flight 1549 had been on an Airbus, there would have been a lot of dead people"....

fyi- Flight 1549 was an Airbus A320. Perhaps you would like to rethink your conclusion?

Re:Give the pilot control! (3, Insightful)

sounddude (60624) | more than 4 years ago | (#28260405)

ummmm Flight 1549 was an Airbus 320.

D'oh! (1)

SIGBUS (8236) | more than 4 years ago | (#28260533)

As they say, "Be sure brain is engaged before putting mouth in gear."

Still, the Gimli Glider is a good example of why the pilot should be able to make the final decisions.

Re:D'oh! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28260645)

Airbuses do have such a thing as an "alternate law" for flight envelope protection.

Re:Give the pilot control! (1)

gujo-odori (473191) | more than 4 years ago | (#28260453)

According to the Wikipedia link you cite, Flight 1549 *was* an Airbus A320-214.

One thing I do recall from a few years ago when I used to commute past LAX was an Airbus with some kind of problem circling for hours to burn off fuel before making a landing because it had no capacity to manually dump the fuel, as a Boeing does. Good thing they had the time luxury to do that, even though the landing was successful and without risk of fire.

1549 was an Airbus A320. Stop FUDing. (2, Insightful)

Behrooz (302401) | more than 4 years ago | (#28260493)

If the Gimli Glider or Flight 1549 had been on an Airbus, there would have been a lot of dead people. When something goes wrong, Rule 1 is FLY THE FUCKING PLANE. Well, if the computers fail on an Airbus, good luck flying it!

Flight 1549 was an Airbus A320 [wikipedia.org] . Don't fall for the FUD, any large passenger airliner is going to be designed to be as survivable as possible in the event of power loss. This whole article is just another example of irrational hysteria.

Re:Give the pilot control! (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28260531)

You realize that Flight 1549 actually _was_ an Airbus?

Re:Give the pilot control! (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28260567)

You're joking, right?

A very similar incident to the Gimli Glider did happen. I'd refer you to Air Transat flight 236, an Airbus A330 that ran out of fuel over the Atlantic Ocean and glided to a successful landing at Lajes Air Force Base in the Azores.

And Flight 1549? That was an Airbus A320.

As to your last statement, if you understand the Airbus flight control laws you'll know that with the landing gear down in that type of situation, you'll be in direct law, which does not modify any pilot control inputs before being sent to the flight controls. Even if it had degraded all the way to mechanical backup (none of the 5 computers operational), you'd still have the use of pitch trim and rudder.

Re:Give the pilot control! (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#28260579)

In an Airbus, if the pilot tries to perform such an action, the computer will say "I'm sorry Dave. I don't think I can do that."

[citation please]

Re:Give the pilot control! (4, Insightful)

jd (1658) | more than 4 years ago | (#28260601)

Boeing and Airbus have had roughly identical numbers of crashes in recent years. Boeing has had just a fraction more. If one method of flying was better than the other, there would be a difference, right? Since there is no measurable difference, it follows that the differences in a crisis balance out. What is good for one sort of crisis is a disaster in another.

Experience (2, Insightful)

Kell Bengal (711123) | more than 4 years ago | (#28260283)

I trust an engineer's years or study and careful planning over a pilot's hastily considered last-second decisions. It's not that I don't trust the pilots, it's just that an engineer has had more time to put together a solution and implement it in the computer. They know the limits of their craft intimately and I trust them to know how to keep them in the air.

Re:Experience (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28260375)

You cannot account for all the variables that might exist in a situation. No matter how how many scenarios you can dream up, there will be that one situation you haven't thought of. That's when you want an experienced pilot that can quickly adapt and react.

Re:Experience (1)

Idiot with a gun (1081749) | more than 4 years ago | (#28260507)

Hate to break it to you, but humans can't deal with the infinite possible scenarios either. The issue is which can deal with more of them.

Re:Experience (1)

Falconhell (1289630) | more than 4 years ago | (#28260509)

The problem with your post is simply this, one can allow for all forseeable events. It is the unforeseeable ones that kill people. Then the skill of a real pilot is the only thing that will save you.

Frankly, engineers are the last people I would want trying to save my life in an emergency!

Re:Experience (2, Insightful)

d474 (695126) | more than 4 years ago | (#28260595)

I trust an engineer's years or study and careful planning over a pilot's hastily considered last-second decisions. It's not that I don't trust the pilots, it's just that an engineer has had more time to put together a solution and implement it in the computer. They know the limits of their craft intimately and I trust them to know how to keep them in the air.

