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"Are Airliners So Automated That Pilots Are Becoming Complacent?"

The title question was posed by a recent New York Times article examining a trend of behavior in the cockpit that is both alarming because of its prevalence, and disturbing because of its potential for disaster: pilots relying on automated piloting systems to do their job while they shift their attention elsewhere.

The topic of autopilot-based pilot distraction has gained much publicity in the past two years, notably with the 150-mile airport overflight of Northwest Airlines Flight 188 on October 21, 2009. Flight 188 landed safely but behind schedule in Minneapolis. After an investigation into the incident, it was determined that the pilot crew, after engaging the autopilot, turned their attention away from the navigation of the flight and onto their laptops.

The article examines the pilot-distraction issue and details the opinions of experienced pilots, aviation experts and regulatory officials.

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