back to article FAA wants pilots to be less dependent on computer autopilots

The US Federal Aviation Administration has issued new guidance calling for flight procedures and training to ensure that pilots can operate aircraft manually, without being too dependent on automated systems. The guidance comes in the form of an Advisory Circular, issued on Monday. It's directed at aircraft operators …

  1. Bartholomew

    Dum dum dum dum dum

    > The EASA has filed a working paper to develop ways for commercial airlines to operate with a single pilot rather than two of them.

    There is a reason most high availability computer systems have either active-standby or active-active configurations. Unless the pilot is just there for redundancy and supervision of a 100% automatic pilot, to me it sounds like a way to reduce costs (and safety).

    1. Martin Gregorie

      Re: Dum dum dum dum dum

      A couple of points:

      1) no automated system can be considered reliable enough for a single pilot/driver to operate any passenger-carrying vehicle (*) without at least triple redundancy and with thoroughly documented and tested abilities for any failing component to be automatically disconnected.

      2) Would you trust any aircraft with just one pilot on board? Who monitors the robots if to sole pilot becomes incapacitated because they:

      - get ill?

      - get stunned by a gull or goose that smashes the windscreen and hits the pilot?

      3) if the vehicle loses all electrical power or runs out of fuel, recovery often becomes at least a two person job, but you've only provided one.

      * except a taxi or possibly rail traffic

      1. Sven Coenye

        Re: Dum dum dum dum dum


        (Or, maybe stay away from American Airlines altogether??)

      2. nintendoeats Silver badge

        Re: Dum dum dum dum dum

        Absolutely. I don't know what it costs per-ticket to have two pilots, but I'll pay it. The "two pilots" thing isn't just about balancing the workload, it's about having the ability to hand off control when incapacitated, or for one person to notice something the other doesn't.

        I watch an arseload of Air Crash Investigations. There are plenty of cases covered on that show where having two pilots unquestionably saved lives.

        1. Luiz Abdala

          Re: Dum dum dum dum dum

          And we all love those cases where the pilot/s are disabled and the PASSENGERS assume the yoke.

          I just watched an youtube episode the other month where the pilot and 2 passengers coming back from diving lessons out of Florida keys (or something like it) have this mishap: the aircraft takes a nosedive at full throttle as the pilot passes out, passenger takes over, does a miraculous recovery from said dive, and is lucky enough to have the open radio with ATC to call a mayday.

          The passenger, being a regular at intense adrenaline activities, gets directions from ATC, cool as cucumber, and lands a buttery smooth descent on one of the Miami airports.

          1. nintendoeats Silver badge

            Re: Dum dum dum dum dum

            That's pretty awesome.

            1. Luiz Abdala

              Re: Dum dum dum dum dum

              I think it was this one, analyzed on the youtube channel.


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          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            @Def - Re: Dum dum dum dum dum

            And there are a few more.

      4. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

        Re: Dum dum dum dum dum

        DLR comes to mind as a completely automated / driverless mode of transport.

        The difference is if I contemplate being involved in an accident on DLR I think "I *could* be killed", whereas for a plane the thought becomes "I *would* be killed"

      5. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Dum dum dum dum dum

        4) Pilot wants to do a German Wings and fly the plane into a mountain.

    2. Potemkine! Silver badge

      Re: Dum dum dum dum dum

      I'll play the devil's advocate:

      - We accept having only one "pilot" in trains, buses, helicopters and small planes. Why would that be different for bigger planes?

      - Between redundant automation and a meatbag, who is the least reliable? Humans keep crashing since they began trying to fly.

      - There were crashes caused by differences of perception between the two pilots.

      == Bring us Dabbsy back! ==

      1. jmch Silver badge

        Re: Dum dum dum dum dum

        - We accept having only one "pilot" in trains, buses, helicopters and small planes. Why would that be different for bigger planes?

        a) number of passengers involved is why we exclude buses, helicopters, small planes

        b) simplicity of operation is why we exclude trains. worst case scenario eg brake failure, you can cut power remotely. Really worst case scenarios on a train are multiple trains on a track or derailing caused by track damage (about which no number of train drivers can do anything), or derailing caused by overspeeding, again in most trains there is a failsafe and/or remote cutoff.

        - Between redundant automation and a meatbag, who is the least reliable? Humans keep crashing since they began trying to fly.

        In simple, well known scenarios I'd take automation any time. In an emergency I'd much rather have a (trained and experienced) meatbag.

