Will automation make cars safer? part 2

While the crash of Air France flight 447, mid-Atlantic in 2010 seems about as far removed as one could get from a truck or car accident that would occur anywhere in Pennsylvania, there may increasingly be connections.

The AF 447 crash has been one of the more baffling in aviation history. The plane suffered some ice buildup in its pitot tubes, which caused the autopilot to disengage. The aircraft was not damaged and this in no way affected its airworthiness, yet in little more than three minutes, the three apparently well-qualified pilots flew the mechanically functional aircraft into the ocean, killing everyone on board.

Based on examination of the cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder, it appears that the pilots were unable to grasped their situation and because the moonless sky provided no frame of reference as to what the aircraft’s actual position or orientation. In spite of, or because of, multiple alarms, they pilots were unable to recognize the aircraft was in a stall.

The reality of modern air travel is that pilots do not fly most of the time. Sure, they are in the cockpit, but they are mostly observers, watching the computer navigation systems typically operate the craft with unerring precision.

And what is becoming increasingly apparent in recent aircraft crashes, is that pilots lack the training to operate in emergency situations, when the computers cede control back to the humans in the cockpit.

While many accidents occurred decades ago because of arrogance or negligence on the part of pilots, today, when it matters most, they simply do not have the core competency to recognize what is wrong and how to solve the problem.

Next post, we will look at why this has happened

Vanity Fair, “The Human Factor,” William Langewiesche, October 2014

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