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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: 288
ISBN: 9781526773142
Published: 28th September 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 relying 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.

"Saw a Capt reading this on my flight, so I bought it for my 20yrs pilot husband. He says he knows everything about this book already. So if your dream is to become a pilot buy this book, good scenarios and history you can learn from to become a well awarded future pilot..."

Amazon Review

"Full marks for this unusual, fascinating book."

The Aviation Historian, Issue No.38

A valid book for both enthusiasts and pilots.

JP4 Feb 2021, reviewed by Marco De Montis

As seen in Panorama Difesa

Panorama Difesa

Author interview on The Pilot Network Podcast

The Pilot Network

Click here to watch Jack Hersch on

WGN News in Chicago

Author interviewed by

KOMO Seattle Radio, November 2020

This volume analyzes in great detail and great clarity some plane crashes of the last 10 years. Among the best known, the two occurred at the 737 MAXs of Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines in 2018 and 2019 and the air France flight AF447 which disappeared in the Atlantic Ocean in 2009. The author, aviation enthusiast and certified pilot for IFR flight, he is also a financial journalist and as such he deepens many aspects on the sidelines of the technical aspect, but fundamental to fully understand certain planning and training philosophies, unfortunately a harbinger of errors due to the lack of “situation awareness” of the crews. The first chapters introduce the evolution of aeronautical technologies, focusing on the equipment (autopilot, FMS, FMC) that have contributed so much to improving the safety of scheduled flight. Then follow the chapters with the detailed examination of the various accidents and the reconstruction of each salient phase of the flight, with a style that is always fluid and free of unnecessary technicalities. In the chapters on the 737 MAX and A330 Air France of the tragic flight AF447, the author illustrates the different design philosophies of Airbus and Boeing and the genesis of the 737 MAX, in which the pressing schedule triggered various lightnesses and system errors. Hersch's notes are always illuminating and never banal, aimed at making the reader understand how crucial is the awareness of every gesture inside the cockpit and perfect coordination between crew members. A valid book for both enthusiasts and pilots.

See the full Italian review here

Marco De Montis

The introduction of computers and electronic systems into aircraft has been generally positive, although there are many potential risks and concern that these are not being met effectively. The author provides a provoking presentation of aviation safety in an age of automation – Most Highly Recommended

Read the full review here


In The Dangers of Automation in Airliners: Accidents Waiting to Happen, Hersch, an instrument-rated commercial pilot, focuses on nine flight incidents and seven crashes over 10 years, intricately dissecting every button pushed, every indicator light flashing, the mechanics behind every takeoff and landing, even the competence and frame of mind of the pilots. To say Hersch makes readers feel like they are in the cockpit is not cliché.

Read the full review here

Book Trib

As featured onDear Author

Dear Author

One of the things I really like about this book is that it isn’t just a series of crash reports, telling of the mistakes made by crews and how it could have been avoided. It goes into detail about how automation arrived, the intricacies of how aircraft work (explained in layman’s terms) and how it all fits together.

It is easy enough for someone with little knowledge of aviation to read, whilst having enough detail to keep a knowledgeable enthusiast hooked.

The descriptions of the crashes and moments leading up to them is as captivating as watching an episode of Air Crash Investigation, while the summaries and explanations give real detail into what went wrong.

Read the full review here

Airport Spotting

'I’m recommending it to my professional pilot colleagues and my non-flying friends'.

Flight Test Fact

This book was very informative.

It explained how automated stuff in a plane causes the most crashes and how pilots become lazy in flying.

Some history on who made the auto flying possible aswell.

If you like books about flying and aeroplanes then you'll like this.

NetGalley, Natalie Power

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Oh I loved this book. As an avid aviation enthusiast, this book was so interesting, and the author included different stories alongside explaining technical terms and parts of the plane very well. Even though its a non-fiction book it was captivating and I would be reading this for hours on end. Definitely a 10/10!

NetGalley, Iman Khan

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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