Do pilots rely too much on automation?

“You eventually lose touch of stick and rudder skills”

Two air disasters in recent memory have been explained by pilots quickly getting confused when something goes wrong and not knowing how to take control of the plane. They depend so much on their computers, on automation, that valuable flying experience is forgotten.

The disasters, both in 2009, were the Air France crash in the Atlantic, killing 228 people, and a Continental Connection crash near Buffalo in the USA killing 50 people.

Automation has made flying safer. But a study by the University of Iowa suggests it may be making pilots lazy in the cockpit.

“You’re spending 90% of your time being a supervisor, and as such you eventually lose touch of the stick and rudder skills,” the university’s Dr Thomas Schnell explains.

The US Federal Aviation Administration put out an alert earlier this year telling pilots to focus on their manual flying skills. In 2006, an airline industry study concluded that a “pilot’s proficiency […] in basic flying seems to diminish” the more they use automation.


[photo courtesy Brussels Airlines]