By: T. D. Ponder
E-mail Address: firstname.lastname@example.org
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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