Which would be more dangerous?

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lownslow
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Which would be more dangerous?

Post by lownslow » Mon Mar 16, 2015 5:06 pm

So the discussion on a long, empty leg the other day turned into, "In fifty years, airliners will be pilotless." Our cabin crew was also patched in on the intercom and they said something along the lines of, "First they'll drop down to one pilot, then a couple decades later there will be none."

It kind of got me thinking, on a complex modern aircraft would one pilot be more or less dangerous than none at all? Both have the ability to make unchecked mistakes but would the machine get the advantage for (hopefully) making fewer?
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Re: Which would be more dangerous?

Post by DanWEC » Mon Mar 16, 2015 5:23 pm

I think fully automated aircraft are a long, long way off, but entirely possible given that we can't necessarily predict what kind of technology will be available. 50 years however isn't THAT far off- I would predict a single crew member with a real time counterpart on the ground is more realistic.

That single crew member isn't able to make unchecked decisions as the aircraft would have that realtime link to that ground crew- possibly a team functioning as crew members for several other airplanes simultaneously, "timeshared" to schedule availability during critical phases of different currently airborne flights requiring two crew.

Here's the question though- who is the higher seniority pilot? The one in the cockpit getting his hands dirty, or the one on the ground in a cushy lazyboy, monitoring/supervising several flights at once in an office 2 miles from home? :)
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jet a1
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Re: Which would be more dangerous?

Post by jet a1 » Mon Mar 16, 2015 5:34 pm

Never going to happen. You need people upfront to make unorthodox decisions. (Sully, Sioux city....etc). Would you sit in the back knowing the pilot is on the ground halfway around the world?
I put this topic is the same group as flying cars.
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Big Pistons Forever
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Re: Which would be more dangerous?

Post by Big Pistons Forever » Mon Mar 16, 2015 5:46 pm

Pilot less airliners are inevitable. All transportation technologies, cars, trains, boats, are moving this way. UPS is on record that they intend to fly pilotless freighters on the transpac runs by 2025.

The bottom line is simple. When airlines with no pilots can charge 5 buck less for the ticket than the airline with pilots; it is over for the airline piloting profession. This is going to happen sooner rather than later and will start with automated flights with a safety pilot monitoring. As soon as there is a sufficient database of uneventful flights the safety pilot will be gone.

Personally I think this will be good for the piloting profession. There will still be lots of flying at the smaller end that will never be financially worth while doing autonomously. The difference is the SJS crowd of "I want it now" wannabe's that is ruining the piloting profession will be gone. The pilots left will be guys and gals that actually want to fly airplanes.
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Re: Which would be more dangerous?

Post by photofly » Mon Mar 16, 2015 5:53 pm

jet a1 wrote:Never going to happen. You need people upfront to make unorthodox decisions. (Sully, Sioux city....etc). Would you sit in the back knowing the pilot is on the ground halfway around the world?
I put this topic is the same group as flying cars.
I think if you make two lists, the first of air disasters caused by faulty pilot decision making (Tenerife, lots of Korean Air flights, AF447 etc), and the second of air disasters averted by unorthodox decision making - the first list is going to be a lot longer.
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Re: Which would be more dangerous?

Post by awitzke » Mon Mar 16, 2015 5:54 pm

I don't see pilots ever really being fully taken off the aircraft. People (the public) will never fully trust in a completely automated system. Even if it's "proven." It's just like I don't see driverless cars ever catching on outside of a niche few.
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Re: Which would be more dangerous?

Post by Rockie » Mon Mar 16, 2015 6:08 pm

Pilots make thousands of decisions everyday based on experience and training that permits them to correlate real time conditions with potential future outcomes. Many times plain old survival instinct plays a huge role. These decisions avert outcomes that would be recordable incidents or accidents.

Statistics cannot be kept on events that pilots prevent and do not occur, they can only be kept on the ones that pilots do not prevent and end badly. For this reason a statistical comparison between the two is worthless.

When computers have the ability to think with cognitive intelligence, have as much to lose as the passenger in the back and recognize that fact via a highly developed survival instinct - then passengers may accept computers flying them around. Not before then.
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Re: Which would be more dangerous?

Post by Big Pistons Forever » Mon Mar 16, 2015 6:34 pm

Rockie wrote:
When computers have the ability to think with cognitive intelligence, have as much to lose as the passenger in the back and recognize that fact via a highly developed survival instinct - then passengers may accept computers flying them around. Not before then.
You are thinking about this from the perspective of a pilot, but the people who keep airliners in the air are passengers. Their opinion on the safety of pilotless airplanes is all that matters and they have overwhelmingly showed that ultimately the only thing that matters is cost of the ticket.

