The future of "pilots"

From:         Brett Wakeman <>
Organization: National Research Council, Canada
Date:         15 Apr 95 11:38:22 
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I just recently was on a Boeing 767 and during the flight, I went up to talk to
the pilots.  They showed me how little they had to do in order to get the
aircraft from point A to B.  Most of their time was spent on the airwaves and
entering data into the Navigational Aid computer.  The co-pilot even pulled up
a graphic of the landing strip and a dotted line which represented how the
aircraft was going to land itself.  They told me they only take over the
controls about 500 feet away on aproach and touch the aircraft down.  Then they
switch on Auto Brakes and the aircraft stops itself.

The automation was quite impressive, yet got me to thinking about the future
for these pilots.  I asked them where they thought piloting was going in the
future, and I got an interesting response.   What they predicted is that in the
next two generations of aircraft, the concept of a 'pilot' will be replaced by
a 'piloting technician', someone who will monitor the aircraft's operations but
essentially will have little involvement in actually 'flying' the aircraft.  It
is almost that way now, they said.  For example, in severe weather conditions,
they are not even allowed to touch the controls when landing -- the plane lands
and stops itself entirely.

I highly doubt that we will see the abolition of the cockpit in the near
future, but what they predict seems plausible.  In the meantime, pilots' jobs
seem secure, since I don't think you'll find to many people wanting to fly in a
'pilotless aircraft'.  Just my $.02

Brett Wakeman
Graduate student In Aerospace Engineering
Institute for Aerospace Research
National Research Council
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada