Beta
×

Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

Airline Pilots Rely Too Much On Automation, Says Safety Panel

samzenpus posted about a year ago | from the hands-on dept.

Transportation 270

Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Nearly all people connected to the aviation industry agree that automation has helped to dramatically improve airline safety over the past 30 years but Tom Costello reports at NBC News that according to a new Federal Aviation Administration report commercial airline pilots rely too much on automation in the cockpit and are losing basic flying skills. Relying too heavily on computer-driven flight decks now poses the biggest threats to airliner safety world-wide, the study concluded. The results can range from degraded manual-flying skills to poor decision-making to possible erosion of confidence among some aviators when automation abruptly malfunctions or disconnects during an emergency. 'Pilots sometimes rely too much on automated systems,' says the report adding that some pilots 'lack sufficient or in-depth knowledge and skills' to properly control their plane's trajectory. Basic piloting errors are thought to have contributed to the crash of an Air France Airbus A330 plane over the Atlantic in 2009, which killed all 228 aboard, as well as a commuter plane crash in Buffalo, NY, that same year. Tom Casey, a retired airline pilot who flew the giant Boeing 777, said he once kept track of how rarely he had to touch the controls on an auto-pilot flight from New York to London. From takeoff to landing, he said he only had to touch the controls seven times. 'There were seven moments when I actually touched the airplane — and the plane flew beautifully,' he said. 'Now that is being in command of a system, of wonderful computers that do a great job — but that isn't flying.' Real flying is exemplified by Capt. Chesley Sullenberger, says Casey, who famously landed his US Airways plane without engines on the Hudson River and saved all the passengers in what came to be known as the 'Miracle on the Hudson.' The new report calls for more manual flying by pilots — in the cockpit and in simulations. The FAA says the agency and industry representatives will work on next steps to make training programs stronger in the interest of safety."

Sorry! There are no comments related to the filter you selected.

self-flying planes (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45480383)

The obvious solution is self-flying planes! Then there won't be a pilot to rely too much on automation.

Re:self-flying planes (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45480655)

On the other hand They need Both Today a flight crew landed a 747 at the wrong airport on too short a runway to ever take off again , Had they used some automation perhaps thery'd have avioded that They are lucky nobody was killed as they had no clearance for the wrong airport , t

Re:self-flying planes (1)

drainbramage (588291) | about a year ago | (#45480725)

After the tire smoke cleared from the landing, the Piolet exclaimed "Man, that was one short Runway!.
The copilot looked left, then right, then said "But it sure is wide."
--
I want to meet the guy that landed the Shuttle on that aircraft carrier!

Re:self-flying planes (2)

I'm New Around Here (1154723) | about a year ago | (#45480747)

Was that at Warsaw International?

Re:self-flying planes (4, Informative)

devman (1163205) | about a year ago | (#45481055)

It was at Jabara airport in Kansas, and the 747 in question was a Dreamlifter which is a heavily modified 747 Boeing uses for cargo hauling it is manufacturing process. It has been determined that the runway in question is long enough for it to take off again, although it seems just barely.

Why put the automation in if not to use it? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45480385)

That doesn't make a lot of sense to me. Isn't the goal to remove as much possibility for human error as possible? Can we automate how much the pilots are allowed to use the automation?

Re:Why put the automation in if not to use it? (5, Insightful)

SJHillman (1966756) | about a year ago | (#45480421)

If you read the summary, you'll notice one of the big problems is when that automation fails. It's great when it removes human error, but if automation fails, you still want human error as minimal as possible... and that means teaching pilots to rely less on automation (which is a very different thing from using less automation).

Re:Why put the automation in if not to use it? (5, Interesting)

TheloniousToady (3343045) | about a year ago | (#45480515)

Likewise, the automation is not designed to handle extreme failures of the aircraft. For example, the situation many years ago in Iowa where the hydraulics failed and the pilot had to steer the plane using only the engine throttles is an example of something that no computer system is designed to do. Yet a veteran pilot managed to pull it off.

Re:Why put the automation in if not to use it? (5, Insightful)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about a year ago | (#45480855)

For example, the situation many years ago in Iowa where the hydraulics failed and the pilot had to steer the plane using only the engine throttles is an example of something that no computer system is designed to do. Yet a veteran pilot managed to pull it off.

That veteran pilot was a passenger that just happened to be on the plane. 99% of pilots would not have been able to pull it off. So what should we do about that?

Option 1: Train 100,000 pilots on a difficult technique that they will likely never use.

Option 2: Have one programmer sit down with that veteran pilot and code up the technique, test it on a simulator, test it on a real plane, and then use a USB thumb drive to update all flight control software on every plane.

automation is not designed to handle extreme failures of the aircraft.

It should be. One of the lessons of TMI [wikipedia.org] was that automating routine stuff only leads to disaster because operators lose the skills they need to handle emergencies. The "extreme failures" are the first thing that should be automated, because those are the events that pilots are least capable of handling properly. ABS in cars is a good example of this. Nobody needs ABS to slow down for a routine traffic light. But ABSes have saved many lives when drivers slammed on the brakes to avoid a collision, or started slipping on ice.