        1. David Nash Silver badge

          Re: Dum dum dum dum dum

          Exactly, trains have a "dead man's handle" to cut the speed if the driver becomes incapacitated. And signalling intended to prevent trains getting close to each other.

          Whereas a dead man's handle in a plane is clearly not possible and the potential for disaster is greater because it's flying rather than on solid ground.

      2. 42656e4d203239 Silver badge

        Re: Dum dum dum dum dum

        - We accept having only one "pilot" in trains, buses, helicopters and small planes. Why would that be different for bigger planes?

        Risk and potential for damage.

        - Between redundant automation and a meatbag, who is the least reliable? Humans keep crashing since they began trying to fly.

        Redundant automation has no chance of dealing with a circumstance that it hasn't been trained for. There have been a number of incidents where control has been handed back to the unreliable meatbags, with no notice, because it all got a bit difficult for the automated systems.

        - There were crashes caused by differences of perception between the two pilots.

        There have been crashes caused by failure of automated systems - your point is?

      3. Ball boy Silver badge

        Re: Dum dum dum dum dum

        One pilot is acceptable in short haul flights: attention spans are minimised, the weather and the need for alternate flight plans won't vary *that much* in the vast majority of short flights and the planes tend to be smaller with fewer passengers to worry about - the whole deal is significantly less complex.

        However, long haul? If nothing else, if you only have one pilot, who's in charge when they need a pee? And when one of the 200 passengers decides to throw a tantrum and the pilot (who has ultimate management responsibility) is asked to intervene, who looks after the ship then? And you're sure one person has the capacity to deal with a flame-out while also planning an alternate, talking to ground, making sure the crew know what to plan for AND keep everything fairly level 'cause I'm not convinced.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Dum dum dum dum dum

          "One pilot is acceptable in short haul flights: "

          Short haul flights tend to have higher work load because generally you are in congested airspace most of the time. A lot of accidents happen because of misheard instructions, pilot inexperience or distractions. Having a 2nd pair of eyes during the critical flight phases (Short haul - pretty well all the time) is important

          1. JohnTill123

            Re: Dum dum dum dum dum

            One pilot can fly any size aircraft these days if and only if nothing goes wrong AND there are no difficult circumstances (bad weather, difficult airport, unusual circumstances...). When something does go wrong or pear-shaped, the people flying the aircraft need to do three things well: "Aviate", "Navigate" and "Communicate".

            A quick review of the problems apparent in the engine failure on the A380 flying Quantas flight 32: "Captain Champion de Crespigny concentrated on flying and managing the aircraft while the co-pilot focused on monitoring and sifting through the 100 electronic centralised aircraft monitor checklists." as per:

            100 checklists. Consider that!

            There's no way that one person, no matter how capable, could possibly deal with 100 checklists AND fly the aircraft, let alone navigate and communicate. The three other pilots in the cockpit also provided valuable help to the pilot and copilot. With only one person flying that aircraft, IMHO they would have most likely had a much less successful emergency landing.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              @JohnTill123 - Re: Dum dum dum dum dum

              And I will add British Airways Flight 5390. In this case, the first officer had no checklists and no approach chart at all but he managed to land the plane by himself.

              1. JohnTill123

                Re: @JohnTill123 - Dum dum dum dum dum

                Bear in mind flight 5390 had very little damage to the aircraft, and no compromise of the control-ability of the aircraft either. It was fairly clear weather and daytime. Also, there were three flight attendant staff immediately available to help untangle the captain's body from the controls and prevent the captain from exiting the aircraft: If he had slipped out of the aircraft he could have gone through an engine or damaged the tail. If those FAs had not been there, it may have been a very different outcome indeed.

        2. MachDiamond Silver badge

          Re: Dum dum dum dum dum

          "One pilot is acceptable in short haul flights: attention spans are minimised, the weather and the need for alternate flight plans won't vary *that much* in the vast majority of short flights and the planes tend to be smaller with fewer passengers to worry about - the whole deal is significantly less complex."

          Long or short haul makes little difference. Each one has a takeoff, landing and an aircraft that could go wrong. A good air crew will split up tasks in an emergency. One will be looking after a certain set of things and the one not flying can call out information as needed, manually navigate and/or be the designated radio operator. The Pilot In Command (PIC) is responsible for the safety of the people onboard and people/property on the ground as well. A "short haul" flight with 50 people onboard crashing would be a bad thing, but even worse if another 1,000 people in an office building died due to the aircraft impacting the building. Having 2 qualified pilots in front is a good idea.

