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Automation in Aviation
Transcript of Automation in Aviation
By: Christopher Carpenter
Currently in the aviation industry, technology is a huge part in assisting pilots to fly aircraft. The problem with this is that pilots tend to rely too heavily on this technology and automation for almost every flight conducted. This has led to a significant decrease in pilots actually flying the aircraft hands-on, especially in bigger operations such as commercial flying.
What's the deal?
It is truly remarkable that just a little over 100 years ago the Wright brothers created the first airplane that was entirely man-powered.
Now aviation has become one of the most important industries the world has ever known for transporting persons and property anywhere they want to go.
Now you may wonder how this field has become such a big part of day-to-day life?
This is due to our ever increasing and growing advancements in technology and automation systems.
If you didn't know, technology and automation has vastly changed in more recent years for pilots.
Starting around 10-15 years ago everything was converted to electronics and computers.
Before this occurred, everything was done on paper and mathematically calculated with the use of paper charts, graphs, and equations.
The two images shown below are called Flight Computers. The one on the left is your traditional E6B flight computer that is a handy tool to help pilots calculate different aspects along their flight such as fuel burn, distances, and wind correction.
The one on the right is the same thing however it is electronic. The traditional E6B uses a wheel type system to plug different factors in to get a result and the electronic one works similar to a calculator (Carr, 76).
The additional pictures below depict paper charts as opposed to what is used today electronic charts on an iPad.
With this major shift in technology for pilots, is it a good thing?
This shift that is taking place for all pilots is definitely a good thing.
However, I think it is important that we continue to know and understand the basics before we learn how to use the technology.
Which leads me to my next point in regards to technology......Automation!
Are pilots relying too much on automation these days to fly the plane?
Are the pilots even flying the plane,
or is the auto pilot doing all the work?
This seems to be the big questions in discussion currently and with some research I have found most people to have mixed results.
There are millions of people today that think airplanes pretty much fly themselves.
"All the pilots do is sit in the cockpit and do nothing but monitor the airplanes systems" (Landsburg, 1).
This statement however is not entirely true.
Patrick Smith, a 22 year old Veteran Commercial Pilot confirms this myth on an article for CNN news.
Smith states that it is true that aircraft systems do allow the pilots to fly these planes "hands off" but this is mainly used during the en route phase of flight when the aircraft has reached its cruising altitude (Patterson, 1).
It is very rare that the pilots will have the autopilot engaged during takeoff, climbs, descents,approach,and landing phases of flight.
A good example of pilots that correctly used their flight automation was US Airways flight 1544
"The Miracle in the Hudson."
Captian Chesley Sullenberger stated in his interview with CNN that he enjoyed the use of his backup computer autopilot system, however there was no use for it (Patterson, 1).
In this particular incident, US Airways flight 1544 hit a flock of birds departing New York and lost all of their engines at 2,700 ft over Manhattan.
The pilots stated that their Computer assisted systems were active during this flight, and both pilots disengaged the autopilot and flew the aircraft manually.
This is important for all pilots to remember in the event of an emergency!
In fact, Sullenberger said that if the computer systems would not have been active, he could have landed the aircraft smoother on the Hudson.The flight software prevented him from pitching the aircraft's nose up at a high rate and caused them to land harder than anticipated (Patterson, 1).
So with particular incidents like this it is crucial that pilots retain their flight skills and not rely on automation to do all of the work.
Airlines such as Air France and Asiana Airlines have paid the price for some of these lacks in flight skills.
Asiana Flight 214 crashed due to an autopilot issue.
Both pilots failed to monitor their autopilot correctly and throttle controls while coming in for an approach to landing at San Francisco International Airport.
By the time they had realized something was wrong they were too low and did not have enough airspeed to recover which resulted in 187 injuries and 3 fatalities (Marks, 31).
The Air France Flight 447 accident was caused due to a loss in airspeed and the lack of correction from the pilots.
The flight experienced ice accumulation on the fuselage which caused the instruments in the cockpit to give incorrect readings.
When this occurred,the autopilot automatically disconnected and the crew failed to recognize this and recovered incorrectly and put the aircraft into a stall which the crew failed to recover from at 30,000 feet, killing everyone on board (Landsburg, 1).
A recent study that was released by the FAA in 2013 stated that "pilots sometimes rely too much on automated systems and may be reluctant to intervene or switch them off in unusual or risky situations" (Marks, 30).
Not only are pilots taking these systems for granted, they are also becoming insufficient with certain autopilot modes and how to properly correct an issue if it occurs (Operational Use of the Flight Path Management Systems.).
The use of information automation is increasing and with this it is important that pilots know the correct way to input this information.
