The lonely airline pilot

How many pilots does it take to fly a commercial airliner?

At the moment the regulators say two, but any aircraft could be flown by a single pilot.

The most basic safety argument for requiring two is pilot incapacitation, but flightdecks are designed so that the one remaining fit pilot can bring the aircraft home safely, even if it were the captain who had become incapacitated. So, regulation accepts that a single pilot can operate an airliner, but only allows it in an emergency.

The UK Civil Aviation Authority comments that any change to safety-related regulation has to meet the principle of “equivalent safety”. In other words, one pilot plus high technology must be demonstrated to be at least as good as, but preferably better than, two pilots are in existing flightdecks. It’s actually going to be quite difficult to argue that case! 

When debating the single-pilot airliner, the practical considerations and cultural reactions are much more interesting than the regulatory issues.

Here’s one such practical consideration: all airline pilots would have to be rated as aircraft commanders, but how would they achieve that competency without a co-piloting apprenticeship?

Here’s another: if security regulations remain as they are, all types except short-hop regionals would require an en-suite flightdeck. And to allow even brief pilot absences from the controls, the autopilot must have a mode that does not allow it to trip out, which raises lots of technical questions.

Some 60 years ago, airliners with about 30 passenger seats on board needed a pair of pilots, a flight engineer, a navigator and radio operator because the workload was so high in each of those roles. The reasons such a crew is no longer necessary are too obvious to need rehearsing here. An aeroplane today may be extremely complex, but automation and massive advances in system reliability has reduced the human operator’s workload dramatically.

Meanwhile Embraer, the first manufacturer to break cover on the issue of single-pilot crews, cites future air traffic management systems as an influential enabling component. The new environment will be one in which the precise four-dimensional navigation of a flight will have become a largely automated, centrally co-ordinated exercise.

A single human operative in a completely automated environment who hardly ever had to do anything would risk being psychologically out of the loop when the automation failed, and therefore highly likely to be ineffective. So why put one on the aeroplane? 

The questions that really arise are not whether the crew could be reduced to one, but the more subjective issues of whether it should be done, whether it is practical, and finally whether the pilot would best be on the aircraft, or controlling it remotely.

The airline ops room of the future could have a sophisticated fleet tracking and real-time aircraft health monitoring system, and be staffed by a pool of duty pilots with cockpit-like workstations, ready to take control of any aircraft that alerts the base of even the most minor problem.

It will be increasingly rare that things go wrong, so why bother having a remote pilot assigned to each aircraft? The ratio might be one pilot to five aircraft. At least that would keep the pilots busy, maintaining their expertise so they will be effective when they are needed.

Take-off, en-route flight and landing would all be completely automated. The only thing that probably won’t be is taxiing, navigating around the airport, and parking on the stand. That will keep the pilots busy.

Brave new world!

Will it happen? You tell me.

21 Responses to The lonely airline pilot

  1. BKelly 17 June, 2010 at 10:40 pm #

    I was told, while visiting an old building in Seattle, that people were afraid to get into automatic elevators well into the late 70′s. This led to the elevator operator being kept on, even thought the lifts were automated.

    Using the same logic, people are already deathly afraid of flying. Whilst the day may come, it is unlikely that it will be anytime soon. They aren’t happy with two pilots, let alone one…

    Not even going to get into the error checking, checklist reading and who’s going to “mind the shop” while the one pilot is going to the toilet.

  2. Nicolas Cousineau 18 June, 2010 at 2:32 am #

    A similar process happened twice in my sector of activity: recordings have reduced the “need” for musicians quite a lot over the last half century, and recently downloading has much reduced the workload of disc makers and sellers. Also, in banking, ATMs have led to the closure of many bank branches. We now begin to see self-service cash machines in grocery stores, and self-check-in machines at airports. Not forgetting the automatic subway lines in Paris and other cities. So, desirable or not, it may well happen to pilots as well.

    The question will then be: with all those jobs lost, who will still be fluent enough to take the plane?

  3. FF2 18 June, 2010 at 11:35 am #

    I can’t imagine the authorities planning for a totally automated control of the plane, even as a backup. I think it more likely that a member of the cabin crew will step in for an emergency.

    They would need to be trained for one thing: landing an aircraft under guidance. This is a far more limited skill set than required for a full pilot.