That's all well and good, but engineers aren't gods. They can't anticipate everything, nor can they design systems that are full proof (AirFrance 447 case in point). And when their systems fail, the pilot should have the option of taking over control of the aircraft. To not provide that to the pilot is nothing short of hubris on the engineer's part, and people died because of it.

ok, so thats The Big two (1)

mikerubin (449692) | more than 4 years ago | (#28260285)

What do Embraer,Saab, DeHaviland and Bombardier (others? Sorry) do in those situations?

Misleading, at best. (1)

actionbastard (1206160) | more than 4 years ago | (#28260301)

Modern commercial jets are designed to fly within a very narrow area of their performance envelope -defined by speed, thrust, lift, and fuel economy. It's called the 'coffin corner'. What the situation is with this incident is a confluence of circumstance. No more, no less. Weather, engineering decisions, and plain bad luck is what brought this plane down. God help those who who made the bad engineering decisions.

sigh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28260303)

" It's not surprising that an American company errs on the side of individual freedom while a European company is more inclined to favor an approach that relies on systems. "

This is a troll right? Do I get bonus points?

This isn't a political decision (5, Insightful)

HangingChad (677530) | more than 4 years ago | (#28260307)

It's not surprising that an American company errs on the side of individual freedom...

Eh? You mean the freedom to work under-paid pilots 14-16 hours a day like Colgan Air? And the FAA let them slide because Colgan had friends in that office? Some of their pilots could make more flipping burgers. Like the pair that were tired, under-paid and not paying attention who turned Continential flight 3407 into a giant lawn dart.

This isn't political. I don't care if it's human, machine or a trained goat. Whatever gets the aircraft down in one piece is what I want managing the control surfaces.

So what? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28260317)

Boeing's [wikipedia.org] manual mode causes 100% fatality when the pitot tubes are blocked, too.

What a shitty article considering that took me 30 seconds to research and wasn't mentioned.

humans vs robots (1)

saiha (665337) | more than 4 years ago | (#28260353)

Can we get a comparison of the number of crashes caused by humans to the number caused by computers? Hell even this is still human error, the pilots on board should have been able to circumvent the computer enough to fly the plane (not the pilots fault in this case). Nevertheless, the track record is still very good for computers.

Wow. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28260389)

This is, by far, the dumbest thing I have ever seen on slashdot.

Re:Wow. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28260557)

obviously you missed OMG PONIES!!!

excuse me, are you an idiot? (1)

frovingslosh (582462) | more than 4 years ago | (#28260391)

and we should have right to deplane if we don't like the answer

What kind of a statement is that? You think that you have the "right" to board the plane, tie up seats that could have been sold to other people, delay things as it suits you, and deplane when you finally get around to asking something that you should have asked long before you got on the plane? You certainly have the right to not buy the ticket in the first place. But do your research, decide if the plane and airline suit your "needs" before you get on the plane, and certainly pay attention to any last minute equipment changes, don't board and then demand the "right" to suddenly get off at the last minute. The crew and the other passengers have a lot more reason to be concerned about you and just what you might be up to than about the aircraft control system if you act that way.

"Not surprising"? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28260411)

It's not surprising that an American company errs on the side of individual freedom while a European company is more inclined to favor an approach that relies on systems.

Because Americans like Freedom and Europeans hate freedom/like computers? You sir, are an idiot.

Human limits (1)

hcs_$reboot (1536101) | more than 4 years ago | (#28260423)

Since the AF crash was (likely) due to inaccurate speed sensors readings ([likely] being frozen), computers relying on systems being mistaken cannot take the right decisions. Question is: are humans eyes able to assess the speed of their engine at such an altitude, with no visual landmark - avoiding the crash?

Re:Human limits (1)

Manip (656104) | more than 4 years ago | (#28260589)

In almost every case when the pilot tube (speed, altitude indicator) at night the pilot has been unable to recover the aircraft and crashed.

You have no visible reference at night over water, so you have to rely on your instruments, be it the computer or the traditional indicators we have been using for the last 100 years.

This is true of Boeing Aircrafts just as much as Airbus. Personally I think the pilot tube should have a GPS backup in this day and age but what do I know :)

Re:Human limits (3, Informative)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#28260603)

Its early days yet. The pitot tube theory is being driven by the ACARS data. As more data is collected different theories may develop.

