Boeing wants to transfer more control over its aircraft from pilots to computers. But is automation the answer?
After the crash of two 737 MAX aircraft within weeks of each other in 2019, Boeing determined to accelerate its push for more automation onboard, especially in the case of emergencies.
Incoming Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun said:
“We are going to have to ultimately almost—almost—make these planes fly on their own.”
This was more direct than ex-CEO Dennis Muilenburg told Congress in October:
“We’re also going to take a look at the pilot-machine interface on our airplanes in designing that for the next generation, as technology is rapidly evolving. We are investing heavily in that area, future flight deck design.”
It’s not like automation is a new idea. Both Airbus and Boeing have adding more automation for years. Indeed, both planemakers have found that automating processes like engine adjustment and landing maneuvers actually increases safety. For three decades, Airbus has offered cockpit technology designed to prevent accidents. In fact, it could overrule pilots and unlike Boeing, could not be overrode.
But the irony is that the MAX crashed was tied to faulty automation; the MCAS system. And it is intuitive that pilots who let the computer fly the plane will lose the sort of manual skills that may be necessary in case the computer crashes. At the very least, it can make pilots much less decisive when emergencies occur, where every second counts.
Boeing has developed an electrically-powered cargo plane that does not require pilots onboard. That may be the prototype for future automated commercial flight.
Whenever I think of a fully-automated flight deck, I think back to the episode of TaleSpin below. I know, I know…yes, I am referencing a Disney cartoon. But this childhood cartoon was the first thing I thought of when reading about Boeing’s lofty automation goals.
Whether irrational or not, I will not fly on a machine that can lock out pilots. We’ve seen over and over that technology is not flawless. Humans are not either, of course, but I like the redundancy of having automation plus human override.
Are you prepared to board an aircraft without pilots in the cockpit or with some actions wholly restricted?
Automation is the future but I don’t trust Boeing to usher in that era.
People used to be afraid of riding on elevators that didn’t have human operators, too.
You are comparing an elevator to an airliner. That would be like me comparing my stove to a car.
You have to remember that the automation was there to correct what (was assumed to be) a pilot error (high angle of attack at certain flight phases). So MCAS would not even be there for a fully automated flight deck.
Granted, there would be other automation that must then itself be vetted, tested, certified, etc. But MCAS was an issue with automation AND pilots, not simply automation.
Sorry, but you are completely wrong…. study both cases again, the wrong input from an single faulty sensor was the cause for MCAS activation, the pilots never, ever, exceeded angle of attack, if there were no pilots on board, relying on autommation only, the accidents would be just faster, just after liftoff.
They really should roll this out with cargo jets first before completely removing the human element. Even Uber/Waymo/etc. has “safety drivers” in most of their driverless cars. I’d need to see millions of flight hours logged and tons of “oh crap this sensor died what should the plane do?” tests before I ever boarded a completely pilotless flight.
Sounds like Boeing are writing their death warrent.
I was told today from a usually reliable and informed source that the 7M8 will not fly again.
Airbus is going to own the next two decades. Boeing is a mess.
“could not be overrode” ?
“could not be overridden” might be better.
In any event, you are right, the MAX crashes were caused by faulty automation. On top of that, Boeing wanted to blame the pilots for not knowing how to deal with the failure of an automated system that Boeing deliberately kept them in the dark about, because, God forbid, disclosing its existence might have required pilot training.
I feel that in light of the accidents and $h!t show of the MAX, Boeing should keep still for now. Especially if it’s about new technology.
My friend, an addict, is also a pilot. Commercial plane. During college, never once I see him sober. Yet he is a certified pilot.
Confronted by my other friend, he said: nowdays everything is automated. If there was an accident, it’s truly an act of god.
Lies? Whatever you say.
Automation or computer override or flight system or whatever you named it may have already exist. And the pilot may really didn’t have basic skill in case it screws up. Who knows ……
Why go for fully automation when the worlds are full of skilled pilots,automation will lead to redundancy which will not be good as pilots around the world become jobless. Surely computer system is not always perfect. I would prefer a bit of both that involves pilot and computer system helping each other in emergency.
Guess you forgot this one Matthew
They say “Almost- Almost fly themselves” that’s not pilotless that’s highly automated with a pilot.