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Reliance on Auto Pilot Features Lead to “Loss of Control” Airplane Accidents

On Behalf of | Sep 2, 2011 | Aviation

Similar to a motor vehicle’s cruise control, modern commercial airplanes have auto pilot features. The question is, however, whether drivers and pilots rely too heavily on these automated features.

A recently released study by aviation safety officials looked at this question and found an emerging problem with “automation addiction.” Heavily relying on automated flight systems and auto pilot features, many pilots only really have to do about three minutes of flying the entire flight, during take-off and landing.

Once in the air, commercial airline pilots often sit back and let the automated features take over, essentially turning control of the plane over to computer systems. Because pilots do not have their hands on the controls at all times, they have a slower reaction time in the event of an emergency or a mechanical failure.

report, in the last five years there have been 51 aviation accidents in which pilots lost control of the plane and hundreds of passengers were killed.

Thanks to the increasing reliance on computer systems and auto features, pilots are forgetting how to fly, said, Rory Kay, an airline captain and co-chair of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) pilot training committee.

This idea is further supported by the Air France Flight 447 crash in June 2009. While flying over the Atlantic ocean, the autopilot disengaged and the pilots received a stall warning. The pilots pulled the plane’s nose up — despite the fact that during a stall the plane should be pulled nose down. A recording revealed the co-pilot yelling to climb, with the captain interrupting, “no, don’t climb!”

All 228 people on board died when the commercial plane crashed into the ocean.

An investigation by France’s Bureau of Investigations and Analysis revealed that there were no mechanical problems with the plane and it only crashed due to pilot error.

Of the 51 loss of control accidents, the FAA found that over 60 percent of the time pilots made mistakes with automated controls or had trouble manually flying the plane — clearly supporting the idea that automation addiction is a growing problem that the FAA and commercial airlines need to address when it comes to aviation safety.

Source:, “‘Automation Addiction’: Are Pilots Forgetting How to Fly?” 8/31/11.