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The Dangers of Automation in Airliners (Hardback)

Accidents Waiting to Happen

Aviation Civil Aviation

By Jack J Hersch
Imprint: Air World
Pages: 248
Illustrations: 16 black and white illustrations
ISBN: 9781526773142
Published: 30th October 2020

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Automation in aviation can be a lifesaver, expertly guiding a plane and its passengers through stormy weather to a safe landing. Or it can be a murderer, crashing an aircraft and killing all on board in the mistaken belief that it is doing the right thing.

Lawrence Sperry invented the autopilot just ten years after the Wright brothers’ first flight in 1903. But progress was slow for the next three decades. Then came the end of the Second World War and the jet age. That’s when the real trouble began.

Aviation automation has been pushed to its limits, with pilots increasingly replying on it. Autopilot, auto-throttle, auto-land, flight management systems, air data systems, inertial guidance systems. All these systems are only as good as their inputs which, incredibly, can go rogue. Even the automation itself is subject to unpredictable failure. Can automation account for every possible eventuality?

And what of the pilots? They began flight training with their hands on the throttle and yoke, and feet on the rudder pedals. Then they reached the pinnacle of their careers – airline pilot – and suddenly they were going hours without touching the controls other than for a few minutes on takeoff and landing. Are their skills eroding? Is their training sufficient to meet the demands of today’s planes?

Accidents Waiting to Happen delves deeply into these questions. You’ll be in the cockpits of the two doomed Boeing 737 MAXs, the Airbus A330 lost over the South Atlantic, and the Bombardier Q400 that stalled over Buffalo. You’ll discover exactly why a Boeing 777 smacked into a seawall, missing the runway on a beautiful summer morning. And you’ll watch pilots battling – sometimes winning and sometimes not – against automation run amok. This book also investigates the human factors at work. You’ll learn why pilots might overlook warnings or ignore cockpit alarms. You’ll observe automation failing to alert aircrews of what they crucially need to know while fighting to save their planes and their passengers.

The future of safe air travel depends on automation. This book tells its story.

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About Jack J Hersch

JACK HERSCH is a journalist, an instrument-rated commercial pilot, and expert in the field of distressed and bankrupt companies. He has served as a public company board member, and has guest-lectured in the business schools of M.I.T., U.S.C., and U.C. Berkeley, among others. Accidents Waiting to Happen is his second book, following Death March Escape, winner of the 2019 Spirit of Anne Frank Human Writes Award. He and his wife live in New York City.

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