Re:Why put the automation in if not to use it? (4, Informative)

UnknowingFool (672806) | about a year ago | (#45481027)

That veteran pilot was a passenger that just happened to be on the plane. 99% of pilots would not have been able to pull it off. So what should we do about that?

That's not exactly the full crux of what happened. The DC10 had two pilots and one engineer. There was another pilot who happened to be a flight instructor that happened to be a passenger and he went up to the cockpit to assist when the plane lost hydraulics. From my understanding the instructor provided assistance by controlling the throttle but didn't take over. Could the crew have handled themselves? Who knows [wikipedia.org] .

Dennis E. Fitch, an off-duty United Airlines DC-10 flight instructor, was seated in the first class section and, noticing the crew were having trouble controlling the airplane, offered his assistance to the flight attendants. Upon being informed that there was a DC-10 instructor on board, Haynes immediately invited him to the cockpit, hoping his instructional knowledge of the aircraft would help them regain control. Upon entering the cockpit and looking at the hydraulic gauges, Fitch determined that the situation was beyond anything he had ever faced. . . Haynes, still trying to fly the airplane with his control column while simultaneously working the throttles, asked Fitch to work the throttles instead.

Re:Why put the automation in if not to use it? (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45480883)

More automation already means that the pilots gain less experience, including in unforeseen circumstances. That was exactly what the AF447 crew ran into. The juniors didn't catch on and when the old man finally got back, he didn't gain oversight in time either. A veteran pilot would've been able to pull the thing out of its deathly course, provided he'd known what was going on. Worse, the automation will mean there will be less pilots of such veteran ability around.

So this is a bit of a turning point. More automation, and then better work hard on making it able to handle as many situations as possible, not just the common ones. Then give it full authority. Or more emphasis on pilot training, and having them fly often so they keep current. The middle way would be both, which is probably harder to do well.

Re:Why put the automation in if not to use it? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45480561)

We can't argue with you, Sheldon!

Re:Why put the automation in if not to use it? (2)

TheNastyInThePasty (2382648) | about a year ago | (#45480983)

The summary states that the report calls for more manual flying in the air, though. Which means using less automation. This seems like the wrong way to go about it since it gives more chances for human error. It seems to me that the better solution would be more mandatory yearly simulation time with simulations focusing on how to properly handle auto pilot failures. That way, you keep the pilots in practice without making the passengers any less safe.

Re:Why put the automation in if not to use it? (1)

Joce640k (829181) | about a year ago | (#45481041)

If you read the summary, you'll notice one of the big problems is when that automation fails. It's great when it removes human error, but if automation fails, you still want human error as minimal as possible...

When automation fails the humans are supposed to get in radio contact with the ground and reach for the book of checklists. The "Top Gun" style of piloting where they switch off the autopilot and start heaving at the controls really, really doesn't apply outside of the cinema.

Even in the Hudson River incident the passengers might have been better off if the pilot had made it a bit further down the checklist and hit the "ditch switch" to close valves and air vents underneath the aircraft. They're designed to keep it floating a bit longer. The "water landing" checklist was designed for descent from higher altitudes with more time available, he never completed it.

Re:Why put the automation in if not to use it? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45481193)

It's a lot cheaper to automate everything and pay a pilot less to nothing to fly the plan. You will probably decreasingly see pilots with the skill necessary to handle those kind of failures. This is why I do not fly, they cut corners to pass the savings onto the customer. Paying for a better pilot for that one in a million situation where you might crash and burn horribly obviously isn't that big a deal if it means you pay less for a ticket.

Re:Why put the automation in if not to use it? (4, Insightful)

Millennium (2451) | about a year ago | (#45480439)

Automation fails from time to time, and when it does, pilots are the failsafe. But to be able to do that, they need to stay in practice, and that's the problem being highlighted here: they're getting so little time in control that they're getting out of shape.

Re:Why put the automation in if not to use it? (1)

fisted (2295862) | about a year ago | (#45480789)

Thanks for summarizing the summary.

Re:Why put the automation in if not to use it? (1)

somersault (912633) | about a year ago | (#45480513)

Automation isn't so much to remove possibility for human error, as to stop people getting exhausted from performing a monotonous task. Which may reduce errors, but may actually also cause worse ones if it means you can relax more than usual. Think about using cruise control in your car. It makes highway driving much more pleasant, but it adds a little extra to your response time, since you've removed your feet from the pedals, etc..

Some cars these days have adaptive cruise control that can detect that of course.. and some cars can drive themselves entirely.. and while that of course reduces "human error", it also potentially removes the "human common sense" element..

Re:Why put the automation in if not to use it? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45480767)

I don't have feet, you insensitive clod!

Re:Why put the automation in if not to use it? (1)

Desler (1608317) | about a year ago | (#45480669)

What doesn't make sense? Automation fails and human intervention is needed, but some of the humans he are needed to intervene don't have the skills to do so.

In the SIMULATOR? (1)

jcr (53032) | about a year ago | (#45480393)

Wait, what? Why in the world would someone use the auto pilot in a simulator? Isn't the whole point of the simulator to let the pilot get more stick time without the fuel cost?