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Dum dum dum dum dum

        Division of workload. In a 2 crew airplane, one pilot is in control, while the other is handling other tasks. On top of this, they should also be cross checking everything the other pilot is doing.

        In an emergency, the workload is much higher so you need the other pilot to be running checklists and doing anything else they can to take workload off the PiC. They can also discuss the issue to come to a better (hopefully) conclusion.

        In the QF32 incident, they were lucky that there were 4 pilots on deck as the workload was extreme. The two normal crew, a check pilot checking the captain and a check-check pilot checking the check pilot. After the incident, the captain flew the plane, the co-pilot ran the ECAMS (checklists) and the captain asked the two check pilots to handle other workload.

      5. martinusher Silver badge

        Re: Dum dum dum dum dum

        Trains are like elevators ("lifts") -- the can be operated safely without human help, the humans are there to supervise loading and unloading at stations and to deal with problems such as junk on the line.

        (That said, this really only applies to a commuter type train. Operating a two mile long freight train on a US railroad needs a lot of skill.)

  2. Eclectic Man Silver badge

    Inadequate descriptions

    "The complexities of the autothrottle and autopilot flight director systems that were inadequately described in Boeing’s documentation and Asiana’s pilot training"

    Boeing have a bit of a history with inadequate descriptions of automated systems in the 737 MAX wasn't the automatic stall preventions system inadequately described?


    Automation does have a place in systems, but the pilots must understand what it does, how it works, and how to correct any problems in flight.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Inadequate descriptions

      "Automation does have a place in systems, but the pilots must understand what it does, how it works, and how to correct any problems in flight."

      Especially including, how to switch the <redacted> thing OFF!!! ..... when it is flying you into the ground by fighting everything you are doing !!!

    2. cosmodrome

      Re: Inadequate descriptions

      But that would require documentation to be written which is expensive - and nobody is reading manuals anymore, anyway.

      1. jmch Silver badge

        Re: Inadequate descriptions

        True but it wasn't the documentation that was expensive in this case, it was that it was a whole new system that would have needed recertification (very expensive, much more so than documentation). So it went undocumented so it would not be understood that it was a massive change that needed recertification

    3. Strahd Ivarius Silver badge

      Re: Inadequate descriptions

      Automation does have a place in systems

      FAA: but not on Boeing planes

      EASA: and is fine on Airbus planes

  3. Alan J. Wylie

    Air France Flight 447

    Another example of a tragedy resulting from the interaction of automated systems and humans.

    Wikipedia article

    The Airbus A330 is "fly by wire" and has several flight control modes: "Normal Law" and two "Alternate Laws". These map the movement of the yoke or joystick into movement of the control surfaces.

    A pitot tube was probably blocked with ice, returned the wrong air speed. The autopilot disconnected and transitioned from "normal law" to "alternate law 2". A human pilot took the controls, and to cut a long story short pulled back on the stick, causing the aircraft to climb rapidly, then stall.

    1. LogicGate Silver badge

      Re: Air France Flight 447

      And then he kept the stick pulled for the full descent from flight altitude.

      You have no idea how strong the urge to push the nose down is when stall like conditions are met.

      The behaviour in that cockpit had as much to do with aviating as playing super mario bros.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

        1. LogicGate Silver badge

          Re: Air France Flight 447

          Yep.. Horrifying..

          But what it really shows is a complete disconnect from aviating. You DONT continuously hold the stick fully pulled like that in any aircraft with a thrust to weight ratio less than 1.

          In my eyes, what he was doing was commanding the aircraft to climb, not flying it.

          OTOH.. I am writing this sitting in a comfortable chair, not from the cockpit of an airliner in a thunderstorm.

          In his mind, the fault may have been one of the elevator not responding to input or similar..

          Hindsight is a marvellous thing.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Left Wanting

    Unless it is spelled out in actually enforced regulations, the pilots performance will remain left wanting.

  5. Denarius

    late again, as usual

    sources inside industry told me after Air France event that airlines were running their pilots thru circuits in fully manually flown planes and discovering some of them were so dependent on computers they could not fly an ordinary plane. OTOH, some commercial pilots do the ultimate in handrolic flying, aerobatics.

    1. Peter2 Silver badge

      Re: late again, as usual

      That's hardly surprising.