Two choices does not imply different outcomes. (1)

Above (100351) | more than 4 years ago | (#28260445)

The OP seems to think the crash rate might be different between the two choices. It may, but it may also be the case the rate of crashes is more or less the same; one choice leading to human error crashes, the other leading to computer failure crashes. Indeed, it seems if one was inherently superior to the other it would have come out by now, with the two major players choosing different paths. Airline crashes are some of the most studied crashes we have, a difference would have been noticed by now.

What really scares me? (1)

really_irish_man (1559155) | more than 4 years ago | (#28260465)

I think it's silly to argue whether or not computers or people are better in a crisis. To say that a computer can multitask and process more information is an incredibly gross understatement. However note that the general rule of thumb in aviation is to blame the pilot as, in theory, they should have been able to recover from nearly all of the problems What scares me is does the pilot ever have the option of overriding what the computer thinks it knows? For example, UA 232 where the bird lost all hydraulics. There are situations where the software may overreact if it can't assess what exactly is wrong. Garbage in, garbage out. Not allowing the pilot to try something that is unorthodox seems foolish. Keep in mind pilots receive as much training or more training than a surgeon, fortunately their highly trained emergency skills are rarely needed.

The article is a load of rubbish... (4, Insightful)

Manip (656104) | more than 4 years ago | (#28260471)

American Aircraft don't always have manual overrides, and EU (UK, German, French) aircraft often don't lack it. In fact Airbus is its own company and as such follows its own principles as far as design goes. Right now they're designing their aircraft to be as simple as possible and want to eliminate a lot of the human element.

I don't agree with a lot of the discussions Airbus has made over the years:
  - Low strength materials in key areas
  - No warning alarm when auto-pilot is disengaged
  - Less manual control in case of system failure

But then again Boeing has made some HUGE errors and has updated their 747 thousands of times to fix design flaws. People forget that not only is Boeing an older company but a lot of their aircraft designs are up to 40 years old and have been evolving constantly.

American Vs. EU is complete bs but whatever helps Americans sleep at night.

over-simplistic FUD (2, Insightful)

fermion (181285) | more than 4 years ago | (#28260473)

It seems to me that someone is trying to push their dogma through fear. I am not saying the computer did not cause the plane to crash, or that the pilot might have been able to do something to stop it if there was an option 'to have full control of the plane', whatever that means. What I am saying is that we really do not know all the circumstances, and it might be a bit early start pointing fingers.

First, I would say it naive to think that computers are somehow at fault, and that they do not have a net benefit. The main reason to use digital solid state computers is that they often reduce discrete component count, which usually increases reliability. In a system that is supposed to nearly 100% reliability, like an aircraft, component count must be kept to a minimum. That has traditionally mean fly by wire, and the more fly by wire, the better. My understanding is that Airbus reduces complexity significantly assuming a complete fly by wire profile. One could, for instance, install backup hydraulics, which I assume is not done, but this would reduce reliability.

There is not simple solution. Things do not increase security and reliability simply because we feel better. For instance, Many people feel safer in big trucks but many studies have shown that one is safer in a full size sedan. Likewise, one thing that makes a large truck, especially an SUV safe is the electronic stability control, which can countermand any driver instruction. Large planes are already computer controlled. Long haul flying of large planes is in no way a trivial task. I agree with the blog mentioned in the article that people who have no experience have no basis to make any useful comment.

Is summary accurate? (5, Informative)

pongo000 (97357) | more than 4 years ago | (#28260475)

Summary states:

Boeing planes allow pilots to take over from computers during emergency situations, Airbus planes do not.

According to this link [airbusdriver.net] , the Airbus does, in fact, have a manual override mode.

Which would make the argument as presented a moot point.

Treating passengers like children? (2, Insightful)

adzima (1315619) | more than 4 years ago | (#28260477)

"But it's time the airline industry stopped treating passengers like children and began informing us of what airplanes we're flying on and how they're flown--and allowing us to decide how we're taking our lives in our hands." Really? These are complex systems with multiple levels of functionality and are difficult to understand. From the article, the author clearly lacks knowledge on the subject. Furthermore, I don't think the average person really wants to know how the plane works anymore than they want to know how CAN communication makes the EFI system in their car work by integrating ECU communication. As a consumer, I just want the car to start when I turn the key without it blowing up in my face.

