Re: Airbus safety

From:         nelson_p@apollo.hp.com (Peter Nelson)
Organization: Hewlett-Packard Corporation, Chelmsford, MA
Date:         04 Dec 92 22:30:31 PST
References:   1 2 3
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In article <airliners.1992.67@ohare.Chicago.COM> rdd@cactus.org (Robert Dorsett) writes:
>In article <ByL8Hp.LM8@apollo.hp.com> nelson_p@apollo.hp.com (Peter Nelson) writes:

>>   _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.   
>
>This is certainly a debatable contention.  Airbus certainly seems to believe
>it: but it's also in the business of selling products "differentiated" by 
>their style of protection.

  Actually they cited Airbus as a good example of the *problem*.  They
  said that most "human error" crashes have resulted from poor "situational
  awareness" and that this resuts from the way Airbus-like "glass cock-
  pits" take the pilot out of the loop.


>The reality of the situation is that the safety record has remained pretty
>much constant since the late 1970's--note: not the early 1980's, when the 
>first automated aircraft were introduced.  It has stabilized at about 1500 
>lives per year.

  Considering that RevenuePassengerMiles have been climbing steadily
  since that time this is not "stabilization"; it's steady improvement!



>You would have a hard time convincing me that the number of fundamental errors 
>would not increase GREATLY with ground-based oversight, that the safety 
>margins would not go DOWN, as people fundamentally distanced from the reality 
>of a flight have a go/no-go say.  

  I agree.  But the article was discussing taking humans out of the
  loop altogether, not replacing pilots with ground-based controllers.

  The problem that exists now is that the pilot is partially out of
  the loop -- he still has the authority to fly the plane into a
  mountain, but he can't maintain the situational awareness to 
  avoid it.   According to the article the period just prior to 
  landing (and to a lesser extent at t.o.) overburdens the pilot
  with vast amounts of system management tasks, so he loses a sense
  of where he (or the plane) really is.
  

>>And moreover, the technology to do this either
>>   already exists or is close at hand.
>
>The technology isn't close to create safe, fully autonomous aircraft.  

  The article seemed to feel that it's closer than many people think.


>Was Bernard Ziegler the author of this article, perchance? :-)

  Julian Moxon.   October 17 issue, pg 22.

>>   People will
>>   continue to cite those cases where coolness or quick thinking on
>>   the part of the crew did save the airplane or at least many lives.  
>
>I wouldn't.  Rather, I would ask how well we understand the *totality* of
>in-flight incidents and actions, which are corrected by appropriate air-
>manship.  An old, true saying, is that a good pilot is a pilot who doesn't
>have to show he's a good pilot.  Is the capability of being able to maintain
>control in a thunderstorm really that relevant, when 99% of all pilots would
>simply have flown around the same thunderstorm?

  Except the examples I cited (DC 10 fan blade, 747 door) were not
  avoidable by pilot action.


---peter