      If you rely on something doing a job automatically, then after a certain while your skills in doing it manually get so rusty that they are essentially non existent.

      The obvious solution is to ensure that anybody who has a job mostly as a fallback to an automatic system does sufficient operations under manual control to ensure that they can do the job if needs be. In case of a pilot this would be that they need to take off and land their aircraft manually on occasion to ensure that they have the skills (and confidence) to do the job in an emergency.

      Even if you have manual checklists etc then if you've never used them then chances are that people can't even find them in an emergency, and if they did then they'd probably struggle to follow them.

  6. VoiceOfTruth Silver badge

    Check out TheFlightChannel on YouTube

    -> reduced design complexity and enhanced training on the airplane’s autoflight system

    The videos are reconstructions of crashes or near crashes or other such incidents. I categorise them roughly as:

    1. Pilot error - the pilots do the wrong thing at the wrong time. Quite often in these cases they do not follow the correct procedures, including checking. This includes misconfiguration for takeoffs as well as landings, running out of fuel due to miscalculation. There are also pilots in this group who are a bit too blasé with what they are doing - that is a serious pilot error indicative of somebody who should not be a pilot. The comments to some of these videos are full of "why didn't the pilot pull up when the 'pull up' or 'terrain terrain' alert was sounding?' It's pilot error, that's what it is. There's more than a few of these.

    2. Mechanical failure from whatever cause which in some cases it is not possible to recover from no matter how good the pilots are. These cases include onboard fires which damage controls beyond use.

    3. Mechanical failure which it is possible to recover from if the pilots are on the ball and/or have some luck. The landings may not be perfect but they are better than a total crash.

    4. Bad luck. It happens but shouldn't. There are cases where aircraft exit the runway due to weather conditions.

    5. Now we get to an interesting 5th group. These are the misunderstood or misread instruments and alerts during emergencies when the stress levels are high. There are all kinds of sensors on the aircraft, some of which generate very short alerts. I haven't counted but it's easy to see that some of them are less than 15 characters. In amongst all the other instruments it is like looking at half a watch display. I don't understand it. Why not have a screen to show the alerts in good old 80x25, in full without acronyms which the pilots have to remember? Sure, pilots are trained on this. There was a video I watched where the alert was concerning a fuel leak. The alert was ambiguous such that the pilots exacerbated the problem. Why not show 'fuel leak right wing tank number 1' or some such thing? The monitoring is in place, a better display would help. Coupled with point 5 is point 1, because there are monitors to report misconfigurations. I wonder if some of these pilots are used to seeing what they think they are seeing thanks to automation rather than 'flying the aircraft'.

    Autopilots and all the other tools are very useful and save considerable work for the pilots. But they do still need to fly the aircraft.

    1. molletts

      Re: Check out TheFlightChannel on YouTube

      Point 5 is an interesting one.

      On the one hand, presenting a simple, straightforward message in plain English sounds like a great idea: when the brown stuff hits the (turbo)fan, even the best-trained pilot is ultimately still a funny-looking ape and is susceptible to brain failure - hence the occasional tendency of pilots to pull up when their aircraft begins to stall and descend despite "knowing better". (That's also why you should always pay attention during the safety briefing, even if you've heard it a thousand times before - each additional hearing decreases the chance of your brain entering panic mode and going blank if you do ever need to take action.) A nice, easy message that doesn't require interpretation could be just what's needed to elicit an appropriate response.

      On the other hand, though, we need to be wary of letting the automatic systems over-interpret the sensor inputs (which may be wrong anyway) and potentially display an incorrect diagnosis which could then influence the pilots' own diagnosis (or, indeed, short-circuit it when the pressure is on). Sometimes, it's better to let the meatbags think it through for themselves, taking into account all their observations and experience.

      The other big problem with any automated system, be it the autopilot of a complex airliner or simply a high level of driver assistance in a car, is what happens when something occurs that the computer can't handle. It can take a few seconds for a person who has been largely out of the loop to overcome the startle response and re-establish a basic level of interactive control when the computer throws in the towel and dumps the controls back into their hands, and quite a bit longer to get back to full capacity. There's usually a bit more time before things go from bad to worse in an airliner with lots of empty air around it than there is in a car on a busy road, which is why we don't insist that pilots hand-fly the aircraft for hours on end, but it can still be an issue.

