Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Are Modern Airliners “Too Automated”?

From the tragic crash of the Airbus A330 of Air France Flight 447 back in June 2009 to the Boeing 737 Max crashes of Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 less than six months apart, are modern airliners just “too automated” to be airworthy?

By: Ringo Bones

Despite of Trump’s recent parroting of 21st Century era passenger jets becoming too automated even though he probably himself never piloted an ultralight aircraft or piloted a crop-duster biplane, there seems to be some truths to his Tweets. Blaming on too much automation and computer control on why the most modern passenger jets are becoming less airworthy in comparison to planes from a previous generation may seem a valid point, but should today’s pilots be also familiar with the fundamentals of barnstormer-era aeronautics by familiarizing themselves on how to fly a crop-duster biplane akin to elite sailors from the world’s greatest navy fleets being trained on three masted sailing ships like cadets from the then West German navy used to train on the Gorch Foch square-rigger? Well, remember the Air France Flight 447 incident? Air crash investigators said that the crash of the Airbus A330 during its Rio De Janeiro to Paris flight back in June 1, 2009 could have been prevented if the copilot involved were familiar with the difference between a low-speed stall and high-speed buffeting – as in having experience of flying a crop-dusting biplane or similar single-engine propeller aircraft. But are modern computer controlled automation of modern passenger aircraft – like the MCAS used in the Boeing 737 Max aircraft involved in the Lion Air Flight 610 (October 29, 2018) and the Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 (March 10, 2019) less than six months later actually making modern jet airliners less airworthy than their predecessors?

Known as Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System or MCAS takes readings from two sensors that determine how much the plane’s nose is pointing up or down relative to the oncoming airflow. When MCAS detects that the plane is pointing up at a dangerous angle, it can automatically push down the nose of the plane in an effort to prevent the plane from stalling. MCAS is activated without the pilot’s input, which has led to some frustration among pilots of the Boeing 737 Max jet. At least half a dozen pilots have reported being caught off guard by sudden descents in the aircraft, according to the Dallas News. One pilot said it was “unconscionable that a manufacturer, the FAA, and the airlines would have pilots flying an airplane without adequately training, or even providing available resources and sufficient documentation to understand the highly complex systems that differentiate this aircraft from prior models,” according to an incident report filed with a NASA database.  

Experts say that pilots need to be retrained about familiarization about modern computer automated systems used in modern passenger aircraft – and in my opinion especially pilots who grew up in a place where crop-dusting biplanes and similar aircraft in which they can train to familiarize themselves first hand between the difference of a stall caused by insufficient airspeed and high speed buffeting caused by exceeding the aircraft’s maximum speed without the reliance of onboard computer gear – are virtually nonexistent. At present, Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration are currently at odds over how much pilot training will be required to familiarize themselves with the MCAS used in the Boeing 737 Max.

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