New Scientist article

From:         rdd@cactus.org (Robert Dorsett)
Date:         08 Dec 92 15:51:04 PST
References:   1
Followups:    1
Next article
View raw article
  or MIME structure

In article <ByL8Hp.LM8@apollo.hp.com> nelson_p@apollo.hp.com (Peter Nelson) writ
es:
>>Remember that the standard definition of an airline pilot's job is 99.999%
>>pute boredom, and 0.001% pure terror (I forget where this quote came from,
>>and the ratios may be incorrect) - if this is anything like true, maybe
>>human pilots really are on the edge of extinction ?
>
>   _New Scientist_ had an article devoted to this about 3 issues ago.
>
>   Basically they said that as the % of "pilot error" crashes increases
>   we may already be at the point where more lives would be saved by
>   pilotless airplanes.

I looked through recent issues of _New Scientist_, seeking the article
Peter referred to.  It appears to be a 2-page essay from the October 17
issue, entitled "Will Accidents Always Happen?"

The author of the article, Julian Moxon, has written for FLIGHT INTERNATIONAL 
for a number of years: his specialty appears to be safety; he's produced
a number of good, comprehensive summaries and analyses of various crashes.

Peter's comment seemed to suggest Moxon was advocating pilotless aircraft; 
in the context of previous post, I construed this as along the lines of 
Bernard Ziegler's "The computer can do it better" rhetoric, and reacted
accordingly. :-)  Moxon's point, however, is a bit more, well, integrated, 
and, if anything, far more ambitious.  It's less an attack against *pilots*, 
per se, which has characterized Ziegler's remarks, but more a criticism of 
the ATC system.  His basic point is that most crashes are landing crashes, 
controlled-flight-into-terrain.  Some are caused by ATC malfeasance, some are 
interface problems.  From the concluding remarks:

"More worrying is that the skies are becoming increasingly congested,
with predictions (despite the recession) of a doubling in air traffic movements
over the coming decade.  This puts extra pressure on the whole air transport
system, not least on the pilots and air traffic controllers in the front 
line.  In general, the system is (or will be) good enough to handle the
extra traffic but--the statistics suggest--probably not good enough to
prevent crashes like that in Kathmandu.  It is as if we have arrived at the
bare minimum of accidents.  The challenge will be to maintain this minimum,
given denser air traffic.

"An inevitable question being asked in an increasingly automated world
is whether we still need pilots.  In many modern aircraft, the entire flight 
apart from the takeoff can handled by the autopilot, once programmed.  But
for obvious reasons, this is an emotive subject, which aircraft manufacturers 
carefully avoid in their official statements.  Still, some designers are 
beginning to think seriously about the possibilities of making the flight 
crew's role more to do with systems management than flying the aircraft.

"This would make the pilot part of a team including the entire air traffic 
system.  Direct communication with the aircraft and its systems would be 
established by a radio-borne digital data link.  This would send information 
on the aircraft's behavior to the ground and receive navigation data and 
commands that could be fed directly into its flight management system.  
Global positioning satellites would meanwhile observe it constantly.

"Pilots worry that this would reduce them to little more than highly paid 
observers monitoring the aircraft's progress through the skies.  But that 
time is a long way off.  In the meantime, the focus remains on the behavior 
of the human brain."

Those interested in a more extreme version of this would enjoy David 
Learmount's interview with Bernard Ziegler, in Flight International, 
September 23-29, 1992, Pp. 35-36.  Ziegler is sort of Airbus's chief priest.




---
Robert Dorsett
rdd@cactus.org
...cs.utexas.edu!cactus.org!rdd