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Automation dependency stripped of political correctness.

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Automation dependency stripped of political correctness.

Old 2nd Jan 2016, 10:09
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Automation dependency stripped of political correctness.

A must read article by William Langwiesche on automation dependency and its detrimental effect on today's pilots flying ability.

Should Airplanes Be Flying Themselves? | Vanity Fair
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Old 2nd Jan 2016, 15:18
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Thanks Centaurus,

It's certainly worth a read, though it paints a gloomy picture of the present and future of the profession. Pulling no punches on AF 447, it is astonishing that it was published in Vanity Fair, a glossy magazine not renowned for engineering analysis but which, as Wiki states, is "of popular culture, fashion and current affairs." I see the author, William Langviesche, has some professional piloting experience and is the son of Wolfgang, who wrote Stick and Rudder.

His essay seems ambivalent as to whether Bernard Ziegler's concept was the best and only way ahead, and any degree of hypocrisy in Ziegler's criticisms of our profession is not noted.
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Old 2nd Jan 2016, 16:18
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Brilliant article.

That is the world of airline aviation as I see it, but put far better than I ever could.
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Old 2nd Jan 2016, 19:04
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I'd love to see a self-flying airplane manage the QF32 situation, by the way.

There will never be a flight deck without (an) actual pilot(s) in it. End of story. You can take it to the bank.
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Old 2nd Jan 2016, 20:20
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The masses laughed at the thought of a flying machine...... I guarantee you if given the green light and with an accepting market that an autonomous passenger aircraft could be in operation within a few years or less.

The vast majority of aircraft crashes are a direct result of PILOT ERROR. It would be simple to take every other event and compile the data utilizing unconventional methods used to save or mitigate loss creating a database of logic based response to an event. Loss will always factor in, it will just be less when we remove pilot error.

Look this is a dead horse, autonomous flight is in our future for the commercial market. The demand is there in the freight world, after proven reliable passengers will accept it, just a matter of time.
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Old 2nd Jan 2016, 20:20
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Anybody been keeping track of how many times this has been posted in the last 15 months?
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Old 2nd Jan 2016, 20:30
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It has been noticed that this thread has done the rounds to often and the PPRuNe management installed an automated machine to remove such threads six months ago................
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Old 2nd Jan 2016, 21:58
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Langewiesche's article is from 2014 and has probably been posted a few times. This is nitpicking, but somewhere he suggests that electromechanical gauges were replaced with flat panels, which is obviously wrong - CRTs came first. I won't argue with his other claims, mainly because I'm tired.
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Old 2nd Jan 2016, 22:22
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William Langewiesche used to write for the Atlantic and I subscribed partly for his well-written and informative articles. He was hired away by Vanity Fair 8 or 9 years ago, to much surprise, but I guess they made him too good an offer to refuse.

His reports in the Atlantic on EgyptAir 990 and the Columbia shuttle disaster are still available on the Atlantic's website, at William Langewiesche - The Atlantic , along with much else of interest.
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Old 2nd Jan 2016, 23:39
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The vast majority of aircraft crashes are a direct result of PILOT ERROR.
It's more complex than that.

I am also of the opinion that this, (the "certainty" of pilotless, commercial airline flight), is the dead-horse..., but the arguments 'for' pilotless flight must be engaged and examined and not dismissed. History is unkind to such dismissals, but it also forgets when one is right because by then it is ordinary.

While the industry has largely solved original, direct causes of accidents from the 30's on to the mid-80's which were primarily mechanical, system and/or engine failure, weather, navigational error, cockpit/instrument design, CFIT, ATC, mid-air collision and airports & runway design, human factors have understandably been a very difficult nut to crack, particularly post-automation beginning in the mid-80's. When one adopts, "the mind of the machine", one is changed, and in ways that are by their nature, invisible to one. That is what has occurred here, in aviation. That neither necessitates nor obviates pilotless flight. Any examination must be detailed and as much philosophically-conceived as technically and psychologically-conceived.

