Pilots Have Become Too Reliant on Computers
Robert Mark: Asiana crash proves the point
By John Johnson, Newser Staff
Posted Dec 11, 2013 12:11 PM CST
In this July 6 aerial file photo, the wreckage of the Asiana Flight 214 airplane is seen after it crashed at San Francisco International Airport.   (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)

(Newser) – Computers do pretty much everything these days when it comes to flying planes, all but reducing the role of airline pilot to "systems monitor," writes Robert Mark at CNN. This is a dangerous trend, he argues, as this week's public hearings into the July crash of an Asiana Airlines jet in San Francisco should remind us. Pilots risk becoming so dependent on the computers that they fail to notice actual problems. "Is it any wonder that with so little practice actually manually handling the aircraft's flight controls and making many of the critical decisions that are now handed off to the computers that the pilots often find their minds wandering?" asks Mark.

In the Asiana crash, the pilots failed to realize that the altitude-controlling "auto throttles" were not operating as the jet approached the airport. Which means that neither the computers nor the humans in the cockpit were in charge at a critical moment. So, yes, the pilots should have noticed, but the airline industry must immediately improve its human-computer relations in the cockpit, writes Mark. We need smarter designs, less confusing messages, and pilots better trained for both the flying and the "system monitor" aspects of their jobs. "Without a defined plan of action soon, we may see another crash on the horizon before too long." Click for his full column.

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Showing 3 of 8 comments
Dec 11, 2013 5:12 PM CST
"Without a defined plan of action soon, we may see another crash on the horizon before too long." Unlikely. How many hundreds of thousands of flights have there been before and after this crash where this wasn't an issue? This very well have been a one in ten million event that won't happen again for years. Airbus sells their freaking planes based on their autopilot systems and automated technology. Nothing needs to change.
Dec 11, 2013 4:28 PM CST
Lack of intuition and lack of ability to make an independent decision is the problem in today's computerized world. Professionals have to obey the rules imposed on them and they could be a subject to a lawsuit should something bad happen and they didn't follow the protocol. The Pilot who landed the plane on Hudson River is one of the few left, you might call them "Last of Mohicans".
Dec 11, 2013 3:58 PM CST
How can they NOT be "reliant" on computers? Computers do virtually everything that happens in the aircraft. There is NO direct link between the control surfaces and the cockpit. It's ALL fed into and out of computers.