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What do you think about automation in the flight deck? Do you “hand fly” your aircraft regularly to maintain proficiency?


Automation is fine as long as the pilots remain in the loop. I typically hand fly to 10,000 ft on departures, and alternate between hand flying and the autopilot on approaches.

Chris Hershberger
ATP. Citation Excel
Gen Mgr Flight Ops
Mid-Ohio Aviation
Wooster OH

 

Use of automation depends of each situation and every company’s procedures and manuals. But, of course, it’s imperative to hand fly as much as possible since proficiency is perishable.

Alessandro Medeiros
ATP/Helo. Leonardo AW139
Line Captain
Gulf Helicopters
São Paulo SP, Brazil

 

Hand flying skills are important. However, the use of automation to reduce workload is also important. I feel that, in a busy or challenging environment, use of automation is critical.

Jeff Jones
ATP. King Air E90
Chief Pilot
Texas Pacific Land
Dallas TX

 

I do hand fly the aircraft regularly. I’m also an instructor and I think that hand flying could save a life in critical situations. Automation is very good and useful as long as there are always pilots ensuring automation is doing what they want.

Alessio Mocci
ATP. Airbus A319CJ & Falcon 900EX/EX EASy
Pilot
Italian Air Force
Secaucus NJ

 

Yes, I do. I believe use of automation in the flight deck is critical during normal, abnormal, and emergency situations. It can help a pilot and crew reduce their workload during stressful events.

John Cuneo
ATP/Helo. Gulfstream G650 & Falcon 900 EASy
Captain
Starr Equipment
Fishkill NY

 

The increased automation in the flight deck has made flying much safer and has enabled more flights to take place than would have been possible without such improvements. However, I routinely hand fly the airplane to ensure that my skills do not deteriorate. Automation should feel like a benefit, and not something on which I have to rely.

Marc Dulude
ATP. Citation CJ3+
Chief Pilot
Mild Air
Bluffton SC

 

Flight decks have been greatly improved by automation. When used correctly, it makes maintaining situational awareness easier. Having said that, I still hand fly up to 10,000 ft in the traffic pattern and on some approaches to keep my skills sharp. That way when the computer fails, I’m comfortable taking over. Remember – aviating comes first.

Ryan Blanchard
ATP. Embraer Phenom 300E
Av Dept Mgr
Luck Companies
Glen Allen VA

 

Using and planning automation correctly is a boon for aviators. As we say, it’s a man behind the machine. Yes, we do fly manually whenever we get the chance, subject to atmospheric conditions.

Abhilash Chaudhary
ATP. Citation Bravo & Falcon 2000LX
Senior First Officer
Taj Air
Mumbai, India

 

Automation helps pilots in situational awareness, no question about it. However, I hand fly from takeoff to 3000 ft, and from that same altitude to landing – if the weather is all right. I believe automation is helpful when you master it.

M Abah
ATP/CFII. Citation II/SP, King Air 350 & Pilatus PC-12
Aviation Manager
Lasaik
Yaounde, Cameroon

 

We hand fly regularly at lower altitudes and on some approaches to maintain proficiency. We use all the automation in order to stay sharp on how to use all autopilot modes as well. I think it’s important to be able to use both methods equally well. Head-up display (HUD) and enhanced flight vision systems (EFVS) proficiency is also something to keep in mind with aircraft that are equipped.

Brent Keyes
ATP. Gulfstream G550
Dir of Aviation
Graham Capital Mgmt
Bethel CT

 

I feel that automation has certainly improved the overall safety of business aircraft. However, I do have concerns about how far manufacturers will go with integrating additional automated systems. All of our pilots hand fly our aircraft regularly to stay sharp. As good as today’s systems are, we still routinely have glitches to deal with. I think we are all better off if we still place emphasis on keeping our manual flying skills sharp. From many accident reports, such as that of the Air France Flight 447 tragedy, it seems that highly-automated aircraft tend to cause confusion when systems start to fail. It’s imperative to have the ability to take over the aircraft manually when those systems fail us.