Studies have been shown by the FAA that pilots have been known to have errors and confusion when it comes to these systems.
This is why it is going to become very important that pilots keep up with the ever changing updates and uses of these automated systems.
Many companies today have already started this process and implementing required proficiency checks for pilots on all of the aircraft systems in which they fly anywhere from every 6 months to a year in a simulator (Operational Use of the Flight Path Management Systems).
Another interesting fact I found on the FAA website proposed that in a few years the FAA are planning to create new airspace procedures that were going to be so complex and require such precision that flying manually would be merely impossible or not allowed because of the likelihood of a deviation (Operational Use of the Flight Path Management Systems).
Now why in the world would the FAA do that?!?
So not only do pilots become complacent on their own with systems, the FAA makes it even more impossible.
This is why I am bringing this issue to the surface!
The FAA is aware of the issue and then they implement more complications.
So, in the end, keeping up on flying skills is going to be a responsibility by none other than the pilot.
Airlines are doing a pretty good job of implementing proficiency but essentially it is a joint responsibility between the pilot and the company they fly for.
As far as the airlines go, a few changes have been made to help eliminate or fix these automation issues.
Training is given on the increased emphasis on mode awareness as well as flight crew procedures for example, by having all pilots call out all automation changes being made (Operational Use of the Flight Management Systems).
However these alternatives have only been partially successful in reports shown by the FAA.
Data analysis still shows that autopilot mode selection, awareness, and understanding continue to be common mishaps (Operational Use of the Flight Management Systems).
Many of the major aircraft manufacturers today such as, Boeing, Airbus and BAE systems are working to develop a computer assisted system to help pilots in an emergency so they can recover form certain incidents that could occur.
It is called the Advanced Cockpit for Reduction of Stress and Workload Project. (ACROSS)
Its main objective is to help reduce dangerous peaks in workload that could lead to confusion during a process (Marks,31).
The ACROSS program is also going further than just assisting pilots in errors but also to identify key challenges needed to create an autoflight system that will replace the co-pilot entirely.
So, this will take the current two man crew system down to one.
Yeah, okay...so what happens if the one pilot becomes incapacitated?
According to a researcher in autonomous flight at Duke University, Mary Cummings states that "any computerized co-pilot good enough to work with a lone human must be able to assume complete control. To take off, fly, and land the plane entirely on its own should the pilot fall ill. So, why bother with the human? It would certainly reduce the risk of confusion (Marks, 33).
Yes, Cummings statement might be true but further research has been performed by NASA Ames Research Center in California that found the new generation of autoflight systems being used by a single pilot will still lead to immensely high workloads in the cockpit resulting from various errors in navigation and flight control inputs (Marks, 33).
Cummings also explains that computers have a serious edge when it comes to performing operations quickly. By the time a person can see an issue an act on it, the time it takes is a half a second at best. Computer systems, on the other hand, can perform a function in just milliseconds.
Are pilotless aircraft worth the risk?
The U.S. military says yes. The militaries crash right has dropped remarkably the more automatted they have become. In particular, improvements were achieved by preventing pilots flying mostly take offs and landings where crashes are most frequently to occur.
Takeoffs and landings are the highest workloads that the pilots experience. Almost half of all fatal airline incidents have occurred during these stages of flight (Marks, 33).
So, how far away are pilotless passenger planes for the future ?
Currently, there is already one being tested.
An un-piloted jet stream airliner operated by BAE systems in Preston, England has been flying 800 kilometer trips across the Irish Sea to see how it interacts with other aircraft and air traffic controllers.
However, it still has a crew on board, just in case.
BAE systems believes this aircraft is the first of its kind autonomously to "see and avoid" bad weather and midair hazards (Marks,32).
The jet stream contains arguably the beginnings of the machine intelligence that pilotless planes will need.
However, it is unlikely that passenger airlines will be the first to introduce these planes. Companies that haul cargo will most likely be first, such as FedEx and UPS. This will allow the technology to be tested with the same aircraft used on airliners, just without passengers on board. If that proves safe, then it would be possible to see the implementation of a pilot-less crew. Cummings suggests that this would be around 2035.
2035?! That's only in 20 years!
Automation specialists are proposing these ideas to these airline companies due to the fact of how much these pilotless aircraft will save the company.
Pilotless aircraft have shown to save expenses in regards to flight crew employment, salaries and benefit pay, fuel economy, and an overall increase in efficiency due to a lack of human error.
Now, I understand that these big aircraft corporations are all about efficiency, safety, and saving money, but this is going too far.
This should not be the reason we transition to pilotless aircraft to be implemented into the industry just because the airline wants to save some money.