There is both a logical and a practical inconsistency in argument for pilotless flight that cannot be got around.

No system of human conception is "Spock-like"; any human system will always and already exhibit human limitations, if not in the cockpit crew then from those on the ground. Human factors accidents exist everywhere, not just in the cockpit.

There is no magic, no opportunity for perfection in pilotless flight. There is however, billions to be saved in salaried employees, training, checking, simulators and all that goes with managing a workforce including liabilities and insurance, and that is an entirely separate discussion. History shows us however, that most times, there are "opportunity costs" and outcomes that can remain unforeseen if one is too convinced, that can balance any such changes in the foundations.

Such design and implementation obviously is improved upon through collective work such that the problem of "missing something" in the attempted anticipation of every problem that has/does/will occur in commercial air transportation may be minimized - that is the principle of aircraft manufacture today and is obvious. But such factor cannot be eliminated, and can exceed the human limitations for a working complexity; there will always be certain threshold which will always be slightly less than the very best solutions from the very best minds. At some point, the outcomes will be at the level of committee work instead of insightful, really workable solutions. Bear in mind that aviation has been and continues to be designed for "average", simply because there are very few naturals or "top guns" - cockpit, system and airfoil design must be manageable by "average", whether such solutions are in software protections or technical design. "Average" here, means the Mean of the small set of all airline pilots, not of all pilots, period. Despite recent accidents, it's my opinion that that "average" remains very high indeed in our cockpits - so far.

This is not an argument for or against pilotless flight, but it is an argument against improvements beyond a 10^-9 probability of occurrences of the kind with which we are presently familiar. Whether present in the cockpit or resident on the ground either in an engineering lab or in a drone-like compound, the human factor within complex, potentially-rapidly-changing, high-risk enterprises is essentially the same. What keeps commercial aviation safe is the adoption of a very great distance built between what is operationally acceptable in commercial aviation and what is sometimes necessary in military operations. That factor alone may mitigate against pilotless flight, along with the necessary computing power and equivalent, flawless, (much higher than 10^-9 capability), network reliability.

The "solution" then must submit not to technical argument but in-service arguments and the economics and even the politics of pilotless flight.

In this, I could offer that these advances, (and I accept them as very possible, but not probable) will not take a just few years because of their acceptance by designers, regulatory authorities and even the flying public. Nor is it "simple" to take "all the data" of events and occurrences from which a cognizant digital system would/could "decide anticipatorily", (parse all occurrences in the database then parse the future, as airline pilots routinely do every day), based upon programmed "experience" of all such factors and provide a guaranteed-successful outcome of say, QF32 as described in an earlier post.

Nor can one just enter into the discourse a remark that computers will soon mimic human thought and will, as such, be better than pilots. In aviation, even imagination must have cranes, not sky-hooks, otherwise the argument is merely interesting, but not convincing.

It is a fact that most accidents now are the result of a network of causal pathways largely though not exclusively related to human factors. It is also an obvious fact that pilotless flight is ready now, today, for individual or select missions and tasks. The key is in how congenial may the marriage be between these two key components.

Certainly the discussion must remain light on its feet, for technological change is exponential. But the cost of such overall capability as described above for what could be a small reduction in human-factors-fatal-accidents may outweigh the cost of the present system "as-is".

Last edited by FDMII; 3rd Jan 2016 at 02:47.
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Old 3rd Jan 2016, 10:43
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It's not complicated at all.



Try to design the pilots out of the cockpit (as Airbus has done) and this is the result.



You get systems monitors and automation dependent drones that work fine until things go wrong.

Last edited by stilton; 3rd Jan 2016 at 11:02.
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Old 3rd Jan 2016, 10:51
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Anybody been keeping track of how many times this has been posted in the last 15 months?


No .. but it probably has in one form or another.


Mod concern is to see educational things appear from time to time for the new chums .. the old folk's thoughts are important to the up and coming methinks ?
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Old 3rd Jan 2016, 10:52
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Exactly Stilton, and that is why Airbus has such a terrible accident rate compared to Boeing.


