Is it regulated/advised when the airline pilots has to use the autopilot and when they can/must go manual?

As nowadays the advanced integrated electronic systems theoretically allow passenger planes to fly without human interactions (only ATC is not automated, when that will happen anyway?), it is a question to me, how much fun remains for pilots?

Obviously there are situations when the decision on usage of autopilot is simple: FMS failure or very low visibility with heavy turbulences etc.

But what about the rest? Is it the captain's decision to manually fly the plane when landing on a shiny day?

Is it differently regulated by airlines?Or FAA? Or only advised not regulated?

I expect the autoland to be more safe than manual. But if we don't let the pilots fly manually, they might go out of practice for cases when it is really them who has to drive, due to an emergency (did such situation ever happened at all...!?).

Or look at the sad situation of the greek plane last year, every flight system was operational,but AP was programmed to circle, not to land, before pilots went unconscious.

8 Answers

  • 1 decade ago
    Favorite Answer

    Auto-flight is not necessarily an "on" or "manual" issue. There are different levels of automation that are appropriate for different situations and phases of flight.

    The Auto-flight philosophy of the airline I used to fly for was as such:

    Level 1: All automation is off; no flight director, auto-thrust, or autopilot. With the exception of visual approaches and deliberate decisions to maintain flying proficiency, Level 1 is essentially a non-routine mode. The use of Level 1 is solely to maintain flying proficiency or due to abnormal aircraft system operations. Level 1 is appropriate for any situation in which immediate and direct control of the aircraft flight path is required, for example, TCAS Resolution Advisory, aircraft upset, GPWS and TAWS warnings, windshear, and any suspicious, confusing, or unexpected response from the automation.

    Level 2: Autopilot off, but at least one or all of the following in use; auto-thrust, flight director, or

    FMC. This level is the primary mode used for takeoff, initial departure, and landings, except auto-landings. This level may also be used to maintain flying proficiency.

    Level 3: Autopilot on and use of auto-thrust and/or flight director optional. This level is most effective when short range planning is needed (i.e. radar vectors, short range speed or climb/descent control). This level is used predominantly in the terminal environment when responding to clearance changes and restrictions.

    Level 4: Autopilot on, auto-thrust, flight director, and FMC in use. Auto-flight coupled to the FMS is the primary mode for non-terminal operations and should be established as soon as "resume own navigation" or similar clearance is received. This level exploits pre-programming (such as LNAV departure) of the FMS. However, when significant modifications to the route are issued by ATC, it may be necessary to revert temporarily to lower levels of automation. Use of this level of automation during terminal operations must be limited to situations permitting advance preparation. Level 4 is not appropriate when last minute changes are issued by ATC or whenever time constraints prevent the crew from properly completing the advance planning necessary to safely operate at this level.

    Source(s): Retired 747-400 Captain
  • 1 decade ago

    with the exception of the CAT III approach the autopilot is generally used only after takeoff and up possibly up to the decision height of the approach to landing. Many of the regional airlines are manually flown entirely. Most crews elect to hand fly the aircraft when ever possible to log the required number of approaches for currency regulations set by the FAA. The airlines operation manual may also set policy to some extent. Myself, I would not get into an airplane that was flown in an auto mode without an on board cockpit crew and I doubt you will find many flight attendants that would either. There is nothing like the human brain to assess an in flight situation and act appropriately. There are far to many scenarios in all phases of flight to trust to computers and land based monitors.

    d_robertson744 below makes an excellent example of how airline procedure manuals may be involved in how the autopilot is used.

    As for the avionics tech that thinks the only drawback is that the aircraft touchdown point is always the same I'm sure Capt. Robertson would agree that it is very important that the pilot has some control over where the plane arrives and departs the runway surface for reasons such as wake turbulence , occasional maintenance or a displaced threshold....etc. just to name a few.

  • 1 decade ago

    The Autopilot Landing is too accurate. The only time that aircrew HAVE to shut off the autopilot is at least 100-150 ft off of the ground on landing. Problem is that as the ILS (Instrument Landing System) Autopilot is so accurate that all aircraft were found to be landing in exactly the same spot on the runway. This caused that particular spot on the runway to wear away quicker than the rest. Not an efficient way to maintain an airfield. It was decided that the autopilot was to be switched off shortly before landing, so that the aircraft would land in a slightly different spot each time, prolonging the life of the runway surface. That's why when in an aircraft, you might notice that the aircraft moves a bit more on final approach about 100-150 ft off of the ground. Also, when you look at the piano keys on a runway, the tyre marks are in a localised area, but not on top of each other.

    For keeping an aircrew, the fact that no human will feel totally safe letting a machine be totally responsible for their lives will keep pilots in a job for years, and I'm sure thay have to fly so many hours a month without autopilot. I also know they have regular tests to ensure they're not letting their standards slip, so no problems there.

    Source(s): I'm an Avionics Technician in the RAF, 5 1/2 years now. Avionics includes autopilot systems.
  • 1 decade ago

    auto-land needs spacial ground equipment and works only on one kind of approach procedure (ILS / MLS approach) which is not available all the time on the landing runway. auto land is required in some situations at very low visibility conditions, yet requires spacial crew qualification.

    Pilots fly the landing manually so they will have more control of the aircraft if a situation arise when the aircraft is in close proximity of the ground or if a rejected landing is needed.

    for the Greek aircraft the crew did so many mistakes that lead to the accident

    1 pilots ignored the pressurization warning after teak off assuming its false.

    2 the captain was not in his seat trying to silence the warning mentioned above from the circuit breaker panel.

    3 the first officer did not wear his oxygen mask.

    its not the auto-pilot program its non adherence to standard operating procedures.

    Source(s): News
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  • 1 decade ago

    On the CRJ-200 the auto pilot can not be turned on below 600 ft AGL (above ground level) and must be turned off no lower than 80 ft AGL when flying a precision approach or no lower than 400 ft AGL when flying a visual or non precision approach. The pilot flying may disconnect the auto pilot higher than these altitudes and continue to hand fly the aircraft at his or her discretion.

    Source(s): I am a CRJ pilot
  • 1 decade ago

    Autopilot is used basically for the entire flight, besides takeoff and final approach.

    I fly very oftenly, but as often as I do, I would never fly in an airplane that flies completely by itself with no pilot. Never. It is very possible to make a plane like that, but I would never fly in one.

  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    There are no regulations (at least in FAR Part 91) concerning this, and probably not in Part 121 either. There are any number of reasons why the captain may wish to use, or not to use, autopilot in any particular situation.

  • Josh S
    Lv 7
    1 decade ago

    I dont think so, I think its based on the pilots judgment

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