      1. Eclectic Man Silver badge

        Re: Check out TheFlightChannel on YouTube

        Regarding point 5, in the tragedy of the USS Vincennes' downing a commercial airliner*, the explanation was 'information overload'. There was so much data being presented to the human crew that the could not take it all in and process it in the time available.


      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Check out TheFlightChannel on YouTube

        in the near future:

        Airplane AI: there is an issue, fix it

        Pilot: what is the issue?

        Airplane AI: do your job, fix it!

        Pilot: what is the issue?

        Airplane AI: fix it!!!

        Pilot: what is the issue?


        (all similarity with people calling service desks is unintentional)

    2. FeepingCreature Bronze badge

      Also subscribe to MentourPilot

      Video on Asiana 214:

      In my personal opinion, airplanes rely far too much on heavily modal interfaces.

      1. VoiceOfTruth Silver badge

        Re: Also subscribe to MentourPilot

        Thumbs up for Mentour. He does some very clear explanations.

        1. stiine Silver badge

          Re: Also subscribe to MentourPilot

          And he has one specifically about this issue.

        2. Lars Silver badge

          Re: Also subscribe to MentourPilot

          "He does some very clear explanations".

          Yes quite often, but in this clip he also points out that landing without automation is less safe and creates more problems.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Commercial pilots are useless at flying planes. The moment the autopilot disconnects, they'll spend the next sixty seconds as the plane starts to bank and dive into the ground troubleshooting why the autopilot isn't working instead of grabbing the wheel and pushing it to stop the plane tipping over. Or it'll be telling them it's stalling and screaming STALL at them and they'll be pulling on the stick because their brain wants the plane to go up and normally it goes up when they do that and they can't understand why it isn't going up now. Fucking idiots commercial pilots are

    1. Doctor Evil

      Sorry -- you're wrong: Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger.

      I rest my case.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        He's a real old school ex military pilot, they don't make them like that any more.

        Today's ATPL graduate learns more about how to look good in the uniform, and leave the computers alone to fly the aircraft as most cost efficiently as possible. Even a PPL holder has more hands on manual flying time.

        1. swm

          It used to be that many pilots were recruited from the military and these pilots were trained to "fly the plane". Now, many pilots are civilians and never flew a plane in unusual attitudes etc.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            On the other hand there have been quite a number of crashes attributed to ex-military pilots basically saying 'I flew supersonic under tower bridge after 5 G&Ts while you were in primary school, so don't tell me how to fly this thi.....[crashing sound]

        2. I don't know, stop asking me.

          You realize that to obtain an ATPL you first have to get a PPL?

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            I'd rather be flown by a pilot with 500 hours experience, than 20,000. The one with 500 hours is fresh out of his single engine plane, and actually REMEMBERS how to fly. The one with 20,000 knows nothing except how to push the buttons on the computer and as soon as it stops working, will have literally forgotten how to fly.

            1. imanidiot Silver badge

              Depends very much on the pilot. A large portion of ATPL holders are also avid aviators outside the "heavy metal" and fly gliders or GA aircraft, specifically because they enjoy "true stick time".

    2. VoiceOfTruth Silver badge

      Failed pilot, eh? Didn't make the grade?

      In addition to Sully, look up BA flight 009 and volcanic ash. The pilots didn't panic even with four engines not running. Commercial pilots have one of the most regulated jobs out there.

    3. David Hicklin Bronze badge

      And the few cases that might exist are usually down to bad cockpit management (often for cultural reasons) and/or bad training.

      Obviously the ones where they did follow the training and procedures where one pilot takes over the controls whilst the other fault finds/diagnoses rarely get to feature on Air Crash Investigation, but where they do the contrast is quite striking.

    4. Eclectic Man Silver badge

      One of my friends qualified first as a private pilot and then as a commercial pilot, and now flies cargo jets. After getting his PPL, he took me up for a flight in a single engined Cessna light aircraft, which he flew very nicely. He let me have a go at the controls in flight as I have flown gliders. Great fun. He can fly me any day. (Cheers to Rob V. if you're reading this.)

    5. BillyMunny

      Your're funny. Ever considered a career in comedy?

      I flew my a$$ off as a flight instructor and commuter pilot before going to Boeings. As much as I complained way back when about ratty airplanes with no autopilots (or the 727 which had a really annique one), the hand flying gave life saving skills. Hell, I hit birds on RWY 4 more than a few times at LGA and was just lucky and never lost power. Sully did great and I postulate that other well seasoned pilots would do well too. It is good to have skill AND some good luck to help. May the unskilled and unlucky rest in peace.