  4. David Nicholas 18 June, 2010 at 2:06 pm #

    Interesting, and yes, quite likely in the future. Think of the UAV pilots taking the offensive against the Taliban. It may well be that the pilots of the future take their turn as ground pilots and once or twice a month actually occupy the pilot seat. Aircraft may still have two pilot seats and dual controls, otherwise training and check flights will be difficult to undertake. Perhaps there will be an intermediate crew category where an individual is licenced basically as a pilot but works back in the cabin, except perhaps for takeoff, landing or when the pilot needs a physiological break. Last but not least, with so many safety-related incidents and accidents attributable to “human factors” perhaps doing away with the humans will solve that once and for all!
    Already quite sophisticated aeroplanes are flown by a single pilot so with the relentless march of automation thereis no reason why airliners should be any different.

    PS Many people think that “the pilot” already works alone. The newspapers seldom use the plural, and provided the IFE works most passengers will accept whatever a cheap ticket buys them without a grumble.

  5. Andrew 18 June, 2010 at 8:20 pm #

    Economically this might be good, but existentially, this is a real shame. This will kill the dreams of thousands of today’s youth that dream of being airline pilots (me being one of them, in flight training, too). It’s easy to green-light things like this if you’re one of the suits in the board room, but hearing about things like this get really painful when you will be on the recieving end. This is a shame, a damn shame…

  6. Caio Nery 19 June, 2010 at 6:37 pm #

    This is our future. I do not consider it a real shame. We will have space for more pilots. Might be weird when it starts.. But it was weird have to pay for food during short-haul flights too.. it was weird to know planes were talking off and landing in the autopilot most of the time.

  7. Dr Boyd Falconer 19 June, 2010 at 7:09 pm #

    “The only thing that probably won’t be [automated] is taxiing, navigating around the airport, and parking on the stand. That will keep the pilots busy.”

    Well, maybe. But not for much longer.

    It’s fascinating, yet daunting, to think how commercial aviation will evolve over the next decade. Advancements in HCI and human error studies have brought us to this challenging next step: unmanned commercial aircraft services. In my opinion, remotely piloted commercial flight is a very near practical reality, but culturally too big a leap for it to be taken seriously in airline board rooms and AGMs.

    Economic savings are more easily attainable in composite material advancements, and greater fuel and aerodynamic efficiencies already delivering dividends. Add to that mix an expanding market – a greater percentage of the world’s population having access to reliable services over the next 5-10 years – and the ‘need’ to remove on-site expertise from the flight decks of our commercial flights seems less important.

    Great topic, David. Thank you for sharing it.

  8. Denise 20 June, 2010 at 9:47 pm #

    Yes, I believe it will happen. We now have 17,000 pound corporate aircraft flying single pilot, and the BE1900 can be flown single pilot. It’s just a matter of time before this trickles up to the airliners.

  9. JIM HELMS 22 June, 2010 at 5:21 pm #

    THE REAL GOAL SHOULD BE “NO PILOT AT ALL” BUT WITH A STANDBY GUY ON THE FLIGHT DECK. TAXI? EASILY AUTOMATED AND STOPPING BEFORE CROSSING AN INTERSECTION COULD BE CONTROLLED BY GROUND CONTROL.

    FOR AN ARTICLE I WROTE RE “PILOTLESS 777 HKG TO LON” NO PILOTS AND NO SPECIAL AIRCRAFT MODS SEND ME A E-MAIL.

    jim@tatsco.com

  10. Paul 23 June, 2010 at 10:22 am #

    Embraer are having massive reliability problems with their airplanes that require 2 pilots so I am surprised that they have the time to dream up idiotic ideas like this one!

    Embraer have a tendency to believe that technology will fix everything, when in fact their software and system integration is so bad that creates more issues than it fixes!

  11. Joe 24 June, 2010 at 2:00 pm #

    The major problem you will have with pilotless aircraft, by delegating flight safety to a ground based ‘operative’ is the integrity of the datalink. On a more humanistic level the fact that a pilot has their own life to consider as well as others when he/she is there in person, enhances the levels of safety quite dramatically! By all means, manufacturers, go ahead and pass the direct control of an aircraft to terra firma but beware the complacency that a 2 dimensional representation creates.

