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By: T. D. Ponder
E-mail Address: tdponder@worldnet.att.net

Scary New-Generation Aircraft

In the wake of the recent China Airbus crash there has developed a major, ongoing argument regarding the relative safety of Airbus vrs. Boeing aircraft. It is ironic that, facts notwithstanding, the China crash has many "earmarks" of pilot error, although that is yet to be determined. This argument is a matter of symptoms only, since the aircraft involved merely represent a small factor in a larger problem. The debate has quickly turned into an international bickering contest with accusations flying across the Atlantic Ocean at the speed of light. It is my opinion that no matter what a pilot's culture (the aircraft should not care!), when he/she straps into the seat of any airplane, she/he should not have to worry if he/she is going to fly it or if some competent or otherwise non- pilot software writer's work is going to jump in from time totime to have the AIRPLANE make a critical decision.

Are we moving into an era wherein pilots are going to become only guardians, when occasionally permitted, over computers otherwise totally flying the aircraft? Are we almost there now? We know the next set of steps, coming too soon perhaps, will bring pilotless aircraft from gate to gate. But for now, are pilots to be incapable of having the aircraft "feel" even when they are pseudo - flying new - generation aircraft? (c.f., the Delta Airbus "drivers" who sat and chatted while the auto-throttles backed off until the aircraft surprised them and their passengers with a full - blown stall and the loss of some 3,000ft. over Florida? Don't bother to yell that this particlar craft was not a newer, FBW version. The point is the same either way. BTW, Why does Delta no longer fly the Airbus?)

Somewhere a compromise has to be reached in the new - generation aircraft whereby a pilot, for now at least, knows he/she will have direct, total and undisputable control CAPABILITY of the aircraft in all phases of flight. I am not a Luddite and I am not opposed to progress. Progress, however, must include SAFETY as a mainstay, and not reduced it to a "necessary and, ergo, acceptable" human loss level.I am fully aware that many military aircraft have computer control devices that would otherwise make the aircraft unflyable (i.e., by hand) under certain mission flight conditions. I am not opposed to that. Nor do I expect airline pilots to hand - fly their craft at high altitude enroute (while wearing their caps crooked and sweating), because that is neither feasible nor desirable. I am not asking for a step backward, just a closer look at current and future options of a trend already well - established. I am talking about zero system/autopilot surprises of a lethal nature, and a pilot's having direct control capability. Aircraft designers, manufacturers and computer programmers must not be allowed to usurp this capability for now. Otherwise, crew and passenger deaths will continue to mount as they are doing currently while aircraft and aircraft system bugs slam aircraft into the ground, without regard for human life or culture.

As for the Airbus aircraft, it seems that the newer - generation "Baby Buses" are the ones being flown by video games. They need to find a parking space until the bugs/systems are corrected! Airlines flying Boeing products also should consider if they wish to park a particular model based on its "mystery" crash history. It will not happen, of course. There is no doubt pilots, as we know them today, will become obsolete in the future. But why should lives be lost in this transition? Is there no other way available? Should we set a level of human loss as aircraft systems and designs change? I have great difficulty with this line of thought --- much less its implementation.

T.D. Ponder ATP BHM 10,000 hrs.+ PIC

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