      I'll say this: lots of good pilots still die because of things which were not of their making. Bad happened. Bad things will happen again.

      But bad things happen worse and more often to the reckless or the unprepared. Airlines are squeezing the system such that the recent generation of pilots are not getting the experience they need in terms of manual flying and exercising the judgements that go with it. They don't learn to manage time, workload, and develop discipline and a sense of when things are getting too risky. So they get into things they cannot get out of.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Oh dear

    I'll let you chaps handbag it out.

    To the journos: I'd be nice if you stopped perpetuating the fantasy that the autopilot "flies" the plane. It doesn't. It's just another tool.

    The function of flight automation (the autopilot is just one component) is to relieve the pilot of doing low level tasks that we're not good at anyway. To give you an idea: "hand" flying the plane (which we never truly do anyway as there are interfaces between us and the control surfaces, even if those are mechanical) is the equivalent of writing machine code vs using a high level language. Yes you could do it, but it'd be a waste of time, very tiring and a source of bugs. You're no less of a programmer for using Lisp compared to writing in assembly, and you're still in control, just more efficiently.

    As the article states, there's a bit of a cultural gap between the US "got to be a macho man" way of doing things and the European approach.

    PS: former commercial pilot, have been out of the game for a good decade now.

    1. Roger Greenwood

      Re: Oh dear

      I had a go in a light aircraft last year, first time at the controls. All I can say is my respect for pilots has not gone down.

      Flying the plane was easy (nice sunny day), dealing with the radio, ATC, Nav, fuel, traffic etc etc makes the workload immense for a single pilot and I now understand better why 2 in the cockpit is a really good idea. Splitting the workload and adding automation is just a no-brainer when scaled up to a proper plane. Thanks to all the engineers and pilots who continue to make flying as safe as it can be.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Oh dear

        It's an entirely different ballgame. Light aircraft flying is a lot more physical while airline flying is more intellectual and, as you say, it's a team exercise.

        Neither is easy, both are rewarding.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Who cares? Nobody normal will be flying anywhere soon...

    Because climate change.

    Squillionaires with fleets of private jets will of course be exempt from such restrictions, thank goodness. After all, how else are they supposed to get to the latest talking shop to lecture us peons on how our ever more restricted lifestyles are killing the planet?

  10. sanmigueelbeer Silver badge

    What is the FAA smoking lately?

    Do not rely too much on automation and then advocating one-pilot operating an a/c?

    The only place those two might get implemented will be inside US airspace.

    1. SkippyBing

      It's the European regulator, EASA, looking at single pilot operation not the FAA.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        > It's the European regulator, EASA, looking at single pilot operation not the FAA.

        I wasn't aware of that. But the other chap is right: the US allows single pilot ops in many more scenarios than in EASA land.

        *Some* lifting off restrictions might make sense, but I've always preferred multi crew operations.

        1. SkippyBing

          It's only mentioned in the article, no reason you should be.

    2. SCP

      Do not rely too much on automation and then advocating one-pilot operating an a/c?

      The first would be in relation to the currently deployed forms of automation, the latter would be in respect of addressing a future form of automation that would make single pilot operation practical and safe.

      Current forms of automation are often designed around principles that rely on the piloting crew as a fall-back - this allows the automated system to remain much simpler (because it does not have to deal with difficult cases). It also means that the automated systems are given limited authority as they rely on the piloting crew to arbitrate between differing demands on what needs to be done with the aircraft.

      The challenge, to achieve single pilot operation, is extending the capability of automation in dealing with more situations and establishing a basis for giving the automated systems more authority (part of that being that they can be shown to be acceptably safe).

      It is worth looking at the advances made in military fast jets - a very demanding single pilot operation. Much has been done to automate the flying leaving the pilot free to manage his mission. Not everything reads across directly to large passenger operations, but it does give some indications of what automation can do. (And remember that digital fly-by-wire originated in the military/space programmes).

      It is also worth considering that there is a significant air freight sector which might be better placed to adopt new automation.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        > Current forms of automation are often designed around principles that rely on the piloting crew as a fall-back

        That's complete tosh. The crew is an integral part of the system, not a "fall back".

        1. SCP

          I disagree with the first part of your reply but mostly agree with the second part (the crew do have to handle things when the automated systems can't).