  12. Lawrence 1 July, 2010 at 2:52 am #

    With the use of computers and the new technology pilot errors have dramatically decreased during the last decades. Automation is there to help the pilots. Computers handle a lot of data that previously was handled by the flight crew. This obviously led to a decrease in errors. BUT one should keep in mind that even tough automation works great in normal flight circumstances when an emergency takes place it may act in a strange and bizarre manner which wasn’t expected. So we have eliminated those problems and accident related factors that have been tormenting us for years but we have created new problems.
    VERY IMPORTANT: These automated systems are design by humans. They are not perfect. The programmer or the software designer can still do errors. So instead of having ‘pilot error’ the media will start reporting ‘human error’.
    Moreover one should also keep in mind that flight is a life-critical situation so you simply cannot compare it to other situations which aren’t so.
    Secondly if aeroplanes will be controlled by pilots who are on he ground it will completely change the nature of the job. I still remember when I was 16 at school. It was carrier week. Obviously I wanted to be a pilot so I choose the Aviation section. There was a pilot who said that he choose to become a pilot because besides he liked airplanes it was a job which didn’t have a routine. (Obviously there are procedures that must be repeated but he wasn’t referring to that.)
    If remote-pilotng takes over it will become like any other job. You go to your workplace. Work for a certain amount of hours then return home.
    I think everyone knows how many challenges one have to face to become a professional pilot. People will always get less encouraged to take this carrier if they have to sit in a simulator like environment for the whole day.

    UAVs are used for military purposes. These are remote controlled because the missions that they are used for are too dangerous. So pilots cannot take the risk of being inside one of those.

    In my opinion NO PILOTS AT ALL isn’t possible for the simple reason the even though designers may entrust the automated systems to take decisions it was ruled out years ago.

    Imagine this scenario. An aircraft with one pilot who is incapacitated and the aircraft is in a technical emergency. Will the automation be able to land the plane safely????? I know I am being to pessimistic but still it can happen.

    Obviously it will be cheaper for airlines but they will have to take other things into consideration too.

    This is my opinion (maybe too long). If someone agrees or disagrees with me please post a comment to let me know.

  13. Tim 2 July, 2010 at 1:07 pm #

    Driverless express trains are technically more achievable and will probably be seen first..if ever. Be interesting to see how the RMT and BALPA respond to any such suggestions. Much of this subject is down to “human comfort” – would you want a robotic arm to remove your appendix, or a surgeon?

  14. tim 3 July, 2010 at 8:40 am #

    …following on from my previous post, it is a pity that the pilotless Russian cargo ship missed the ISS docking position by 3km :)

  15. Joseph 15 July, 2010 at 12:48 am #

    It really is a question of when not if. Of course, single pilot, and eventually no-pilot, flights on large airliners will take some time but that will be due to regulatory issues, on the one hand, and aircraft development cycles on the other. Perhaps Single Pilot in as few as 20 years – by then computing capabilities will be over 8,000 times more powerful than current systems… and a fraction of the size.

    However, there will obviously not be a jump straight to 787 size Singe Pilot flights but a gradual implementation process via cargo and regional aircraft. Of course, the underlying systems technology being paved by the billions of dollars being spent on military UAVs.

  16. Thomas Olsen 17 July, 2010 at 6:44 pm #

    Let me make sure we have a firm grasp of the concept.

    1. The pilot on the airplane will never actually “fly” the aircraft, he is just there to continuously and intensely monitor the operation of the autopilot/automation (like that is ever really going to happen if he never gets to touch the aircraft) and taxi the aircraft around the ramp?

    2. It sounds like the pilot on board the aircraft will not actually have an opportunity to develop any real hand flying instrument skills, so what makes us think he/she would be capable of handling the aircraft should the automation fail or when flying in icing conditions in the terminal environment when it may be good practice not to fly with the autopilot? (Don’t any of these “gee whiz” avionics and aircraft manufacturers or regulatory agencies remember the pitot-static failure incidents/accidents on the 757′s, the loss of AF 447 last June, and the Roselawn ATR-72 accident, as well as others that make the problems with the current crop of autopilot dependent pilots obvious to anyone who is willing to look?)

    3. What makes us think that the ground pilot’s connection to remotely fly the aircraft will be 100% reliable? (Especially those of us with the various satellite TV services that go off on an occasional basis.)

