Current Events


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My jet-setting son suggested that he would welcome the onset of pilotless flying. Recoiling in horror, I heatedly replied that nothing would get me to board a computer-managed airliner.

In fact, many air disasters result not from mechanical but from pilot errors. It is possible to provide multi-backed-up computer systems that virtually eliminate inflight failure. Alas, unlike computers, humans are much more likely to get it wrong.

The real risk when travelling is our drive to and from the airport. Car and airliner accidents are rarely caused by mechanical failure but invariably by driver failure.

Initial investigations into the February 11 AN-148 air crash near Moscow reveal pilot error. The crash cost the lives of 71 people. It occurred because the pilots overlooked activating the instruments’ pre-heating procedure. This oversight led to confused speed displays making a crash inevitable. Computers don’t forget such details.

A little research into pilot error air disasters reveals an encyclopaedic list of catastrophes caused directly or indirectly by pilots making one or more mistakes.

Of 275 pages detailing air accidents 200 pages listed those that had occurred as a consequence of pilot error. I fail as a number-cruncher but even I can figure out that 4 / out of 5 air crashes are caused by dumb pilots. At this point, I have decided not to board an airliner if beforehand I see pilots boarding their aircraft.

This takes us back to the original question, would I be willing to board a pilotless airliner? There is no longer a need for the cockpit. Now known as the flight deck it is similar to a superliner’s spare funnel and just for show.

Having already experienced the horror of my flight running blindly into air turbulence I recall the terror of fellow passengers. A lesson in human behaviour; the women shrieked and the children cried. The men, square-jawed, gripped their seat’s armrests and closed their eyes in fervent prayer.

As we later alighted most of us effusively thanked the pilots for getting us safely to our destinations. What we didn’t realise was that as we did so the pilots whispered their thanks to the aircraft’s computers.

I am still in a quandary and still haven’t answered my own question. Michael, would you board a pilotless aircraft?  Sorry, the jury is still out on this one.

I have tried the car’s automatic pilot but to be honest, her chattering, interference and misguided advice tend to make driver error much more likely.  You can share this story on social media:

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MIKE WALSH is a journalist, broadcaster and the author of LIFE IN THE REICH, MY LAST TESTAMENT – LET GOD JUDGE ME, HEROES HANG WHEN TRAITORS TRIUMPH, and other book titles. These best-selling books are essential for the libraries of informed readers.




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