          For any system to be acceptably safe it must continue to function adequately even in the presence of likely faults. This means the crew must be an integral part of the design. Handling faults can be a tricky part of system design, particularly when crew workload is itself is a safety concern. My comment related to the design constraints commonly placed on many current automation systems in dealing with faults and when the crew must become involved - not the total design of the system.

          Systems with higher degrees of automation, authority and fault handling can be (and in some areas have been) designed and implemented and these typically reduce crew workload and improve overall system capability and safety. But as always there are trade-offs.

  11. ChoHag Silver badge


    Over-reliance on software?

    Say it ain't so!

  12. tip pc Silver badge

    Pilot died during takeoff, that’s why there are 2

    Sadly a pilot died recently during takeoff. The other pilot was able to land the aircraft within 10 minutes.

    “We need to return. Captain is incapacitated,” the co-pilot told air traffic control just seconds after taking off from Chicago’s international airport. The plane landed safely a short time later.

    You need minimum 2 rested and alert pilots for each flight

    Also an accident involving a single pilot.

    1. SCP

      Re: Pilot died during takeoff, that’s why there are 2

      You need minimum 2 rested and alert pilots for each flight

      You can find cases where even this is not enough. For example:

      In this case (entire crew incapacitated by hypoxia) a more advanced automated system could negotiate with ATC an emergency landing and safely land the aircraft.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Pilot died during takeoff, that’s why there are 2

      That's very much *not* why there were two (or more) of us. But, as we in the right seat used to say:

      > Sadly a pilot died recently during takeoff.

      The captain is dead. Long live the new captain. >:)

      1. tip pc Silver badge

        Re: Pilot died during takeoff, that’s why there are 2

        That's very much *not* why there were two (or more) of us

        So enlighten us as to why.

        I’m all for automation, but when you have critical systems you need an appropriate solution to the problem of what to do when sod happens.

        When unanticipated problems arise on an airplane you need answers relatively quickly, 2 trained pilots are far better than 1. It goes far beyond just having 2 hearts, you need minds, experience, communication, trust and much more besides.

        Automation should be seen as an aid, not the final immutable answer. Problems, crashes and death will always happen, 2 pilots is just 1 more chance to avert catastrophe.

        Not getting my coat but choosing the airline with 2 pilots in control.

  13. Mike 137 Silver badge

    failed to adequately monitor the plane's airspeed in part due to "automation reliance."

    This is a long recognised problem -- a.k.a. automation bias. It permeates many aspects of modern decision making where tools are used to support judgement, but it's increasingly ignored as the tools get shinier and their internals get less transparent to the user.

  14. Fred Daggy Silver badge

    1 set of computers for the boring bits

    1 meatbag to step in when it gets interesting

    1 meatbag to watch the other meatbag for the stuff that is likely to have a documentary made about it

  15. Tubz Silver badge

    I'll stick to two meatbags, would AI have thought to ditch in the Hudson saving all crew and passengers Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger and Jeffrey Skiles, probably not as it wouldn't have instinct, just the programmed logic to make a decision based of the maths of what the manufacturers calculated the plane could do based on height/speed/weight/direction.

    1. FeepingCreature Bronze badge

      To be fair, Sully could have returned to the airport - if he'd had literally superhuman reaction speeds. Unachievable for a human pilot in the heavy stress situation of a birdstrike, and I want to take nothing away from Sully's clear thinking and quick reactions. But a computer could possibly have saved that plane in a far less dramatic fashion.

      1. Peter2 Silver badge

        The claim is that if (at the instant of the birdstrike) he'd have tossed the procedure book out of the window and immediately turned around without checking for damage, trying to restart an engine or actually following the emergency checklists then he could have landed somewhere if the ATC people got everything out of his way and if there wasn't already a plane on the runway he could have run into, killing everybody onboard both aircraft.

        This, to be clear is based on somebody "achieving" this on Microsoft flight simulator. They "knew" the status of the aircraft post impact pre impact time, and therefore didn't work through any of the required items on the emergency checklists because they weren't required, and obviously had looked up the correct bearings to steer at the correct times beforehand.

        Since any computer would have been programmed to follow the first few items on the emergency checklist before declaring an emergency and then figuring out where to go and pointing the plane at a runway then I would suggest that it'd have crashed short of a runway, probably in an uncontrolled manner in a residential area like the humans who actually tried doing better in simulators.

