Modern Automation: A Force to be Reckoned with

For over a decade we have been advocating a systematic yet simplified approach to the automated flight deck environment. When we first introduced Automation Airmanship in 2004, we were focused on providing aviation professionals with a sound, disciplined and repeatable methodology to apply to encounters with flight deck technology, from the most rudimentary to the most complex. Over 10 years later, we’re still committed—and more convinced than ever—that applying the 9 principles we originally introduced not only still works today, but will be increasingly relevant as technology improves and evolves well into the distant future. Indeed, every major aviation accident since 2003 involving highly automated aircraft, when viewed through the lens of Automation Airmanship, can be easily broken down to reveal timeless and lasting lessons for flight crews everywhere.

In his book, What Technology Wants, the technology advocate and author Kevin Kelly writes: “Often unrelated parts end up as a tightly integrated system in a more evolved design.” The contemporary flight deck is a perfect example of this observation, and few modern professions rival aviation for its reliance on knowledge that harnesses so many separate technologies with such safe and reproducible results. A more recent volume dedicated almost entirely to how individuals are forced to cope with automation in daily living describes automation as “a force” rather than a thing or a technique.[1] The fact is, that contemporary flight crews must show mastery over a multitude of disciplines from powerplant technology to computing, from high-performance aerodynamics to complicated navigation, among many others. Because automation is present in so much of our profession, it requires a systematic and disciplined family of skills to bring such “a force” under control.

The skills that modern aviators use to control increasingly powerful and complex forces can be viewed as an extension of principles that can apply to all automated systems in which the human plays the indispensable role of master and supervisor. When these principles are known, developed, and practiced on every flight, cockpit crewmembers everywhere can respond in proportion with appropriate skills on an adequate scale in all of their encounters with technology.

The principles of Automation Airmanship are not intended to be applied only when systems fail or do not act according to the crew’s intent; they are intended to be applied when the “tightly integrated system” is functioning flawlessly, bringing the benefits of highly automated, contemporary flight to all of humankind.

Think about it.

Until our next post, fly safe, and always, fly first.

[1] “The Glass Cage: Automation and Us” by Nicholas Carr. W. W. Norton and Company, New York, NY. 2014.

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