Oh, wait.....


They don't do they......


But that would mean you are talking utter tripe....?


Aviation has got safer in recent years solely due to good engineering. The pilot in both Boeing and Airbus is largely irrelevant to safety and in fact flight.


Recent crashes prove that many pilots are now so poor that when something goes wrong (or even when nothing goes wrong I the case of the SF 777!) the pilots can't cope.
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Old 3rd Jan 2016, 17:22
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Stilton, we may have had the best of times as captains! However, in my view, if young pilots are reading this forum, perhaps it is time to speak frankly regarding loss of skills and becoming a "drone".

Being a drone is a choice, not a mandate. Relinquishing skills and standards is a choice, not a result or a necessary outcome of automation. Awareness of one's skill level is a personal responsibility. It takes conscious effort and continual awareness; that is the price of professionalism.

We are a very, very long way still, from pilotless commercial transports. So, one becomes an "automation dependent drone" only if one permits oneself to be so.

I flew Airbus (320/333/343/345) for fifteen years, and all other manufacturer's types the previous twenty years. They were all ordinary airplanes with their own characteristics. The response to the question "What's it doing now?" was just to disconnect everything, sort it out or fly it a while then reconnect everything when happy. Like many of my colleagues, I hand-flew these airplanes from takeoff to cruise altitude and top-of-descent to landing, often with manual thrust. Did that into LHR, HKG, FRA, SYD for example...not every time as it's busier for the other pilot (who does the heading & altitude selecting on the mode-control panel, etc.).

It makes a difference, even if one is only required to make tiny adjustments to the flight path and thrust. It re-connects one to the airplane, (and to one's profession).

The requirement and the responsibility of a pilot is, still, to know one's airplane. Sometimes that means being aggressive in seeking knowledge and skill. That means not waiting around to be spoon-fed but hitting the books and practising one's profession just like doctors, lawyers and engineers must. One must look in the mirror for who to blame for being afraid to disconnect the autoflight systems.

If one feels, or sees oneself as a "designed-out", unwelcome appendage in the cockpit, one has taken up the wrong profession.

I completely understand RVSM requirements and complex SIDS & STARS which require unfailing accuracy in speed & track. However, where appropriate, one can disconnect everything and still hand-fly to FL290, and one can descend out of 290 and fly the airplane to touchdown.

Why roll over and let loss of skills and thinking happen? Take back the profession and put it where it belongs, in the cockpit, not at someone's desk or in some risk-free office. It's a choice. Even as many airlines require engagement of the autoflight systems as matter of SOPs and there is a risk of getting in trouble with management for disconnecting, one must fight for the opportunity to hand-fly. I've seen that fight take place and changes were made at one carrier including an "automation" policy which permitted/encouraged hand-flying when appropriate.

Even the manufacturers are now seeing the necessity of manual flight. It's still a choice.

Last edited by FDMII; 3rd Jan 2016 at 20:54.
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Old 3rd Jan 2016, 22:34
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Nor can one just enter into the discourse a remark that computers will soon mimic human thought and will, as such, be better than pilots. In aviation, even imagination must have cranes, not sky-hooks, otherwise the argument is merely interesting, but not convincing.
Agreed and that was a good read. But... We can program documented human action, much of which has been incorporated into pilot training as we learn from our mistakes to increase reliability of autonomous flight. With any new tech we will learn from failures, one would have to be a fool not to expect them. Should I crawl the rest of my life or risk the chance of falling when I stand up?
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Old 3rd Jan 2016, 23:58
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Being a drone is a choice, not a mandate. Relinquishing skills and standards is a choice, not a result or a necessary outcome of automation. Awareness of one's skill level is a personal responsibility. It takes conscious effort and continual awareness; that is the price of professionalism.
First of all, I apologise for not realising that the article had already been published on PPRuNe several times. A few days ago was the first time I had seen it. In my view the value of the article is inestimable. .

