Pilot Experience in Press Again

20/20 just ran a segment on pilot over reliance of automation. In many ways it was quite misleading, especially the “seven button push” to a foreign destination. Don’t get me wrong; I am a strong believer in stick and rudder skills. My novels: Project 7 Alpha, Vengeance and ENDGAME, all detail the importance of stick and rudder skills. From airliners, to bombers to fighters; it often was the difference between life and death.

The Asiana incident shows how far stick and rudder skills have deteriorated with some carriers; it has reached a critical point. Some “experts” think the answer is more automation; seriously? So we should expect an airliner to crash on a beautiful sunny day if the automation fails? Would you crash your car if the cruise control kicks off? Of course not; that is an over simplification but for experienced crews a very acceptable comparison.

So back to the 20/20 show and Mr. “Buttons”, it was hyperbole. Most pilots hand fly quite a bit at my airline (the same one he used to fly for). Certainly our training makes sure of that; even failing instruments to make sure we see worst case scenarios and can keep the blue side up. As I’ve pointed out repeatedly on this site, we could not operate into most of the airports of the USA with out hand flying. The reason there are delays when the weather is bad is because visual (normally hand flown) approaches can not be done.

Want proof it was hyperbole:

Which button did they push for that approach? Exactly; ridiculous.

Is International different from Domestic? Usually; by the nature of the beast Domestic requires hand flying. However, the normal progression is Domestic First Officer, to International First Officer, to Domestic Captain and if fortunate, finally International Captain. So hand flying experience is gained through out a pilots progression. And by the way, the landing shown above is an International destination. So why is there a problem now? Quite simply the systems are now good enough to stay on automation most of the time and automation has been pushed by some companies and manufacturers. The result is we are now seeing a new generation raised with automation, not stick and rudder skills as the primary competency. Most current pilots of US carriers flew B-727s, DC-9s and other older models before the modern systems were deployed.

Their training whether civilian or military was done in old hand flown aircraft with little or no technology. With newer airlines, including many foreign, the pilots were raised on technology only. The Multi Pilot License currently in use in parts of the world, makes this lack of stick and rudder skills critical.

Think it doesn’t matter:

I guarantee technology can’t hack that.

The safest way to operate an airliner is a mix of both. To over rely on either can meet with disaster or near. Are pilots better pilots when flying fighters and never using any automation? Definitely; are they safer? Obviously not, fighters crash much more often than airliners, as it should be. As always the proper mix of all skills and technology is the best way to operate any complex machine.


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