6 comments on “Impacts & Implications of Flight Deck Automation

  1. Thanks for another fascinating and insightful post, Mike. I am sharing it on several of my pages (credited, of course). Congrats on your recent graduation!

  2. Very interesting article and insights, Mike. What do you think is a potential solution to the problems that you describe? Is it a combination of better human interface design on the part of the airplane manufacturers with respect to cockpit information displays and alarms, and, better training by the airlines with respect to manual flying skills? Does cockpit information need to be simplified and more clearly conveyed to the pilots? Do autopilot modes need to be simplified and more clearly displayed, so that crews understand exactly what the plane is responsible for doing and what they themselves are responsible for doing?

    It does seem tragic that advancements in technology and advanced materials, which have greatly improved civil aviation safety in numerous areas (engine power and reliability; fuselage strength and durability; collision avoidance; etc., to name just a few) have not been matched by refinement in the interaction between human operators and the systems that they rely upon to convey critical information. It makes me wonder if Boeing and Airbus need to bring in Apple or another company that is skilled in user interface design to help refine their cockpit information displays and interaction qualities.

    • Hi Guy. I think one part of the solution will be to encourage pilots to hand-fly the aircraft more often instead of activating the autopilot shortly after becoming airborne. Getting back to the fundamentals of airmanship like that could help pilots keep sharp and ready for non-standard situations.

      The other part of the solution will definitely come from industry. I have actually participated in a study at the University of Michigan that was investigating the effects of cockpit display clutter (e.g. if there’s too much information displayed on a screen) for the FAA and there are similar studies being conducted elsewhere.

      There are more complex issues too, such as varying training philosophies around the world. For example, a training department in country X might emphasize using automation more and less manual flying, while the same department in another country might focus on fundamental flying and teach the systems and how to use automation later.

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