-jcr

Re:In the SIMULATOR? (4, Insightful)

ALeader71 (687693) | about a year ago | (#45480413)

It depends on the simulation. If you are training for a cross oceanic flight, you would simulate switching out flight crews and long periods where you would normally use auto pilot. The simulation would toss various problems at you to break up what is normally a dry, boring routine so you know how to handle different problems.

Personally, I think we're just a few years away from a fully automatic flying experience.

Re:In the SIMULATOR? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45480449)

Most future pilots can only dream of training to the level of the famous blue angels (usaf stunt-team),

but even the blue angels could not have pulled off 9-11

Dr. Henry Kissmyass has been spotted alighting from Silversteins private-jet

Re:In the SIMULATOR? (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45480529)

Most future pilots can only dream of training to the level of the famous blue angels (usaf stunt-team),

The Blue Angels are the Navy demonstration team. The USAF demonstration team are called the Thunderbirds.

Having your facts straight may go a long way in not being labeled an ignorant kook for your conspiracy theories. Just saying.

Re:In the SIMULATOR? (2)

canadiannomad (1745008) | about a year ago | (#45480465)

Personally, I think we're just a few years away from a fully automatic flying experience.

Me too. Honestly I can't imagine a human surviving as many crashes as our black boxes have.. The combined learning from all of those, as well as the automation we already have ought to be able to out perform a human right to the last moment, when human pilots may have been incapacitated by movements or G-forces. We are getting better and better at explaining to these moving robots how to handle themselves in all sorts of crazy situations.

Just think about the Google Car that has to handle far crazier things then you would ever encounter in the air or on a landing strip. Even impromptu landing strips could be better judged by a computer with all the sensors at its disposal. (And it would be better able to analyze all the data then any human in a panic.)

Re:In the SIMULATOR? (2, Interesting)

Shinobi (19308) | about a year ago | (#45480499)

A human can get an appreciation of velocity even without working pitot tubes, in a middle of a weather system where GPS doesn't work. The flight computer can't handle that, which is why it disconnected and warned in the case of the Air France flight.

In the case of the Hudson River landing, bird strikes took out both engines simultaneously, killing power. Pilot manually switched over to APU. Ironically however, in that case, the computer helped the pilot ditch the plane safely, once it had power again. With just the pilot, or just the flight computers, there would most likely have been dead people in the water.

Re:In the SIMULATOR? (1)

canadiannomad (1745008) | about a year ago | (#45480543)

I see no reason why a computer couldn't use visual clues and alternate sensors to detect velocity.. These may have been harder in the past, but certainly possible with today's technology.

I also see no reason why a computer couldn't visually see broken engines and do an emergency maneuver.

I also see no reason why a computer couldn't learn from the Hudson landing and be able to do similar maneuvers.

I see the pilot being needed at this time, but I also see that in the not too distant future a computer could do a better job then the original.

Re:In the SIMULATOR? (4, Informative)

Shinobi (19308) | about a year ago | (#45480639)

What alternate sensors, that aren't already in use? GPS? Far less reliable than pitot tubes, due to weather, and that's just one example. Come on, practical engineering please, and not crackpipe dreaming....

And the systems to see the broken engines would be powered by what? Also, the emergency maneuvers have to be programmed in, based on human experience. Humans also have the advantage of being able to generalise and abstracting, able to adapt from one situation to fit into another situation more or less on the fly.

Hudson landing, until the pilot activated the APU, the flight computer was crippled.

Let's face it, automated cars is a fundamentally easier to solve problem, due to far fewer variables and complications, and weaker forces involved.

Re:In the SIMULATOR? (1)

I'm New Around Here (1154723) | about a year ago | (#45480801)

What alternate sensors, that aren't already in use?

The ones they can develop and add to the plane in a few years. Not something already on the plane for some other function.

I'm guessing that's what he meant.

Re:In the SIMULATOR? (1)

LVSlushdat (854194) | about a year ago | (#45480821)

Let's face it, automated cars is a fundamentally easier to solve problem, due to far fewer variables and complications, and weaker forces involved.

Cars=moving in X and Y axis... Aircraft=moving in X, Y AND Z axis...

Re:In the SIMULATOR? (2)

Shinobi (19308) | about a year ago | (#45480863)

Don't forget about wind moving in X, Y and Z, ambient temperature, ambient pressure, humidity, precipitation, other objects moving in X, Y AND Z. And as I said, the forces involved in an aircraft flight are greater.

Re:In the SIMULATOR? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45480981)

Most of that has already been mostly modelled for existing autopilot systems.

Re:In the SIMULATOR? (2)

Shinobi (19308) | about a year ago | (#45481101)

Keyword there being "mostly".

Also, far more extensive than an automated car would need.

The thing is, the aircraft autopilots are not AI's, and are tasked with routine tasks such as stabilising the plane, maintaining a level course etc. Adding decision making beyond "sensor data unavailable, alert pilot and disengage" would require you to carry a cluster on board, and a beefy expert system at the very least, preferably an AI....