    Since that “remote” pilot will be flying the aircraft with the autopilot/automation through a remote connection, what happens when the connection and/or the aircraft automation fails? The power fails, someone digs into a power line or an antenna gets knocked over by a TRW?

    What is sounds like to me is that the pilot on board won’t have a chance around TRW and instrument conditions at normal cruise altitudes because he never developed or maintained any hand flying instrument skills.

    The guy on the ground won’t be able to do anything if his remote connection is broken or the autopilot fails and refuses to respond to his remote commands.

    4. Even if the autopilot/automation/remote connections may work 99.99% of the time, how does the average passenger avoid being on that .01% (or whatever percentage of failure that will be experienced in such systems) of flights where all that automatic stuff just doesn’t operate as advertised?

    5. What about accidents such as Turkish 1951 in Amsterdam early last year. Will a remote human pilot watching five aircraft be able to react quickly enough to prevent the aircraft from stalling should the radio altimeter fail during the approach? The pilots on board that aircraft had less than 100 seconds to prevent the accident, and they did not take action until the stall warning activated, which was too late.

    Exactly how will a remote pilot, watching five aircraft, step in and save the day if he is monitoring five aircraft, even if the flights are arranged so that the remote pilot only has one aircraft on approach to deal with at any given moment? What if more than one are on approach at the same time?

    If the Turkish pilots had a little less faith in their automation and autopilots, perhaps they would have been a little more circumspect about detecting the slowing of their aircraft on the approach, disconnected the autopilot to safely hand fly the aircraft to a landing. I don’t see that problem of over reliance or dependence on the automation being solved by this concept.

    6. In the “Brave New World” being proposed by Embraer, the pilot on board would have neither the hand flying skill in instrument conditions, or any better dead boring monitoring skills than the Turkish 1951 pilots to pick up on the problem and then have the skill to safely fly the aircraft to a landing.

    7. One question the aircraft manufacturers, the avionics manufacturers, the airlines, and the regulatory agencies have to determine is how much automation is too much automation? This sounds to me like too much automation. We could also say that this concept is too much autopilot and not enough pilot for the kind of safety assurances that the traveling public has come to expect. What we are likely to see, with the number of aircraft aloft with this system, is an increasing number of accidents where the aircraft will be lost at varing precise locations along a specified course. Hmmmm–

    8. Sounds like a case for an increased travel on bullet trains to me! Maybe ocean liners will make a comeback?

  17. Lydon 2 August, 2010 at 9:27 pm #

    http://cbs5.com/video/?id=65214@kpix.dayport.com

    Further to my earlier post, I think this link answers first hand why Pilots will allways have a place in a flight deck.

  18. Steve, Essex 16 September, 2010 at 5:40 pm #

    As an idea it’s almost technically possible already, as long as we don’t mind losing an airliner full of passengers per week when it flies through a thunderstorm that wasn’t visible on the weather radar, or hits a light aircraft that wasn’t equipped with a mode S transponder, or the autopilots suffer an electronics failure at 200ft with no pilots to take over. So much is still unknown about aviation – like the effects of electron flux at high altitudes that necessitate the use of old, thick semiconductor processors. Computers do strange things in aircraft even now that leave us with no answers or clues. The pilots up front sort it using a combination of experience, training and common sense, and the passengers behind are left blissfully unaware.

    It will never happen within our lifetimes. Fossil fuels will run out before this becomes a practical application. Decades of scientific study and accident statistics have brought us to where we are now, and human development will not advance so far so fast to eliminate human error, whether it be on the ground at the design stage, the software coding stage, or in the air. Such a scheme would result in large scale loss of life, and only professional pilots really understand how essential it is to have two brains working on problem solving, and measuring each other’s decision making process. The result is greater than the sum of it’s component parts.

    The Airbus was the most advanced and automated aircraft of it’s kind when it first flew, but despite all the attempts to automate the pilot to improve performance and safety, it has not stopped them falling out of the sky through either human or system error. In fact many accidents are as a direct result of system failures with a pilot who was kept ‘out of the loop’.

    Developing working systems worldwide to enable a pilotless or single pilot airliner would cost so many trillions of dollars of research and investment, and radical re-thinks, that it would probably cost many multiples more than the cost of employing twice as many pilots as we have now for the foreseable future of jet aviation!

