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FAA: Autopilot causing pilots to lose skills

August 31, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
A report from the Federal Aviation Administration shows that the convenience of autopilot can cause even highly trained pilots to forget how to fly.

After an airplane takes off into the air, the automatic pilot feature takes over. The take off is a matter of minutes and that's just about all the flying a pilot has to do. The report says pilots might be losing valuable flying skills because of it.

Air France flight 447 in June 2009 plummeted into the Atlantic Ocean after the plane's autopilot suddenly disengaged. A stall warning was activated and a pilot in a recording was heard saying that he didn't know what was happening.

The pilots then pulled the plane's nose up, which is the exact opposite of what should be done in that situation.

"They tend to lose some of the hands-on flying because the computer does all the work," said Mike Seth Hunter, a charter pilot out of Van Nuys airport.

He says pilots are well trained, but airlines write the rules.

"It's written into the ops manuals that X altitude, turn on the autopilot, at X altitude, turn off the autopilot. It's part of the culture that needs to change," Hunter said.

According to a report, the FAA is working with airlines on ways for pilots to get more training to handle in flight emergencies.


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