Re:In the SIMULATOR? (1)

rmstar (114746) | about a year ago | (#45481103)

Let's face it, automated cars is a fundamentally easier to solve problem, due to far fewer variables and complications, and weaker forces involved.

Cars=moving in X and Y axis... Aircraft=moving in X, Y AND Z axis...

AND on top of it, it has to keep moving at a speed above some minimum velocity with respect to the surrounding air. A car can just stop. It may be dangerous, but not as much as when a plane just stops in the middle of the air.

Re:In the SIMULATOR? (1)

IndustrialComplex (975015) | about a year ago | (#45480835)

And the systems to see the broken engines would be powered by what? Also, the emergency maneuvers have to be programmed in, based on human experience. Humans also have the advantage of being able to generalise and abstracting, able to adapt from one situation to fit into another situation more or less on the fly.

If you are to the point where your engines are broken, and you have completely lost power so much that the FCS is down, I'm not quite sure how much any pilot is going to be able to help you on a large aircraft. He couldn't even get on the intercom to tell people to 'smoke em if they got em' if it reached the level of bad you are describing.

Re:In the SIMULATOR? (1)

Shinobi (19308) | about a year ago | (#45480887)

Read up on and watch a few documentaries about the Hudson River crash landing

Re:In the SIMULATOR? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45480921)

APU sure sounds like a battery to me..... I think they already have those, and can even turn them on when generators fail! Wow, I know!

Re:In the SIMULATOR? (1)

fisted (2295862) | about a year ago | (#45480829)

I see no reason why a computer couldn't use visual clues and alternate sensors to detect velocity.. These may have been harder in the past, but certainly possible with today's technology.

Check.

I also see no reason why a computer couldn't visually see broken engines and do an emergency maneuver.

Check.

I also see no reason why a computer couldn't learn from the Hudson landing and be able to do similar maneuvers.

No. We are unlikely to see that before someone comes up with strong A.I.

Re:In the SIMULATOR? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45480623)

A human can get an appreciation of velocity even without working pitot tubes, in a middle of a weather system where GPS doesn't work. The flight computer can't handle that, which is why it disconnected and warned in the case of the Air France flight.

The flight computer can't handle that yet. I mean, where comes the human's appreciation of velocity from? Well, three sources: Experience (which is just collected data), knowledge of physical relations (that's the easiest thing to program in), and experience from the senses (which is essentially sensor data). Nothing which could not be replicated in software. The point is that the computer would have to be programmed to estimate missing data from one sensor from available data from other sensors (and also simple check routines to estimate the reliability of data; but I guess they are already built in, to know when to give up control to the pilot). The more sensors are available, the better.

In the case of the Hudson River landing, bird strikes took out both engines simultaneously, killing power. Pilot manually switched over to APU.

Well, for that step, you'd not need a trained pilot, a standard technician would suffice. Indeed, probably it could even be automated, with a separate low-power computer running on battery which starts the APU as soon as the normal power fails. Actually, on a completely autonomous plane I could even imagine the APU running all the time, to prevent the computer to ever be without power.

Re:In the SIMULATOR? (4, Interesting)

Shinobi (19308) | about a year ago | (#45480739)

"The flight computer can't handle that yet. I mean, where comes the human's appreciation of velocity from? Well, three sources: Experience (which is just collected data), knowledge of physical relations (that's the easiest thing to program in), and experience from the senses (which is essentially sensor data). Nothing which could not be replicated in software. The point is that the computer would have to be programmed to estimate missing data from one sensor from available data from other sensors (and also simple check routines to estimate the reliability of data; but I guess they are already built in, to know when to give up control to the pilot). The more sensors are available, the better."

The computer is already programmed to use multiple sensors, such as multiple pitot tubes for example. Despite research, pitot tubes are still the most reliable sensors we have for this application, GPS is way too unreliable. And in case of Air France, all 3 pitot tubes froze over, making the flight computer completely blind(And forget about GPS or other radio based navigational aid in the weather they were in, in the region they were in...)

Also, experience is not just collected data. Experience is the knowledge extracted through sifting and analysis of the collected data, and perhaps generalised and abstracted upon also, to possibly be adapted in whole or part to other situations. A rookie trooper that's gone through training has collected lots of data. But the trooper is still completely inexperienced until he or she has been through the real deal, and seen what works, what didn't work, how it worked, and what can be learned from it. Same thing with pilots. To equate a pilots decision making, you'd need a beefy cluster to handle the expert system, image recognition, processing all the sensor data to give better spatial awareness, and recognize for example an improvised landing strip that is suitable.

Re:In the SIMULATOR? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45481175)

The computer is already programmed to use multiple sensors, such as multiple pitot tubes for example. Despite research, pitot tubes are still the most reliable sensors we have for this application, GPS is way too unreliable. And in case of Air France, all 3 pitot tubes froze over, making the flight computer completely blind(And forget about GPS or other radio based navigational aid in the weather they were in, in the region they were in...)

And you think the pilot's appreciation of velocity was as precise as the pitot tubes? I strongly doubt it.

Not to mention that GPS is hardly the only data available. There's inertial navigation. There's ATC. There's the data from the engines. And there's data of how the plane reacts on the steering maneuvers. And probably a large number of other data sources. And, of course, the last readings from the pitot tubes before they failed.

