Some Fear Pilots Are ‘Losing Basic Flying Skills’ as Automated Systems Take Over Flight Duties

Officials inspect the inside of the cockpit of a Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft at Soekarno Hatta airport, Jakarta, Indonesia. (Photo: AP)
Officials inspect the inside of the cockpit of a Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft at Soekarno Hatta airport, Jakarta, Indonesia. (Photo: AP)

Automation has made planes safer and more efficient, but the crashes of two Boeing 737 Max jets is leading some to wonder if there is a dangerous flip side.

While advanced autopilots and computers are now considered an integral part of any modern jetliner, many pilots worry that the systems are detracting from developing and maintaining their own abilities.

“We’ve been talking about this in the industry for years. Pilots are losing their basic flying skills and there’s an overreliance on automation,” said Les Westbrooks, an associate professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, after the latest 737 Max crash, an Ethiopian Airlines flight in March.

That crash followed the crash of a Lion Air flight into the Java Sea five months earlier. The two accidents together killed a total of 346 passengers and crew. Boeing is redesigning a key computerized system in the plane, but questions are being raised about pilot actions as well.

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SOURCE: Chris Woodyard, USA TODAY