Karl Biermann
ATP/CFII. Citation Latitude/CJ3+
Chief Pilot
Prent Corp
Janesville WI

 

Hand flying is what I believe in. However, the Falcon 7X bizjets we operate are fly-by-wire. They’re incredibly stable, so hand flying is easy. However, since there’s no control feedback and they autotrim, they provide little satisfaction. Otherwise, the Falcon family of business jets are a joy to fly. That said, I still hand fly, although nowhere near as much as I used to. It’s still a good exercise, but more like a video game.

James Carroll
ATP. Falcon 7X
Chief Pilot
TPG Global
Newington NH

 

Flight deck automation is very good for helping to reduce crew workload and for improving safety. However, pilots should also exercise their pilot proficiency frequently. I hand fly regularly to keep my skills, especially for approach and departure procedures in IMC.

Fabio de Moraes
ATP/Inst/Helo. Pilatus PC-24, PC-12 & Bell 429
Director
Baltar Investments
São Paulo SP, Brazil

 

Automation, when used correctly, provides opportunities for flightcrews to maintain a higher level of situational awareness. This is especially true when operating in high-density, high-workload airspace such as the US Northeast corridor. Automation is designed to enhance your flying skills, not replace them. Our operation encourages flightcrews to hand fly the aircraft regularly when operated within company-issued guidelines to maintain a high level of proficiency. With more and more complex aircraft and airspace, automation plays a key role for single-pilot IFR operations. As with any system, it is imperative to receive training and instruction on the proper use of any automation. If you’re not fortunate enough to attend simulator-based training, use other resources from the manufacturer, sign up for online training, or hire a knowledgeable CFI who is familiar with your system. I think we all enjoy being able to “fly smoother than the autopilot.”

Darren Rogers
ATP/CFII. Citation XLS & Learjet 45
Base Chief Pilot
Jet Linx Aviation TUL
Claremore OK

 

Our pilots are required to hand fly approaches whenever the opportunity presents itself outside of the mission profile. Automation is mandatory when carrying patients or passengers.

Brian Martin
ATP/Helo/CFII. Leonardo AW139
Instructor Pilot
Maryland State Police
Salisbury MD

 

I fly the aircraft by hand during the first few flights to ensure that it’s rigged properly. And then I test the automation to make sure it responds as programmed.

Ronald Butts
ATP. Hawker 800A & Falcon 20
Instructor
Tiger Air Intl
Red Oak TX

 

Pilots must remain cognizant of selected automation level and be prepared to hand fly at any moment, especially in the terminal environment. Automation is extremely helpful as long as pilots understand their system completely and always verify which mode they’re in after a change. We regularly hand fly on departure up to approx 10,000 to 20,000 ft, as well as visual landing pattern approaches in order to maintain proficiency. Single pilots may have more of a challenge flying manually without a copilot, controlling the comms, and setting up the FD modes, heading, altitude changes, and others.

Mark Weaver
ATP. Embraer Phenom 300E
Captain & DOM
Luck Companies
Sandston VA

 

You have got to do some hand flying. You also have to understand and be proficient at flying the plane using the automation. I hand fly departures to 18,000 ft. The automation is 1s and 0s. You must avoid situations where pilots ask: “What is it doing now?” You need to know and understand what you are programming and know how to manage the automation properly.

Jerry Harrington
ATP/CFI. Gulfstream G650ER & Falcon 2000EX EASy
Av Dept Mgr & Chief Pilot
Benson Pacific
San Diego CA

 

We use a balanced mix of hand flying and automation. You should never give up the skills that got you to the automation.

Robert Patrick
ATP/CFII. Citation Latitude
Chief Pilot
AAA Cooper Transportation
Dothan AL

 

I love to fly. After 14,000 hrs in Learjets, I still hand fly to RVSM on the climb and at least the last 30 miles or so on the descent. I hand fly all approaches, except in the sim, when I have to demonstrate that I can actually use the autopilot. I see pilots who can’t manage flying the airplane and anything else. It’s plain to see why there are so many LOC-I accidents and incidents – nobody can fly the airplane any more. Regular practice makes it second nature instead of an abnormal event.

Marc Miller
ATP. Learjet 45
Dir of Aviation
Geico
Leesburg VA

 

While automation can increase safety without a question, basic aviation skills are important to maintain for a variety of reasons. I hand fly a substantial portion of flights, including climbs, lower-altitude cruising, descents, and approach segments. As a turbine instructor, I encourage my flight students to do the same.

