Module 6 – Automation

Introduction

Automation in the aviation domain has been increasing for the past two decades. Pilot reaction to automation varies from highly favourable to highly critical depending on both the pilot’s background and how effectively the automation is implemented.

Modern aircraft feature a variety of automation technologies to help the pilot with such things as checklist execution, navigation, descent planning, engine configuration, and system monitoring. Older aircraft can be retrofitted to incorporate many of these features by replacing older radios with modern units, replacing traditional gauges with computer monitors, and linking everything with computer processors.

One of the goals of automation is to improve the pilot’s situational awareness. A related goal is to decrease the workload required to maintain a given level of awareness.

Technologies assist the pilot with awareness of position, terrain, traffic, fuel usage and remaining aircraft range, engine operating characteristics, etc. Pilots have various reactions to automation. They may find it superfluous (the “real pilots don’t need an autopilot”? perspective), helpful (“the autopilot can fly an approach much more accurately than I; a real plus in bad weather”?), or confusing (the “what’s it doing now?”).

It is believed that to make automation helpful, it needs to fulfill a pilot’s need, fit seamlessly into the flying tasks, and be easy enough to understand to earn a pilot’s trust.

CRM in highly automated aircraft presents special challenges, in particular in terms of situation awareness of the status of the aircraft.