The Economist on cockpit automation

One of the best news sources these days is The Economist. Their ‘Difference Engine’ columnist, Babbage, has written an interesting piece detailing his views on cockpit automation and how it has affected airline flying. The usual suspects are identified: increasing complexity of flight management systems, lack of hand-flying time, and over-reliance on the onboard computers to achieve flight tasks. While automation and technology are obviously helpful in many ways, it would seem that they can have the ironic effect of distracting the pilot from actually flying.

Not being an airline pilot, of course, my opinion is pure idle speculation. But even in my GA flying I’ve seen (and experienced) the distractions that technology can impose. Automation and advanced technologies definitely help increase our efficiency and simplify many (often tedious) tasks, but they seem to have the effect of exchanging situational awareness with technological awareness. A pilot I know summed it up best while showing me a G1000 display in a Cessna 182:

This thing is great, but it will make you dumb if you let it. The ultimate paradox of modern technology.

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