Asiana crash hearing focusing on role of pilots, automation

CBS

A hearing into July’s Asiana airline crash at San Francisco International Airport began in Washington Wednesday. In the hearing, the National Transportation Safety Board was expected to look beyond the Asiana crash to consider the broader issue of cockpit automation and how it may create confusion for pilots.

While the NTSB is not ready to identify a cause for the crash, investigators at the scene found no obvious failures in the Boeing 777's automated flight control systems.

“The concern is that the pilots may have not fully understood the workings of the automation and that they assumed that the auto-thrust was controlling the speed when in fact it was not,” said CBS News aviation and safety expert Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger.

 The aircraft was coming in to land 40 mph slower than it should have been, but in the highly automated cockpit of the Asiana Boeing 777 the pilots did not realize they were flying too low and too slow until it was too late.

“There are two pilots in the cockpit for a reason, and if they're using automation a big key is to monitor, and pilots are trained to monitor,” NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman said in the crash's aftermath.

 

 The Asiana pilots who crashed the plane will not be testifying at the NTSB hearing, but the airlines chief pilot and training manager will testify about how pilots are trained in the use of automation. With so much flying now computerized it's a trend that worries many pilots.

“We sometimes don't have the manual flying skills that we really should, and that can lead to a lack of confidence and makes us reluctant to intervene quickly or effectively enough when the automation isn't doing what it should,” said Sullenberger.

An FAA study of cockpit automation released last month noted that pilots can become "accustomed to watching things happen" and "rely too much on automated systems."  The hearing that began Wednesday may help uncover whether that was the case in the Asiana crash.

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