Terrible summary (1)

thejoelpatrol (764408) | more than 4 years ago | (#28260483)

Boeing's use of hydraulics instead of fly-by-wire technology has nothing to do with American individualism. And Airbus's use of electronics isn't due to Europeans' greater trust in computers. It's because Airbus's only popular designs are newer than most of Boeing's. Newer technology really is better here, sorry. Remember that American jet that landed safely in the Hudson river recently? It was a lot easier to pull that one off due to its flight controls.

Here's an entertaining and actually informative take on that incident: http://www.vanityfair.com/style/features/2009/06/us_airways200906 [vanityfair.com]

Feel free to get off any Airbus jet you don't trust, but as someone learning to fly pretty old planes, I'll ride the new ones, thanks.

Well, what if humans screw up? (1)

tjstork (137384) | more than 4 years ago | (#28260485)

I'm not exactly a big Euro loving kinda guy, but I think you can give Airbus a bit of slack here. Yes, we have had one amazing pilot bringing down an aircraft safely and saving all the passengers, but a quick listen to many cockpit voice recorders has pilots making mistakes that wind up being pretty deadly.

If the systems were taken out.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28260491)

Seems like the storm took out the computer systems and with the systems down, there was no way for the pilots to reassume manual control of the plane.

I can imagine the pilots bashing away frantically at the controls while the plane dived and belly flopped into the ocean, smashing to bits.

Experience vs Automation (1)

Crash McBang (551190) | more than 4 years ago | (#28260523)

Someone told me that the reason Airbus relies on automation is that it makes their planes easier to sell to airlines that have pilots with less experience.

Boeing aircraft are designed to be flown by pilots with more experience.

Anybody know how much flight time you need to drive an Airbus vs Boeing?

You have a point. (1)

seebs (15766) | more than 4 years ago | (#28260537)

I think the people who were killed recently by an American pilot trying to outsmart his plane so it crashed into a house would have to agree: We should know whether we're relying on a calm, reasoned, computer, or a "battle-tested" pilot who can't think straight.

Sheesh.

First time BA 747 Pilots (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28260541)

The first time a pilot flies a 747 for BA, it will be with passengers on board.

Battle hardened. He may have flown other aircraft, but not a 747.

Do we ask for the resume of our pilots before flying the aircraft????

Maybe...

If that's true why pilots needed at all ? (1)

HollyMolly-1122 (1480249) | more than 4 years ago | (#28260545)

If plane pilots can only sit and watch how plane crashes than why it's necessary keep them on plane ? - to make longer the list of dead people ?

They only do what you tell them (1)

dirtyundies (1572553) | more than 4 years ago | (#28260549)

Computers only do what you tell them, give them bad info and they might do bad things. A boeing 757 flew into the ocean because someone taped over the static sensor and it was getting bad intel on what the altitude was. If the pitot tubes were faulty, then the computers might think the plane is flying to slow and speed up. fly to fast into turbulence and you will over stress the plane and crack-o-la, off come the wings. it's way to early to know what happened here and probably too early for this dipshit to make such an assumption..and yes i am an american..

parachute not included (1)

sams67 (880846) | more than 4 years ago | (#28260587)

"we should have right to deplane if we don't like the answer"

Would you like to purchase a parachute, sir?

Socialism vs Libertarianism (-1, Offtopic)

PortHaven (242123) | more than 4 years ago | (#28260597)

Airbus is built by socialists who believe the state, the institution, etc knows better than the individual. Boeing was (or at least used to be) built by free thinking capitalists who believe in individuality.

This is just a small example of why I dislike socialist philosophy. Because in the end...it'll kill ya! (or your neighbors)

"Battle Tested" Pilots? (1)

avilliers (1158273) | more than 4 years ago | (#28260619)

The most recent bad accident before the recent one--the one we actually know the cause of--was caused by pilots overriding their computerized safety systems: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124212789938210353.html [wsj.com]

The plane iced up and lost speed, and the computer sent the plane into a dive to regain the critical speed. The pilots responded by thinking "Down? We don't want to go down!" and pulled up, which meant they lost the acceleration, the ability to stay airborne, and fifty-some passengers. The transcripts are chilling and gruesome.

Human nature apparently makes people more willing to trust human judgment than machines. I very much *don't* want to give the public, who may be perfectly sensible and intelligent in their areas of expertise but who are utterly ignorant of modern aircraft the right to override actual, scientific determination of what the safest way is to handle a specific emergency. Which is exactly what will happen if airlines need to pander to passengers going by zero knowledge and a ton of gut instinct about what makes them feel good.

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