Of course as long as you have functioning pitot tubes, the computer should use that for getting the velocity (but also track the other data, so it can do better error estimation when the pitot tubes are failing). But there's no reason why the computer shouldn't be able to fallback to other data when the pitot tubes are no longer available. After all, it's exactly what the pilot does when he "appreciates" the velocity.

That it isn't implemented in current systems doesn't mean it couldn't be implemented. However it would cost money to do so, therefore as long as is isn't considered necessary (because, after all, it's a rare case and there's a pilot which can take over if necessary) it won't get implemented.

Re:In the SIMULATOR? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45481083)

Human understanding of velocity can easily get out of whack. It relies on vestibular and visual cueing to determine orientation. Vestibular cuing can easily get reset to something wrong without a correlating visual cue.

Re:In the SIMULATOR? (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about a year ago | (#45480961)

And what if the auto land system (on the ground) is off / not working right then what does the auto airline do?

Re:In the SIMULATOR? (3, Funny)

I'm New Around Here (1154723) | about a year ago | (#45480771)

Personally, I think we're just a few years away from a fully automatic flying experience.

No, there will always be guild navigators. The spice must flow.

Re:In the SIMULATOR? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45480455)

Why in the world would someone use the auto pilot in a simulator?

That's not what the article is saying. It says that the pilots should do more manual flying in real planes, and more flying in simulators. Both would strengthen the skills.

Anyway, there are situations in which you would want to have your autopilot fly in a simulator: When you want to test your autopilot before you put it into a real plane, or, if it failed on a real flight, to determine why it failed.

Re:In the SIMULATOR? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45480489)

What really twists my noodle is the knowledge that a new pilot, after completing sim training, fly's a real airliner for the first time on a normal commercial flight with a full load of passengers.

Re:In the SIMULATOR? (4, Informative)

SJHillman (1966756) | about a year ago | (#45480537)

It's kind of expensive to put them in an empty commercial plane just for training. That's why they usually have a more experienced pilot in charge who can take over if necessary. And the argument of having them fly a plane that's not full goes against the "every life is precious" philosophy that most western countries embrace. Sooner or later, they have to make the leap.

Re:In the SIMULATOR? (2)

91degrees (207121) | about a year ago | (#45480565)

There are two pilots. I may be wrong here, but one of the pilots will presumably have actual flying experience. And even a pilot who has never flown that specfic type of plane before will have plenty of experience flying large planes.

Re:In the SIMULATOR? (1)

fisted (2295862) | about a year ago | (#45480849)

Damn it, this is chicken-egg. What about the first pilot ever?!

Re:In the SIMULATOR? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45481043)

The first pilot (Wilbur Wright) ended up fine. But the second one did get himself involved in a fatal plane crash [about.com] within his first few years.

Re:In the SIMULATOR? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45480667)

What really twists my noodle is the knowledge that a new pilot, after completing sim training, fly's a real airliner for the first time on a normal commercial flight with a full load of passengers.

In which case it should twist your noodle even more that someone learning to drive gets into a car on a normal road from day one without even simulator training.

Re:In the SIMULATOR? (2)

LVSlushdat (854194) | about a year ago | (#45480881)

What really twists my noodle is the knowledge that a new pilot, after completing sim training, fly's a real airliner for the first time on a normal commercial flight with a full load of passengers.

Yeah, but that *new* pilot has several hundred hours of flight time (ie: Commercial pilots license by FAA, PLUS an instrument rating, certifying he's able to fly safely in the soup) in other aircraft before an airline will even talk to him.. He trains for MANY in that full-motion simulator for the type aircraft he will fly for the airline before he ever sits in the right seat (First Officer)....

Re:In the SIMULATOR? (4, Informative)

ImdatS (958642) | about a year ago | (#45480841)

In fact, an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) need at least 1,500 hours of practical, i.e. non-simulator flying experience before they can become one. A commercial airline pilot (level below ATP), needs at least 250 hours. And that's not to say "... in his lifetime ...", there are even more restrictions.

Yes, they usually do ALSO train in simulators, but the hours required here must be actual plane-flying.
The problem with long-distance flights is though that most of the time there is really nothing to do for pilot once the plane reaches the cruising altitude and auto-pilot is on (even on smaller planes). You have to watch the skies, the instruments, listen to radio - and that's it. Most of the work is done during take-off and landing (approach).

Re:In the SIMULATOR? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45480609)

> Why in the world would someone use the auto pilot in a simulator?

1) automatic pilots are complex instruments and pilots need training with those too.
2) you have to train pilots to spot autopilot errors and mistakes and take corrective action.

It's definitely dangerous to take an unexperienced(for example at the start of training) pilot and put him in the difficult conditions when the above training is really needed, there are no extra safety margins in certain bad weather conditions.

For example zero visibility instrumental landings are made on full autopilot, but the pilots need to be trained to take over from the autopilot safely in case of any kind of malfunction even at the very last minute. This is a dangerous thing to simulate in a real plane with unexperienced pilots at the commands, pilots are allowed to perform this on real planes in simulated conditions only after proving proficient in simulators.

