FAA Discovers That Commercial Pilots Suck at Manually Flying Planes

Excited about flying home for Thanksgiving to see your family and friends' shining faces? Well, you won't be after reading this! Because according to a soon-to-be released study commissioned by the FAA, if it weren't for automated systems, our pilots would suck at flying—bad.

That doesn't mean automation is evil, though. In fact, over the past few decades, automated flying systems have been a huge part of what makes flying so safe. However, because plane automation has proved so dependable, it's also making our pilots lazy. The Wall Street Journal explains:

The study found that some pilots "lack sufficient or in-depth knowledge and skills" to properly control their plane's trajectory, partly because "current training methods, training devices and the time allotted for training" may be inadequate to fully master advanced automated systems.

By examining data from over 9,000 commercial flights world-wide, the FAA found that about two-thirds of the involved pilots either made mistakes using flight computers or simply had significant difficulty manually flying planes in general. And not only are these automation-reliant pilots a problem, they're actually the biggest threat to airliner safety world-wide, according to the study. The WSJ notes:

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.

The FAA's study wasn't all bad news. Observers were able to determine that, in the vast majority of cases, pilots were able to find and fix any automation errors before they could become serious problems. It's just in those cases in which serious problems did arise, the pilots were used to watching—not proactively "hand flying."

Fortunately, the agency's meticulously collected findings—detailed in the 277-page report compiled by a team of industry, labor, academic, and government officials—have already spurred some action, specifically with 18 total recommendations in the form of new FAA rules. Among other changes, the report calls for more opportunities for pilots to "refine" manual flying skills as well as cockpit designs that are "more understandable from the flightcrew's perspective." So thankfully, it seems that every aspect of flying experience—both the pilot's actions and the design of the plane itself—is being held accountable.

The FAA will be discussing the necessary next steps on Thursday, Nov 28 at a summit with the industry's leaders, but of course, we won't be seeing the residual effects of these measures for some time. Still, while it's reassuring to know that the FAA is fully aware of the problem and looking to fix it, we can't help but wish they could have waited to tell us until after the holidays. [The Wall Street Journal]

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