Pilots are unlikely to let themselves be replaced by technology without a fight.
The major issue with pilot-less aircraft is that these systems do not possess the ability to use human consciousness, awareness, and prediction. Until this is possible, pilots will still continue to dominate the industry (Marks, 33).
So what do passengers think about automation?
Currently pilotless aircraft are a hard selling point to passengers.
Passengers want to know that they are in the hands of two well-trained pilots and not just a computer system.
So as of right now a manned flight crew isn't going to be fading out any time soon.
"The need to see a James T. Kirk on the bridge is strong" (Mark, 33).
As of right now there are two types of technology which we have been made aware of; one of those being automated and the other being autonomous (Warwick, 40).
Automation is what is currently in use in the aviation industry where computer systems are used, but require input from pilots to fly the aircraft.
Autonomy is involved in pilotless aircraft where the aircraft is entirely flown by computer systems that do not require any input.
Automation is not the issue, the problem is that commercial airline pilots have become too dependent on automation.
Poor manual flying skills and failure to master the latest changes in cockpit technology pose the greatest hazards to passengers (Warwick, 40).
After a thorough examination of aviation accidents and incidents researchers found that roughly 2/3 of the pilots either had difficulty manually flying the planes or made mistakes using the flight computers (Pastzor).
Relying too heavily on computer driven flight decks and problems that result when crews fail to properly keep up with the changes in levels of automation is now a serious issue (Warwick, 41).
In most airline training found today in most instances pilots were able to detect and correct automation slip-ups before they could potentially result into a more serious error but when pilots actually have to hand fly the aircraft, simulator instructors have said pilots do not perform as well (Warwick, 41).
Over reliance on automation has been recognized for quite a few years now and has become an industry wide problem.
To hopefully fix this issue, a group of experts in the field together analyzed a large amount of accidents and incidents caused by this "automation addiction" and compiled a document of recommendations to the FAA to prevent this from occurring in the future (Warwick, 41).
This 34 member committee has become known as the panel members.
A few recommendations that the panel has proposed is that pilots must be provided with opportunities to refine manual flying skills while receiving enhanced training in computer and automation systems.
The panel also called out aircraft manufacturers to develop cockpit designs that are more understandable from the flight crews perspective.
The FAA has stated that they have taken all of the recommendations into consideration and have developed new rules, regulations, and guidelines for pilots based off of this material and research (Meintel, 6).
David McKenny, co-chair and head of training programs in human factors for the Airline Pilots Association stated that "instead of teaching pilots to punch in numbers and simply how to interface with the automated systems, airlines should train aviators to effectively manage flight paths using more realistic scenarios and the element of surprise."
Landsburg, Bruce. "Automation and Potties."
Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association
. 22 Oct.
2014. 22 Apr. 2015.
Marks, Paul. "This is your captain speaking. Its foggy down here
on the ground but hopefully it is beautifully clear where you are at 30000 feet...are you ready to get on a pilotless plane? (coverstory)."
223.2981 (2014): 30-33. Academic Search Premier. Web. 22 Apr. 2015.
"Operation Use of the Flight Path Management Systems. "
Federal Aviation Administration
Sept. 2013. Web. Apr. 22 2015.
Patzor, Andy. "Pilots Rely Too Much on Automation, Panel Says."
The Wall Street Journal
Nov. 2013. Web. 22 Apr. 2015.
Patterson, Thom. "Whose Really Flying the Plane?"
. 26 March 2012. Web. 22 Apr.
Warwick, Graham. "The 'A' Word."
Aviation Week and Space Technology
40-43. Applied Science and Technology Source. Web. 22 Apr. 2015.
Meintel, Julie. "Automation in the Cockpit--How Much to use it and when to use it."
Forum: The Journey of the Air Mobility Commands Magazine
. 13.3 (2004): 6-9. Academic Search Premier. Web. 22 Apr. 2015.
Carr, Nicholas. "The Great Forgetting."
312.4 (2013): 76. Master FILE Premier. Web.
22 Apr. 2015.
Pilots need to take in account that at any moment a problem could occur, and like Captain Sullenberger, this pilots need to be capable of handling situations like these and not take the computer systems for granted.
These two accidents have clearly shown us how crucial actual flying skills are.
So overall automation in the aviation industry is currently a big issue that is being resolved world wide.
With the help of good pilots like Sully Sullenberger and members of the panel board, I believe we will be able to achieve the desired outcome not only from a pilots stand point, but for all personnel that is involved in the aviation field.
Keep Automation as back up system, source of redundancy and aid instead of allowing it to take over.
In the long run this will be the best route to go, after all what's flying without a pilot in the front seat?