There are a lot more examples I could list, but they all in fact are variations of point 1 and 2.

Re:In the SIMULATOR? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45480773)

There are many cases where you would want to use the autopilot in the simulator.

First off, is getting familiar with how to properly use the autopilot's controls, which include not only heading and altitude, but speed (Autopilot and Autothrottle).
Since each airliner's systems differ, practice would be needed to get familiar with where the functions are for that aircraft type (think systems admin learning a new server appliance).

Second is using autopilot to allow the airplane to fly, while you troubleshoot a failure (such as landing gear not deploying, or having to rerprogram the navigation system to an alternate airport due to weather).

Third is to set up a 'normal' condition (on autopilot) so the instructor can provide autopilot failures, such as a trim runaway, sensor failure, or partial autopilot failure, and make sure the pilot knows how the remaining automatic systems will react when part of them is not working.

I'm sure there are a lot of other cases that the sim would be on autopilot.

I fly manually quite a bit (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45480417)

As soon as I'm on the STAR, I go _mostly_ manual. I fly the entire approach pattern manually, with the exception of speed control (since that is critical to maintain spacing, I have to make sure I'm not going faster or slower than the ATC suggestion, at risk of being spun).

I also fly my own bird every weekend at least a couple of hours.

I agree there is too much automation in the cockpit, and that it is relied upon too heavily, especially during departure and approach.

Pilots are highly overrated (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45480429)

All planes come down with or without pilots.

Re:Pilots are highly overrated (5, Funny)

SJHillman (1966756) | about a year ago | (#45480443)

Well yes, but pilots help make sure they can go back up again.

DC-3 (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45480431)

Start them off flying something like DC-3's and 4's like Buffalo Airlines, and you won't have these problems.

It goes both ways (4, Interesting)

dunkelfalke (91624) | about a year ago | (#45480435)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aeroflot_Flight_593 [wikipedia.org]

"Despite the struggles of both pilots to save the aircraft, it was later concluded that if they had just let go of the control column, the autopilot would have automatically taken action to prevent stalling, thus avoiding the accident"

And reading this:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pulkovo_Aviation_Enterprise_Flight_612 [wikipedia.org]

I'd rather have a computer flying the airplane I am sitting in, than a hairless ape.

Re:It goes both ways (1)

MurukeshM (1901690) | about a year ago | (#45480527)

That quote reminded me of Michael Crichton's Airframe. Was he basing it on that crash?

Re:It goes both ways (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45480577)

I'd rather have a computer flying the airplane I am sitting in, than a hairless ape.

No matter what Talespin tells us, a balding orangutan makes for a terrible copilot.

Re:It goes both ways (5, Interesting)

nedlohs (1335013) | about a year ago | (#45480611)

But then you have things like http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turkish_Airlines_Flight_1951 [wikipedia.org] in which the autopilot decided that 2000 feet high was a good place to do a landing flare, shortly followed by the expected plummet to the ground.

What you should rather have is the computer flying the plane with a competent human pilot to save the day when something goes wrong (usually with the various sensors the computer it using). But of course, and it's what the article is about, if the plane is almost always under computer control how do you keep the human pilots competent. Since, as you're examples point out and my example points out, incompetent crews make things worse and don't save the day when the computer has issues either.

Re:It goes both ways (1)

dunkelfalke (91624) | about a year ago | (#45480811)

Well, it was really not a computer issue, but a broken sensor that, for some reason, was not replaced by the techs on the ground. Garbage in - garbage out.

Re:It goes both ways (1)

nedlohs (1335013) | about a year ago | (#45481079)

Rght, but sensors do break. At which point a human pilot is going to be preferable to a computer using garbage data.

And some failures occur in flight without any chance for service techs to find and fix them, such as http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qantas_Flight_72 [wikipedia.org]

Usually such failures just result in the autopilot turning itself off and the humans taking over - not really an option if you want to ditch the human pilots altogether.

I'm not disagreeing with the basics though. A computer is much less likely to be tired, or have been drinking, or to forget a step. However, our current solution to errors being detected in the sensors is "let the human pilots fly it", I don't think we have another solution for that just yet.

Re:It goes both ways (1)

Desler (1608317) | about a year ago | (#45480683)

I'd rather have a computer flying the airplane I am sitting in, than a hairless ape.

And when the computer goes down? Or do you really think that these systems never fail?

Re:It goes both ways (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45480775)

than a hairless ape.

I'm a hairy ape, you insensitive clod!

Well, DUH. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45480437)

Automation uses way less fuel than manual flight. because computers deal with exact numbers, not hunches.

Re:Well, DUH. (1)

fisted (2295862) | about a year ago | (#45480875)

exact

As exact as float, or more exact, like double?

Re:Well, DUH. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45480979)

Fine if you are able to command the plane with a precision better than 2*10^-308, then you can take over.

nt (1)

A beautiful mind (821714) | about a year ago | (#45480445)

Pilots either need more control or we should admit that they're just safety technicians in case something goes wrong and train them accordingly - an air marshall for the plane itself who doesn't do anything under normal circumstances.

