Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Nearly all people connected to the aviation industry agree that automation has helped to dramatically improve airline safety over the past 30 years but Tom Costello reports at NBC News that according to a new Federal Aviation Administration report commercial airline pilots rely too much on automation in the cockpit and are losing basic flying skills. Relying too heavily on computer-driven flight decks now poses the biggest threats to airliner safety world-wide, the study concluded. The results can range from degraded manual-flying skills to poor decision-making to possible erosion of confidence among some aviators when automation abruptly malfunctions or disconnects during an emergency. 'Pilots sometimes rely too much on automated systems,' says the report adding that some pilots 'lack sufficient or in-depth knowledge and skills' to properly control their plane's trajectory. Basic piloting errors are thought to have contributed to the crash of an Air France Airbus A330 plane over the Atlantic in 2009, which killed all 228 aboard, as well as a commuter plane crash in Buffalo, NY, that same year. Tom Casey, a retired airline pilot who flew the giant Boeing 777, said he once kept track of how rarely he had to touch the controls on an auto-pilot flight from New York to London. From takeoff to landing, he said he only had to touch the controls seven times. 'There were seven moments when I actually touched the airplane — and the plane flew beautifully,' he said. 'Now that is being in command of a system, of wonderful computers that do a great job — but that isn't flying.' Real flying is exemplified by Capt. Chesley Sullenberger, says Casey, who famously landed his US Airways plane without engines on the Hudson River and saved all the passengers in what came to be known as the 'Miracle on the Hudson.' The new report calls for more manual flying by pilots — in the cockpit and in simulations. The FAA says the agency and industry representatives will work on next steps to make training programs stronger in the interest of safety."
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