Automation and Aviation

Aviation has gone through a lot of turning points. It has become more luxurious, economical. As passengers, our life has become more sophisticated. In-flight WiFi, flat bed seats and even a in-flight bath. But, lot has changed behind the scenes too. Apart from aerodynamic advancements, the computing systems called as Flight Control Computer by the pilots has become so advanced to a level that a flight computer could fly and land an aircraft all on its own without manual intervention.

And this automation history has happened recently, the fly-by-wire computer system, the system with all the advanced computer we are talking today first took flight on 1987. Yes, that long before the era of super fast processors we are talking about today. 

Aviation was literally clogged with air accidents caused due to human error. One wrong switch or one wrong move by a pilot has taken lives of thousands of passengers. Mistakes have been made to a point that pilots forgot to turn on the cabin pressurisation system, the one that supplies oxygen to the passengers and that mistake took the lives of every passenger on board that aircraft.

Automation was meant to help the pilots in preventing those accidents. Automation was meant to help the pilots in making judgements. But automation is not without flaws either. In recent years, there has been a claim that pilots have “forgotten how to fly” an aircraft. 

The best example to prove the above case would be the crash of Air France 447. The sensors on board the plane has clogged due to extreme weather conditions and the auto pilot system could not function without the air speed data that the sensors were to provide. Without the intervention that was necessitated from the pilots end, the air speed of the plane reduced rapidly and as a result, the plane entered into an aerodynamic stall and impacted the ocean.

So, automation causes accidents. And without automation, accidents happened. So what is the answer.

This is a classic example on how we are dependent on computer in doing our jobs. Depending on the advanced computing, we forgot the basics of flying. It’s not just in aviation. Its happening in almost every filed that we can find. We are becoming so dependent on automation that we forget that every automation that we have made has been there to “assist” us, humans in doing our jobs. Its not meant to replace them. 

Yes, automation does increase air safety. And that is true only when there is a symphony between humans and the computers. And that’s true only when we are not fully dependent on those computers.


Leave your thoughts below. Thanks for reading. 

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1 Comment

  1. Hi,

    Your question and justification was very impressive.

    The issue is very sensitive one for the aviation/airline industry.

    True to extend. But too much automation may not be a great idea as it becomes totally machine/computer dependent.

    It is still a debateable topic.Even now airplane manufacturers & airlines are thinking how much automation is good for flight safety.

    Automation reduces the pilot’s work load but high automation may lead to separation of the flight crew from cockpit. ( i.e) crew may not be aware of what’s going on with the aircrafts.

    Weather or Turbulence avoidance , some emergency conditions, system errors may not be well handled by high automation.

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