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You may want to strap in for this. Pilot and aviation enthusiast Jack Hersch brings you aboard the cockpits of doomed jumbo jets, including the Boeing 737 MAX, the Airbus A330 lost over the South Atlantic, and the Bombardier Q400 that stalled over Buffalo, in his expert analysis, THE DANGERS OF AUTOMATION IN AIRLINERS: Accidents Waiting to Happen (Air World: October 30, 2020).
Hersch examines how automation in aviation can be a lifesaver, expertly guiding a plane and its passengers through stormy weather to a safe landing. Or it can be a killer, responsible for crashing an aircraft and killing all on board because of faulty programming.
Lawrence Sperry invented the autopilot just 10 years after the Wright brothers’ first flight in 1903. But progress was slow for the next three decades. Then came the end of the Second World War and the jet age. That’s when the real trouble began.
Aviation automation has been pushed to its limits, and pilots increasingly relying on it. Autopilot, auto-throttle, auto-land, flight management systems, air data systems, inertial guidance systems: All these systems are only as good as their inputs which, incredibly, can go rogue. Even the automation itself is subject to unpredictable failure. How can automation possibly account for every eventuality?
And what of the pilots? Trained to fly with their hands on the throttle and yoke, and feet on the rudder pedals, aviation began as a hands-on skill. Then they reached the pinnacle of their careers – airline pilot – and suddenly they were going hours without touching the controls other than for a few minutes on takeoff and landing. Does their reliance on automation allow their skills to erode? And is traditional flight training sufficient to meet the demands of today’s planes? The future of safe air travel depends on the answers to these questions. THE DANGERS OF AUTOMATION IN AIRLINERS charts a course to safer skies.
Jack J. Hersch is a journalist, an instrument-rated commercial pilot, and an expert in the field of distressed and bankrupt companies. He has served as a public company board member, and has guest-lectured in the business schools of M.I.T., U.S.C., and U.C. Berkeley, among others. The Dangers of Automation in Airliners is his second book, following Death March Escape, winner of the 2019 Spirit of Anne Frank Human Writes Award. He and his wife live in New York City.