    There is little more fat to trim out of the baseline costs of crewing and staffing an airline. This pipe dream should be left to the realms of what is technically possible, and development dollars should be spent elsewhere. It is not a realistic working proposition. I think Embraer are using it as a publicity drive, nothing more.

  19. Jim Helms 7 November, 2010 at 7:53 pm #

    The weakest link on the airplane is the Pilot (and I am one and a former professional flight engineer- Pan Am). The UPS 747 that crashed recently had two pilots. One left the cockpit to investigate a fire . . . He never returned. The second guy couldn’t see the instrument due to smoke. Freighters could be automated today.

    Human beings are complex. Some pilots have ten hours of safe flying then they repeat it a thousand times! Introduce something new and the show is over.

    New aircraft have ground signal taxi systems. . Automated take-offs are an application of the automatic GO AROUND command. Autopilots can be programed not to overload the vertical stabilizer or to slow at various levels of turbulence.

    UAVs are flying 4,000 mile+ missions and the pilots can sleep where they belong (if they want to) every night.

    Jim Helms

  20. Sy Levine 27 November, 2010 at 2:13 pm #

    One Onboard Pilot and a Remote Copilot Is Superior To The Present Two Onboard Pilots

    A year prior to 9/11 at the International Aviation Safety Association meeting in New York, methods for preventing crashes like golfer Payne Stewart’s decompression crash were proposed. None of these methods were implemented by the aviation industry and we got 9/11 (hijacking is about ten percent of aviation fatalities) and the 2005, 100 fatality, Helios decompression crash. When a plane deviates from its approved flight plan, we now have the ability to securely take remote control of it and land it safely at a designated airfield. We presently have remote pilot vehicles (RPVs) flying over Afghanistan that are controlled/piloted from continental United States (CONUS). Currently we are utilizing secure high bandwidth communication networks (for our RPVs, submarines, AWACS planes, etc.) and there isn’t a logical reason for not making that technology available for cargo and carrier aircraft. The cost of 9/11 alone is ten times the cost of putting in a safe system and yet nothing has intentionally been done.

    When a plane decompresses there is a good possibility that if we remotely bring it down in altitude to a point where there is sufficient oxygen and fly it remotely for 15 minutes, the pilot and passengers may regain consciousness. At that time the control of the aircraft could be returned to the pilot or remotely landing it to save the lives of the people who are onboard. This would have saved the lives of those aboard Helios.

    Billions of dollars are wasted on unnecessary airport runway expansion and insufficient data programs to reduce fatal ground incursions. The lack of data has caused excessive verbal communication between the pilots and the controllers that is prone to errors. These ground incursions wouldn’t even occur if the flight data was shared so pilots and air traffic control had better visibility. But because the digital data isn’t shared automatically the pilot sees only a fraction of the information necessary to prevent a crash and the same holds true for the air traffic controllers (ATCs). Crashes such as Tenerife (583 fatalities), Comair (49 fatalities), etc. are directly caused by the lack of visibility due to not sharing the DFDR, ATC and airport runway data in real-time. Too many crashes are listed as pilot error when they are a direct result of a lack of visibility brought on by not sharing the digital flight data/Black Box in real-time to provide the necessary situation awareness. Many of the fatal in-air crashes fall into the same category. For example there was a crash where a plane ran out of fuel over JFK. The controller thought the pilot had more fuel left and the pilot who said his fuel was low didn’t use the correct emergency verbiage. Since the fuel supply is another black box input there is no reason why a red light, similar to the one on everyone’s car, doesn’t light up on the ATC display. The red low fuel light would reduce the controller’s work load and increase his situation awareness so that the people aboard a flight similar to the one that crashed would now live. Using the Black Box data decreases the work load of the pilot the air traffic controller as well as increases their situation awareness. By the lack of sharing the already digitized data in real-time we have egregiously curtailed the use of automation and expert systems technology for the prevention of crashes, increased the cost of flying and jeopardized our national security. The real-time use and sharing of the DFDR data to prevent crashes is more important then its present post mortem autopsy mode of operation.

    The already digitized data used in real-time allows the use of automated expert systems to check many of an aircraft’s sensors prior to, and during, a flight to assure that everything is functioning correctly without having a person in the loop. When a malfunction is detected it can automatically inform the pilot and ATC as to the best way to work a round a malfunction. Using cross checks and correlation most of the sensors can be checked and work a round’s provided to the flight deck crew for safe transportation. It will also automatically notify the ground operational center of expected malfunctions and the safest work a round’s using a history file that should be followed. By so doing, the pilot’s work load will be reduced and his performance enhanced.

