The rise of autopilot and other automated technologies in commercial airliners are rendering pilots into incompetent drones. Drones who don't know what to do when a plane's systems malfunctions. Airline officials are calling this looming disorder "automation addiction." Lovely!
The AP attributes part of this trend to FAA regulations, which force pilots to keep the autopilot turned on for all but a few minutes of the flight (namely take off and landing), depriving pilots of opportunity to fly with manual controls.
A draft FAA study found pilots sometimes "abdicate too much responsibility to automated systems." Because these systems are so integrated in today's planes, one malfunctioning piece of equipment or a single bad computer instruction can suddenly cascade into a series of other failures, unnerving pilots who have been trained to rely on the equipment.
The study examined 46 accidents and major incidents, 734 voluntary reports by pilots and others as well as data from more than 9,000 flights in which a safety official rode in the cockpit to observe pilots in action. It found that in more than 60 percent of accidents, and 30 percent of major incidents, pilots had trouble manually flying the plane or made mistakes with automated flight controls.
But government regulation isn't entirely to blame here. Passengers shouldn't be Guinea Pigs while a pilot acquires experience flying without autopilot. Regulation isn't stopping the airlines from providing extra training sessions for pilots, it's the threat of shrinking profit margins. Like the article points out that Commercial airlines have become too tightfisted to properly pay the best pilots available. And they're also too cheap to give the pilots they do have the training time they need with manual flight controls.
As it stands right now, the customer loses either way. [AP]