I love the pro US swing (5, Interesting)

Chrisq (894406) | about a year ago | (#45480477)

In a crash the fact that is an airbus has to be mentioned. When an airbus behaves under dramatic conditions it becomes a "US Airways plane"!

Re:I love the pro US swing (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45480733)

These dramatic conditions in an air vehicle (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bbv5B71KmkA [youtube.com] ) are sufficient to cause any US Airways plane to be called "the space shuttle".

Re:I love the pro US swing (2)

I'm New Around Here (1154723) | about a year ago | (#45480963)

For the Air France example, it mentions what model of aircraft was involved, the Airbus A330. For a another flight, it didn't bother mentioning the model of the plane. It was an Airbus model? Googleing reveals it was the Airbus A320-214, with 155 passengers. (For your information, I thought it was a smaller commuter flight with a dozen passengers, which is all the more interest I had in the story when it happened. Does that make me a bad American? Or even a bad citizen of the world?)

Maybe the way it is written is more because we, in the US, are more likely to base our ticket purchases based on airline company than model of plane used, but for international stories involving places we'll never go and airlines we'll never fly with, we want more details.

When people mention crashes involving Boeing planes, do you automatically think it's a bash against the US?

Re:I love the pro US swing (0)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | about a year ago | (#45481047)

Certain people have stock interests. You didn't think a big national media report on Taser deaths coming out the week before Taser stock went public was a coincidence, did you?

Re:I love the pro US swing (1)

UnknowingFool (672806) | about a year ago | (#45481051)

Airbus is mentioned I think because Airbus simply has put in more automation in their planes and thus some pilots prefer to fly them.

They're sometimes required to fly on autopilot (4, Informative)

Jay Maynard (54798) | about a year ago | (#45480491)

There are a couple of parts of the flight where the pilot is required to use the automation. The biggest is during cruise in what's known as RVSM airspace, where the vertical separation minimums are reduced from what was standard before RVSM was implemented. There, if your autopilot quits, ATC will send you down below the RVSM floor. RVSM is in use above some altitude in the 48 states and on transAtlantic routes. (I don't recall the exact altitude.)

The other is in flying an instrument approach to very low altitudes, known as a category III approach. IIRC, those must be flown on autopilot in order to continue below category III minimums.

There were shitty pilots before automation (1)

JoeyRox (2711699) | about a year ago | (#45480505)

The majority of plane crashes are caused by pilot error, either in isolation or in response to equipment failure and/or adverse environmental/weather conditions. Flight systems were automated to help avoid or minimize those errors by reducing the mental workload required to manage the plane in those scenarios. Great pilots utilize that automation to improve the overall safety of their flight operations. Bad and lazy pilots use automation as a crutch for their poor airmanship. In the absence of automation bad pilots would still be bad pilots but the number of adverse incidents caused by pilot error would be higher. The solution is better employment screening, skills monitoring, and training, and not cutting back or removing the automation.

Re:There were shitty pilots before automation (0)

Desler (1608317) | about a year ago | (#45480705)

The solution is better employment screening, skills monitoring, and training, and not cutting back or removing the automation.

Couldn't even be bothered to read the summary? Nowhere was it mentioned to cut back or remove automation and more training was specifically mentioned as requirement to make sure the pilots where competent.

Re:There were shitty pilots before automation (2)

JoeyRox (2711699) | about a year ago | (#45481075)

Couldn't even be bothered to read between the lines? I read the summary and the article, The natural reaction to stories like this to debate whether automation is a good idea, so I offered my opinion on that matter.

Yes, manual flight much better! (5, Funny)

jobsagoodun (669748) | about a year ago | (#45480509)

Especially when you park your DreamLifter at the wrong airport [cnn.com]

Re:Yes, manual flight much better! (1)

kj_in_ottawa (838840) | about a year ago | (#45480569)

Read the comments on CNN. Most of the best one-liners from "Airplane" are there.

Nice for a morning laugh

The Airbus helped (4, Insightful)

jfdavis668 (1414919) | about a year ago | (#45480511)

When Capt Sullenberger landed on the Hudson, the aircraft software worked to prevent his stall. But his flying skill is what safely landed the plane. His knowledge of what the aircraft can and cannot do was critical. He even realized he needed the APU for the computers to continue operating, and turned it on early in the emergency. His actions showed that he understood his plane and how to fly it. Some pilots are forgetting the "fly it" part.

This is such great news for son (4, Interesting)

Loundry (4143) | about a year ago | (#45480517)

My son is 13 years old and has been training to be a pilot since he was 11. He has taken off and landed a small airplane (with the PIC in the airplane with him, of course) quite a few times. It just goes to show that landing an airplane isn't as difficult as some people think it is ... it just requires focus and passion. Both of which my son has in spades when he's flying an airplane.

This news story struck me as wonderful news. My son has wanted to be a pilot since he was three years old. If you are one of the lucky few (I am not) who knew what he wanted to be for his whole life, then I envy you as much as I envy my son for having a singular great dream. The notion of drones and computerized pilots scares me because it threatens that dream. Stories in which autopilots and drones are slandered make me happy.