    A single remote copilot can provide the backup for over fifty operational aircraft and this further adds to economic benefits as well as to the safety and security enhancement. So in this age of automation it makes economic, safety and security sense to have only one onboard pilot and a remote copilot capable of providing the backup for multiple aircraft.

    Sy Levine

    sylevine1@sbcglobal.net

    For more info on this subject see the following link:

    http://www.safelander.com

  21. sy levine 30 May, 2011 at 11:47 pm #

    Air France Flight 447 Typified Why The Black Box Data Should Be Telemetered To The Ground (It probably would have saved the lives of the passengers)

    For the last ten years there hasn’t been a technical reason why the digital flight recorder data isn’t securely sent in real-time to the ground for storage (see the BBC/Equinox video “The BOX”, 4/2000, A look at the shortcomings found in black box flight recorders). During this ten year interval both the US and Europe have had the capability of implementing remote aircraft flight recording if only they had the will to do so. Using a remote aircraft flight recorder, within a couple of seconds, you have the planes position/location, its attitude, velocity, etc. safely stored on the ground and used for flight safety, aviation security and cost reduction. The data used in real-time could have also prevented 9/11 (see http://www.safelander.com).

    On June 4, 2009 the Los Angeles Times put following information that I wrote into their LETTERS section: “There is no technical reason why digital flight recorder data are not sent in real-time to the ground. We have the technology to do this. Then, within a couple of seconds, we would have a plane’s position, altitude and velocity safely stored on the ground. This information could be used for flight safety, aviation security and cost reduction. We don’t know what went wrong on Air France Flight 447, but we would sure know where the plane went down, why it went down and possibly could have saved lives.” Getting to the crash site early may save lives, getting the DFDR can prevent recurring fatal crashes. It’s not just position that’s needed, it’s all of the data sent to the recorder that is critical to ascertaining the root cause of a crash and should be available to prevent some of the crashes from occurring.

    The real-time use of the data recorders will save a substantial amount of lives, make our country safer and reduce the cost of flying. Telemetering the already digitized flight data to the ground in real-time would assure that we have the data. In some crashes the flight data isn’t recovered (e.g. 9/11, et al) or has errors in it since no one is looking at it, or using it in real-time to find malfunctions. Yet, this valuable digital flight recorder data (DFDR) data has been essentially left to the autopsy mode for post mortem simulations and not utilized proactively in real-time to save lives on cargo and carrier aircraft. We got the astronauts back from the moon by ground personnel monitoring the data in real-time. It was the ground personnel that found the problem and relayed back to the capsule the safe solution that saved the astronauts lives. It is now time to utilize this proven methodology for the good of the public.

    A year prior to 9/11 at the International Aviation Safety Association meeting in New York, methods for preventing crashes like golfer Payne Stewart’s decompression crash were proposed. None of these methods were implemented by the aviation industry and we got 9/11 (hijacking is about ten percent of aviation fatalities) and the 2005, 100 fatality, Helios decompression crash. When a plane deviates from its approved flight plan, we now have the ability to securely take remote control of it and land it safely at a designated airfield. We presently have remote pilot vehicles (RPVs) flying over Afghanistan that are controlled/piloted from continental United States (CONUS). Currently we are utilizing secure high bandwidth communication networks (for our RPVs, submarines, AWACS planes, etc.) and there isn’t a logical reason for not making that technology available for cargo and carrier aircraft. The cost of 9/11 alone is ten times the cost of putting in a safe system and yet nothing has intentionally been done.

    When a plane decompresses there is a good possibility that if we remotely bring it down in altitude to a point where there is sufficient oxygen and fly it remotely for 15 minutes, the pilot and passengers may regain consciousness. At that time the control of the aircraft could be returned to the pilot or remotely landing it to save the lives of the people who are onboard. This would have saved the lives of those aboard Helios.