Rich Pickett
ATP/CFII. Citation CJ4/CJ3/CJ2/CJ1/Mustang, Premier I, Eclipse 500 & Pilatus PC-12
President
Personal Wings
San Diego CA

 

For commercial helicopter flight, automation and stability augmentation systems are incredibly helpful for reducing task saturation during hectic phases of flight, like assisting other crewmembers, dealing with passenger-related issues, and negotiating dense NAS areas with complicated communications requirements. However, none of these systems, other than a military-grade system, is going to take off, hover, or land the aircraft for you. Therefore, yes, I still hand fly the aircraft throughout the most critical phases of flight, and I do regularly practice flying the aircraft by hand in cruise flight.

Clark Hickingbottom
ATP/Helo/CFII. Bell 206L4
Base Line Pilot
Air Evac Lifeteam EMS
New Braunfels TX

 

Both a safety enhancement and a risk are what I see in automation. Our flight department observation is that automation masks marginally-performing flightcrews. It makes them even weaker, as they typically rely on those tools, even when under pressure. If their automation fails, they are in trouble. Flightcrews who do not hand fly their aircraft regularly perform poorly in emergency situations or when automation fails. On the other hand, automation reduces crew workload, improves situational awareness, and offers an additional level of protection in most cases. Hand flying to maintain basic skills is a must!

Frank Behrendt
ATP. Westwind II & Merlin 300/Metro III
Chief Pilot
SkyCare
Sioux Lookout ON, Canada

 

There is so much automation now that it takes away from maintaining the foundational skills on which we’re supposed to fall back during an emergency. In our industry, we train the foundational skills to a minimum of 70%, and then let people reinforce that with experience out in the field. With automation, that experience no longer exists. In the past year, with Covid-19, we’ve hardly flown, but we’ve been trying to maintain proficiency through training. The scariest thing you’ll see in a high-tech jet is 2 guys head down looking at a screen wondering “What’s it doing now?”

Bob Richards
ATP/CFII/A&P. Beechjet 400A
Chief Pilot
Xavier Aviation
Lakeland FL

 

I think automation has the potential to help manage pilot workload while enhancing safety and efficiency – if used appropriately and monitored properly. However, automation is not an appropriate substitute for the need to maintain hand flying proficiency.

Scott Lowe
ATP. Beechjet 400
Captain
Wheels Up Private Jets
Reinbeck IA

 

In my opinion, automation is a fantastic tool to increase situational awareness and free up pilot mental capacity at certain times. However, over-reliance on these systems also creates a negative safety gradient with subsequent erosion of basic piloting skills, leading to a reluctance to hand fly and allow the automation to take over at the last minute. When is the last time you disconnected the autothrottles on approach, for example? As automation becomes more complex and integrated into the aircraft’s systems, it is down to the crew to gain a deeper understanding of what is really going on behind the scenes. All too often, you hear: “What is it doing now?” or: “Why did it do that?” when the automation does something unexpected or unplanned, taking the crew’s attention away from flying the airplane and shifting priority toward trying to understand what it is doing. In short, automation is a powerful tool, provided it’s used correctly and understood properly.

Joe Davitt
ATP. Global Express
Captain
HBK Aviation
Doha, Qatar

 

Using automation is superb for reducing workload and fatigue. Our pilots generally hand fly through 18,000 ft after takeoff, and in the general airport area for landing. However, we’ll use automation if needed to manage workload. Crews also attend upset prevention and recovery training.

David Thatcher
ATP. Falcon 7X
Director
Glazer’s
Dallas TX

 

As a flight examiner, I absolutely insist on seeing some procedures performed “by hand.” Automation, unfortunately, creates a great degree of overconfidence, which is an egregious mistake.

Gaspar de Queiroz
ATP/Helo. Airbus EC130T2/AS350B3
Sr Flight Inst & Honorary Pres
Airbus Helicopters Training Svcs
Aix-en-Provence, France

 

Automation is good for routine aviation tasks, as long as you remember to trust and verify at the same time. I’m a strong believer in maintaining my personal piloting skills. My personal practice is to hand fly on each leg around departure and arrival in the airport safety window, reserving automation for complex procedures, high-traffic, and heavy-load environments. To maintain my proficiency, I commit to hand flying about 90% of my simulation training. This provides the safest environment for guarding against human error, and gives me the ideal time and opportunity to hone my piloting skills in worst-case scenarios. I think most pilots would agree that, compared to everyday flying, simulators are more difficult to fly with precision than actual aircraft in complex emergencies, like challenging our instrument scan, CRM, mental and judgement abilities on a higher level. Murphy’s Law will most likely challenge our abilities on a dark ominous day when every helpful piece of automation on which we rely decides to fail.

