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.