According to aviation experts, automation has dramatically improved safety over the last 30 years. But recent accidents, as the one with Saratov, point to increasing problems with lack of airmanship among the younger generation of pilots, argues Tom Dieusaert, Belgian journalist and writer. In his latest book “Computer Crashes: When airplane systems fail” Dieusaert argues that pilots are commonly blamed for tragedies like the Air France F447, but something more subtle – the plane’s computer software – is often overlooked. Interested? Order it now at amazon.com.


Most passengers don’t seem to realize it when they flying smoothly across the sky that the aircraft is basically is flying by itself. After departure, most pilots turn on the Automatic Pilot (AP) and they switch it off, right before landing. The interesting issue is that it’s not the pilots but the airlines who insist on flying on AP.

Stjepan Bedic (Safety Manager at Kermas Aviation): “In today’s world, the aviation has lost the good airmanship and common sense, which are the cornerstones of aviation. Safety management systems (SMS) was turned from a good thing into a bureaucratic mess. People who manage it forgot that the final goal is safety not SMS or statistics.”

Can you give an example? “You have a rule for so called stabilized approach. This means that on approach the aircraft has to be in landing configuration, with correct speed, and altitude at certain height above the ground, usually 1000. So airlines are monitoring all the flight parameters to ensure that the airplanes are always stabilized for landing.

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On June 1, 2009, Air France flight 447 from Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) to Paris (France) suddenly entered an aerodynamic stall and crashed into the Atlantic Ocean, killing all 228 passengers and crew onboard. Although the initial reports on the possible causes of the disaster evolved around the malfunction of the plane’s pitot tubes, the investigation concluded that the main reason for the tragedy was pilot mistake. Tom Dieusaert, a Belgian journalist and writer, does not believe it was quite so. In his new book “Computer crashes: When airplane systems fail” he argues that pilots are commonly blamed for tragedies like the Air France F447, but something more subtle – the plane’s computer software – is often overlooked. AeroTime had a chance to talk with Tom about his book, plane crashes and the computer systems that control modern airplanes. 
 

What’s the risk? “Basically, if you arrive to fast, or configure too late, it may result in a runway overrun and things like that.

So this is how it works: the Safety Manager realizes the company has 5% unstabilized approaches. Meaning: five out of hundred landings were not performed in compliance with the speed, altitude, rate of descent or some other parameter so they make a goal of reducing this to let’s say 2 %. They do this by training, but also by sending e-mails to pilots. Pilots get scared. They refuse to fly the airplane manually. They use the Auto Pilot all the way to 100 ft., because they are afraid, if they fly manually, maybe they have a rate of descent of 1200 feet per minute, and the limit imposed by SMS is 1000 ft.