Wayne Carroll
ATP/CFII/A&P. Gulfstream V/IV/II/I & Sabreliner 65
Dir of Aviation
Eastman Chemical Co
Gray TN

 

It’s excellent as long as you understand how it works. Hand flying on a regular basis is a must. If we lose our hands-on piloting skills, our value to our passengers is greatly decreased. I hand fly most takeoffs, every 3rd to 5th instrument approach, and every visual approach.

Alan Law
ATP. Citation Sovereign
Dir of Aviation
Principal Financial Group
Des Moines IA

 

Automation in the cockpit is a wonderful tool to assist with safety of flight. However, pilots should absolutely maintain hand flying and raw skills in the event of a failure of automation.

Andrew Cohen
ATP. Falcon 2000LX
President
Aviation Consultants of Aspen
Castle Rock CO

 

Based on my experience, automation is a great tool, and should be used as such. You should feel comfortable flying the airplane without automation in any regime, and not be uncomfortable disengaging or reducing the level of automation if the aircraft isn’t doing what you have commanded it to do. Just as the pilot flying is monitored, automation should be monitored to ensure that it’s functioning properly.

Mark Jamieson
ATP/CFII. Learjet 45, King Air C90B & Baron 55
Chief Pilot
Gurley Leep
South Bend IN

 

Without a doubt, automation has its place as an aid, mainly in cruise flight. However, far too many pilots these days are absolutely reliant on it for all phases of flight. I regularly hand fly departures and arrivals – even complex ones – and the entire legs (if they are 1 hour or less) to keep my scan and hand/eye coordination sharp.

Robert Van Ryn
ATP. Citation X & King Air 350
Captain
Foster Farms
Oakdale CA

 

Automation is a great way to augment how you fly an aircraft. However, if you continue to use automation, you will lose proficiency rapidly. We like to fly our aircraft manually up to around positive controlled airspace, and then early on the approach. You still have some great tools to use, such as the flight director using FLC or VS for climb and descent profiles. This helps with proficiency in good power management. The gear up, flaps up, and autopilot on make for a rusty pilot. And when the autopilot is not available, trouble may ensue! Isn’t it still just fun to fly the plane?

James White
ATP/Helo. Gulfstream G200 & Airbus AS350BA
Dir of Aviation & Chief Pilot
Walsh Construction
Lake Villa IL

 

Yes, I usually fly departures manually to 10,000 ft unless weather, combined with busy ATC actions, such as reroute, altitude, or restrictions, obliges me to concentrate on other vital actions. Unless conditions are such that an autopilot is preferred, approaches are usually hand flown to a point on final that was determined prior to initiating the approach, whether it is from the IAF, FAF, or minimums to touchdown or a missed approach.

Mark Smith
ATP/CFII. Pilatus PC-12
Dir of Ops
JATO Charters
Chinook WA

 

Outstanding levels of automation are currently available. With the complexity of new departure, arrival, and approach procedures, automation allows the crew to better focus on monitoring compliance with the procedure requirements. Yes, we absolutely hand fly to maintain proficiency. I believe that the ultimate safety mechanism/backup is the crew.

Steven Sumerfelt
ATP. Citation V
Chief Pilot
Stream Realty
Allen TX

 

Benefits and risks of the use of automation vs basic stick and rudder skills have been widely analyzed and written about for many years. Numerous excellent articles have appeared in Pro Pilot magazine. I don’t know what I could add to the robust academic and aviation media coverage on this subject. The consensus has been that state-of-the-art automation is essential to the present and future of private, corporate, and commercial aviation. However, practicing and retaining basic airmanship skills and situational awareness is equally important and essential.

Greg Keshishian
Comm-Multi-Inst/CFII. Daher TBM 850
Managing Partner
GK Partners
New York NY

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