As flightdeck automation becomes so reliable it hardly ever fails, it is becoming more of a human factors problem. The UK Air Accidents Investigation Branch makes this clear in its report on the Thomsonfly Boeing 737-300 that stalled and was momentarily out of control on approach to Bournemouth two years ago.

The AAIB cites a Civil Aviation Authority study, observing: "Pilots familiar with operating older aircraft, which had more variable reliability, are nearing the end of their careers, and there is a generation of pilots whose only experience is of operating aircraft with highly reliable automated systems."

Is the AAIB implying that younger pilots are less good than the older ones when things go wrong? It seems so. Maybe that's because the exercises mandated in recurrent training programmes have scarcely changed since the days of the Super Constellation. So training no longer represents what crews are likely to have to deal with today.

The Thomsonfly incident was caused by a failure to notice the autothrottle had disconnected with the engines at idle, and late recognition that airspeed was low.

It resembled the circumstances of the February Turkish Airlines accident on approach to Schiphol; there, the auto­throttle retarded to idle - uncommanded - but the crew did not notice the speed loss. Crews are like batsmen used only to fast, straight deliveries when they need training for googlies - like an automation failure.

Source: Flight International