        1. imanidiot Silver badge

          Not just MSFS, they also tried it on proper rated sims during the investigation, and could make it back to the airport if they turned around immediately (This was one of the points they initially tried to grill Sullenberger on saying "see, we could do it in the sim"). It wasn't until he finely asked them about leveling off, assessing the damage and following the emergency checklists that they implemented a short delay before the pilot was allowed to react. All those scenario's ended with either landing in the Hudson (as Sullenburger had done, but usually unsuccessful) or crashing well short of the airport.

  16. Roj Blake Silver badge

    The Single Pilot and His Dog

    Even with increased automation they'll still need a pilot to feed the dog.

    The dog is there to stop the pilot from interfering with the controls.

  17. BillyMunny

    Children of the Magenta Line v2.0

    The issue is not new, ref the video I used to title this reply. The magenta line is the path programmed into the autoflight system, which the current generation of ab-initio pilots are dependent on.

    Accidents with similar root causes have happened since Asiana 214 - see the Airbus wreck in Pakistan, where the pilots did a FUBAR descent, scraped engines on the runway, rejected the landing, and finished the crash after a dual engine failure on the downwind leg. Another doozie happened in India, where the crew tried to hurry in during heavy rain, flew an unstabilized approach, and then overran the runway (smashing into a brick wall).

    I do not blame the pilots. Like Cerberus, some airlines insist that we "stay profiecient" while at the same time insisting that we engage the autopilot as soon as practicable after takeoff, keeping it on until nearing the runway on landing. No BS -- I used to hand fly from takeoff until cruise during my last job in the USA. When that company closed, I found myself in Asia, in a company with more money than sense. They would analyse flight data and call us on the phone to complain if they saw my long periods of hand flying. The young copilots were afraid to buck the bosses, so they became dependent on the autoplot. They were really bad at landing. Not just in crosswinds and gusty conditions, but often on smooth days. They scared the cr*p out of me multiple times.

    There are two pilots in the front seats because THREAT ERROR MANAGEMENT works better when two people are working together to stay within the safety margins.

    This is an airline management problem. They see autopilots as "liability management" where programming skill seems superior to manual flying ability. I tell you, pilots need to hand fly much more often than they do, in order to exercise those skills. It is a brain exercise as much as it is one involving hands, eyes, and feet.

    Children of the Magenta Line is no mere "boomer complaint." It is a real issue; going to single pilot ops is going to make things much worse.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Children of the Magenta Line v2.0

      > a FUBAR descent, scraped engines on the runway, rejected the landing, and finished the crash after a dual engine failure on the downwind leg.

      Still better than most of my landings.

  18. Lars Silver badge

    2 pilots or 4

    I think part of this is about long flights when two pilots have to be in the cockpit at the same time, while some are having a rest.

    If they are allowed to have one in the cockpit while one is resting, they would no doubt save money.

    And of course there will be more automation and input devices.

    A few planes have been lost just because there was no way of warning the crew of lack of oxygen in the air, or it failed.

    And then there is the scare of missing the "train" for companies like Boeing and Airbus.

    Who is the first to certify something cost saving like that.

    Icon for some reason I cannot explain.

  19. Wobblin' Pete

    This is what the Tannoy is for...

    bing bong

    "this is the head stewardess, does anyone know how to fly a plane?"

    Shortly followed by-

    big bong

    "has anyone got an axe on them so we can open the cockpit door"

    then finally followed by the icon

    Sadly I bet most flights these day have at least one gamer on board who would quite happily give it a go, as they have already landed hundreds of aircraft and space ships from their bedroom...

    1. stiine Silver badge

      Re: This is what the Tannoy is for...

      See the recent collaboration between Tom Scott and Petter Hornfeldt.

      Also, pick me because I (a long time ago) could successfully, and repeatedly, safely land a multi-engine jet dead-stick, in a flight sim.

  20. Symilarian

    We call it George

    Being a pilot myself, I can relate to, too much dependence on George. We practice surprise auto pilot failures. You would be surprised on how long the gap can be before catching up to the problem and regaining control. But we always do, that's why we practice it. If all else fails just turn the thing off and fly the airplane.

  21. Locomotion69

    The FAA must be mad....

    .... to demand that trained professionals should be in control!

  22. LionelB Silver badge


    "Even when an airplane is on autopilot, the flight crew should always be aware of the aircraft’s flightpath and be able to intervene if necessary."

    Wait... you mean that's not always the case?

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