Re:This is such great news for son (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45480885)

If you haven't looked into it yet, try finding a local soaring organization [ssa.org] . The FAA requirements are looser for sailplanes, your son could potentially solo as early as next year!

Also, good on you for getting your son flight lessons! My parents bought me flight lessons as a teenager, and I'm very grateful to them for doing so. I never finished my license because time and money ran out when I went to college, but now that I have a job and free time I'm flying again - only much more cheaply because I don't have to pay for (nearly as much) fuel.

Re:This is such great news for son (1)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | about a year ago | (#45481095)

My Droid phone wants to be a pilot, too, but I said no. It's not that it can't handle it, it's that it's still stuck under this Verizon contract.

Autopilot is like password fill-in (1)

tompaulco (629533) | about a year ago | (#45480521)

The autopilot functions similar to password fill-in on your web browser. It makes it much more convenient for you to login to all of your sites without having to remember all those passwords.
The autopilot failing is like when your computer crashes, and now neither your browser, nor you, remember your passwords.

exemplified by Capt. Chesley Sullenberger (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45480523)

Well, cause more all-engine failures then. That's the only reason he had to be manually flying.

Going to hell. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45480547)

Wi Tu Lo

Re:Going to hell. (1)

I'm New Around Here (1154723) | about a year ago | (#45481049)

Can you believe the idiot newscasters actually read that list on the air?

Everyone in that newsroom should have been fired for extreme stupidity.

The Problems (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45480557)

I'm a manager at a world leading flight training company targeting major airlines all around the world, we train cadets from scratch on small aircraft and flight simulators in order to develop these basic skills and beyond (eg: ATPL and HPAT, type specific training etc.). I assist with developing syllabi and ensuring their compliance with numerous safety authorities all over the world. We looked into the Air France disaster to see how we can improve out syllabi to give students the skills to handle these atypical situations. To make a long story, the growing trend for airlines to want to cut costs on training and even remove what they call "unnecessary" training from syllabi is what is leading to this problem. The MPL is the prime example of this, this is my solution:
- Stop treating us like a factory, each student is different and can they can take longer to learn certain concepts. Fixed length integrated courses don't work if they don't have good margins for this.

- English is the language of aviation. If you bring us cadets who can't speak it, we have to teach them english within your timetable which degrades outcomes.
- Redo the MPL and bring back spinning, hand and feet skills etc.
- Whilst the MPL has a heavy focus on simulators, it needs to be a much bigger part of their renewals and professional development in order to re-enforce what they learnt during early stages of their career and training when they start working.
- Some airlines have poor quality control in their recruitment phases, is susceptible to corruption or have too many "token" cadets. Some people just aren't cut out to be pilots, identify this early not late.
- Airline and safety authority audits are a joke, Standards/QA Manager(s) should be mandatory, I've seen our competitors teach students very bad techniques because of a bad instructor or two and it poisons entire batches of students. Auditing needs to be proactive, integrated into systems and workflows and not just a visit a few times a year. to look through paper records or merely reactive in the case of a safety incident.
Remember, the training doesn't stop when the student is finished their course. Operators and manufacturer (Airbus, I'm looking at you) need to stop treating pilots like bus drivers and focusing only on fuel optimisation.
- This is minor but still important. Shock material. We aren't allowed to show students the imagery of air disasters any more. They can be and usually are gruesome by statistically effective, safety incidents in classes that were shown this material were halved compared to classes that weren't.

This opinion is my own and doesn't reflect that of my employer, doing it anonymously because our media policy prohibits these types of comments. I'd love to hear people's feedback on how training could be furthered improved, it's what gets me up in the morning, trying to fight the system.

Re:The Problems (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45480575)

Sorry for the mistakes, I'm typing these comments out on my phone.

Re:The Problems (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45481011)

...while flying

Re:The Problems (1)

I'm New Around Here (1154723) | about a year ago | (#45481063)

Well, pull over to the side of the highway and type it out.

Re:The Problems (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45481097)

How long before the pilot flies the plane remotely from china/india? And landing/takeoff is pure autopilot guided by the local ATC?

Re:The Problems (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45481165)

OP here: I think it'll start with freight aircraft first before RPT. The big question will be, will we see large fully automated aircraft or fully automated cars first? It'll be interesting to see how ICAO adjusts to the advent of large scale commercial UAVs.

Stick and rudder skills are testable (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45480673)

Just require the pilot to demonstrate glider Silver badge proficiency once a year.

http://www.ssa.org/BadgesAndRecords#Silver

Re:Stick and rudder skills are testable (1)

LVSlushdat (854194) | about a year ago | (#45480969)

Just require the pilot to demonstrate glider Silver badge proficiency once a year.

http://www.ssa.org/BadgesAndRecords#Silver

Sounds like the AirCanada 767 pilot who landed the "Gimli Glider" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gimli_Glider [wikipedia.org] back in 1983 might have those credentials...

Landing at the wrong airport? (1)

wcrowe (94389) | about a year ago | (#45481171)

I read the /. piece, then I came across this news item [cnn.com] . Even with automation, how do you land at the wrong airport?

Load More Comments
Slashdot Login

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?