Secondly, the above highlighted sentence by FDM11 immediately took me back to a similar point made by Captain D.Davies in his book `Handling the Big Jets.` He talks about enthusiasm for flying.

Assuming most current airline pilots have never heard of, or read his book first published in England in 1967, then here is what he wrote in the Conclusion. His advice is as valid today as when he first wrote it.

Quote: "Airline flying really is money for old rope most of the time; but when things get hairy then you earn your pay. The old saying that `Flying is years of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror`is always true. As we get older we all become slightly more lazy, slightly more tired - and this is a bit of a trap. The demand of jet transport flying can best be met by enthusiasm. Personal enthusiasm for the job is beyond value because it is a built-in productive force, and those who have it do not have to be pushed into practice and search for knowledge. Enthusiasm thus generates its own protection. This is the frame of mind which needs to be developed for the best execution of the airline pilot's task."
Unquote

Last edited by Centaurus; 4th Jan 2016 at 00:10.
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Old 4th Jan 2016, 04:28
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I think that was an excellent article and well written to allow non aviators to understand.
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Old 4th Jan 2016, 05:56
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Originally Posted by FDMII View Post
Being a drone is a choice, not a mandate. Relinquishing skills and standards is a choice, not a result or a necessary outcome of automation. Awareness of one's skill level is a personal responsibility. It takes conscious effort and continual awareness; that is the price of professionalism.
I disagree.

Many/most airlines make it impossible to practice proper hand flying let alone anything tricky.

How many times will a captain say "It's max crosswind today, best I hand fly the whole approach to make sure I can still do it if the automatics failed" or "IMC and bumpy today, why don't you hand fly to keep your skills up"?

Never.
Not his fault, the system penalises those that want to practise.

The amount of actual flying done by a modern airline pilot is miniscule.

It is not possible to be good at anything or remain good at anything without practise.

Reading books and 6 monthly sims are not a tenth of what is required to be "good" at something. Airline pilots aim for adequate, and those that believe themselves to be good are merely judging themselves against the standard around them with is very poor.

There is a reason that militaries require a far greater selection of monthly currencies to be operational.


Many pilots believe that because they can run the "script" of the average flight smoothly that they are competent pilots.

They are wrong.
That thing you do every day is not being a pilot.
That script is what you do for your whole airline career to fill time while waiting to be a pilot.

Being a pilot is what happens when you suddenly have to land in the Hudson.
When you lose all Hydraulics.
When your Pitot tubes Ice up.

In my time in Airlines, I only flew with one "good" pilot.
He was frankly incredible.
To this day I have no idea how he managed to maintain the standard of flying he did whilst operating airliners.

I certainly could not maintain the standard that I expect of myself, so I left to fly toys that require my input to fly.
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Old 4th Jan 2016, 10:06
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I agree tourist. My airline has recently banned FD off manual flight. British Airways does not allow pilots on FBW types to disconnect operative autothrust in flight at all. BA do however allow pilots to book free sim time to practice handling or whatever they want. How long before some accountant gets hold of that and tries to sell the time or whatever? How many locos will follow that positive example?

Where is the opportunity to practice? Manual flight following the flight directors, however much one may try to look through them is not quite as helpful. I agree that enthusiasm is the key, but how many of the next generation are exposed to these forms of ideas? Most of what I have learned in this regard came from old and bold captains (in my case mainly Italians) who could fly the aircraft to its safe limits rather than from my employer, who taught me the SOP manual.
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Old 4th Jan 2016, 10:13
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There is a reason that militaries require a far greater selection of monthly currencies to be operational.
Maybe so, but considering that some large european countries let their military fastjet aviators fly up to 75% of their 120 block hours a year in the simulator the question is, how current are they really? But that probably belongs in a different part of this board.

Many/most airlines make it impossible to practice proper hand flying let alone anything tricky.
That seems something prevalent in anglo saxon influenced flight operations. In other parts of the world manual, flight director off flying is actively encouraged and done quite regularly. However, simulating non normal stuff on commercial flight remains, of course, a big No No.
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