Sir - According to a press report from Bucharest, Romania, initial findings by a commission of inquiry into the crash of a Tarom Airbus A310-300 attributed the accident to a fault in the automatic-throttle system.

This caused one engine to deliver substantially more power than the other, resulting in the crew losing control of the aircraft. The report does not say whether the pilots tried to switch off the automatic throttles.

There have been many other accidents and incidents involving the computers of automatic flight-control systems. In most cases, final investigation proved the fault to be pilot error.

Airline pilots undergo many hours of training in flight simulators, before taking to the air in real aircraft. Emphasis is placed on computer programming of the automatic flight-control systems, which fly and navigate the aircraft with great accuracy. It has been my experience, however, that proficiency at rapid reversion to basic piloting skills is rarely ever practised in airline simulators.

Instead, emphasis is placed on full use of the automatic systems, which supposedly reduces the crews' work- load. Over-reliance on computers then becomes a potential danger to the safe operation of the aircraft.

It could be argued that some accidents could have been avoided if the crews had been trained to take over the controls manually at the first sign of trouble, rather than simply pushing more buttons and waiting for a response. In the air force, we called it airmanship.


Victoria, Australia




Source: Flight International