    Billions of dollars are wasted on unnecessary airport runway expansion and insufficient data programs to reduce fatal ground incursions. The lack of data has caused excessive verbal communication between the pilots and the controllers that is prone to errors. These ground incursions wouldn’t even occur if the flight data was shared so pilots and air traffic control had better visibility. But because the digital data isn’t shared automatically the pilot sees only a fraction of the information necessary to prevent a crash and the same holds true for the air traffic controllers (ATCs). Crashes such as Tenerife (583 fatalities), Comair (49 fatalities), etc. are directly caused by the lack of visibility due to not sharing the DFDR, ATC and airport runway data in real-time. Too many crashes are listed as pilot error when they are a direct result of a lack of visibility brought on by not sharing the digital flight data/Black Box in real-time to provide the necessary situation awareness. Many of the fatal in-air crashes fall into the same category. For example there was a crash where a plane ran out of fuel over JFK. The controller thought the pilot had more fuel left and the pilot who said his fuel was low didn’t use the correct emergency verbiage. Since the fuel supply is another black box input there is no reason why a red light, similar to the one on everyone’s car, doesn’t light up on the ATC display. The red low fuel light would reduce the controller’s work load and increase his situation awareness so that the people aboard a flight similar to the one that crashed would now live. Using the Black Box data decreases the work load of the pilot the air traffic controller as well as increases their situation awareness. By the lack of sharing the already digitized data in real-time we have egregiously curtailed the use of automation and expert systems technology for the prevention of crashes, increased the cost of flying and jeopardized our national security. The real-time use and sharing of the DFDR data to prevent crashes is more important then its present post mortem autopsy mode of operation.

    The already digitized data used in real-time allows the use of “Automated Expert Systems” to check many of an aircraft’s sensors prior to, and during, a flight to assure that everything is functioning correctly without having a person in the loop. When a malfunction is detected it can automatically inform the pilot and ATC as to the best way to work a round a malfunction. Using cross checks and correlation most of the sensors can be checked and work a round’s provided to the flight deck crew for safe transportation. It will also automatically notify the ground operational center of expected malfunctions and the safest work a round’s using a history file that should be followed. By so doing, the pilot’s work load will be reduced and his performance enhanced. The whole process of recognizing an aircraft problem and telemetering the best solution to the flight crew for a safe flight can be done with-in seconds. If action isn’t taken it is even possible to take control of the aircraft to assure the safety of the passengers. In the case of Flight 447 it is highly likely that if the pilots were given the benefit of an Expert System the plane and its passengers would have survived the pitot tube problem that occurred. Expert Systems provide the pilot, with-in seconds, the best way to handle a life threatening problem. Without an Expert System automatically providing alerts and advisories, the pilot has to thumb through a flight manual while in the midst of the problem.

    While pinpointing specific causes of a crash via the autopsy mode has merit it doesn’t address the broad generic systemic cause of most crashes namely not sharing the already digitized Black Box data in real-time for crash prevention. Piloting errors and mechanical failures will always occur but that is not a sufficient reason for the passengers to die. The fundamental reason for too many of the crashes is because the Black Box data has been denied from being utilized in real-time by the aviation industry out of fear for liability. We have operated commercial aviation in a dark age’s methodology. The aviation industry even fought against Black Boxes for many years. The Black Box technology came out of Australia and it was years later when it was embraced by the US aviation industry. Even when the US aviation industry embraced Black Box technology they severely limited the number of points that were allowed to be monitored. The net result we had recurring crashes such as the horrific USAIR, Flight 427, Aliquippa PA crash that was solved by using British QAR (Quick Access Recorder) data. QARs weren’t utilized by US carrier aircraft. We must eliminate this liability fear and enter into a new age of aviation enlightenment by utilizing the black box data in real-time to prevent crashes. The Black Box data should not be suppressed under the cover of industry private and parsed out begrudgingly. The Black Box data belongs to the public since it is necessary for their safety.

    The Air France flight 447 crash is just the latest example of horrific crashes that possibly could have been prevented or saved lives. Using the Black Box data safely stored on the ground we surely would be able to minimize the anguish of the passenger’s families and recurring crashes. Ground storage eliminates the cost, time and risks associated with recorder recovery. The flight data used in real-time: reduces the cost of flying; prevents recurring fatal crashes; prevents a host of fatal crashes that aren’t directly related to Air France Flight 447, and keeps nations safe and secure. For the good of nation and its citizens, not only the flying public, we must utilize the Black Box data in real time.

    Sy Levine

    sylevine1@sbcglobal.net

    (310) 559-2965