BTW I was chatting to a non pilot at a party the other day. He thought that it was Air traffic controllers that ultimately were responsible for the aircraft and that all the flying was done by the autopilot.
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cgzro
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Re: Which would be more dangerous?

Post by cgzro » Mon Mar 16, 2015 6:44 pm

My guess is there will always be a manager on board but that person or persons will not be able to actually fly the plane. They will be able to decide where to go and how to get there but actual direct manipulation of the systems will not be possible. In other words still called a pilot but progressively less and less involved with what we curretly consider piloting.

Driving will hopefully likely the same way. Computer controls speed, the distance from other cars, the steering on select properly instrumented highways.

It will take a generation I suppose , not for technology to evolve but for trust to evolve.
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Re: Which would be more dangerous?

Post by Rockie » Mon Mar 16, 2015 6:45 pm

People who normally don't give air travel or pilots a thought become highly focused on both once they're strapped to their chair with no control of their destiny when the wheels leave the ground. Especially at night, in turbulence with crappy weather at the destination they hope to reach and stuff going wrong with the airplane.
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Re: Which would be more dangerous?

Post by Big Pistons Forever » Mon Mar 16, 2015 6:53 pm

Rockie wrote:People who normally don't give air travel or pilots a thought become highly focused on both once they're strapped to their chair with no control of their destiny when the wheels leave the ground. Especially at night, in turbulence with crappy weather at the destination they hope to reach and stuff going wrong with the airplane.
You made my point. Pilots understand that "night" and "crappy weather at the destination" increase risk. I would argue that the vast majority of passengers do not have that insight. A perfect example was a passenger I was sitting beside on an airline flight I once took. She was totally freaked out by a bit of light turbulence but commented on how nice it was to have a smooth approach and landing. The approach was a night minimums ILS in moderate snow and we were the last airplane to get in..............
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Re: Which would be more dangerous?

Post by Rockie » Mon Mar 16, 2015 8:09 pm

And whether she said it or not I'll bet she was relieved to be on the ground.
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Re: Which would be more dangerous?

Post by CID » Tue Mar 17, 2015 10:11 am

People tend to use the "what if" argument then raise a very specific anecdote where the pilot saved the day. And although it's true that statistics don't tend to tally all the times a pilot does the right thing, there certainly are statistics on when they do the wrong thing.

Having said that, "statistically" the majority of accidents in modern aircraft are due to "pilot error". Of those "pilot errors", most of the errors involve the failure of the pilot to operate the aircraft in accordance with the published procedures and/or within the published limitations.

Computers can fail but one thing they can do is follow instructions. Redundancy and technology can mitigate the risk of failures. The bottom line is that if you can drastically reduce the number of accidents caused by fairly mundane pilot errors, like "Colgan Air" or "First Air" or "Cali" or "Asiana in SFA" you can save many more lives and airframes even with the occasional "Sioux City".
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Re: Which would be more dangerous?

Post by .Ben » Tue Mar 17, 2015 10:41 am

I think saying pilotless airliners in 50 years is a safe bet, most of the technology is already here, and it would be cost effective on something the size of an airliner

I would say the smaller ops will remain piloted for a long time yet as there's a lot more factors a pilot has to deal with landing on an ice strip at a remote camp somewhere, than an airliner making an ILS or GPS approach in KLAX.

what is it Cat lllc ILS? will include taxi guidance in zero visibility, the technology is very very close when flying from one major airport to another. all the computer needs is taxi/rollout reference information and the ability to mash the buttons on the autopilot panel.

as far as unusual circumstances as mentioned above you could have a room full of pilots at ATC ready to take a look at the flight instruments of an aircraft that sends an automated message of a weird problem (blocked pitot tube, etc) and even take manual control remotely if need be, you would only need a few as 99.9999999% of commercial airliner sized flights don't require any crazy pilot stuff to save the day anyway.

Humans make mistakes.
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Re: Which would be more dangerous?

Post by sstaurus » Tue Mar 17, 2015 10:45 am

Big Pistons Forever wrote: Personally I think this will be good for the piloting profession. There will still be lots of flying at the smaller end that will never be financially worth while doing autonomously. The difference is the SJS crowd of "I want it now" wannabe's that is ruining the piloting profession will be gone. The pilots left will be guys and gals that actually want to fly airplanes.
I never thought of that aspect before, but at least that's one silver lining. Though I would argue it's partly those that want to fly so badly they will apply for anything that are causing the problems.
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Re: Which would be more dangerous?

Post by Rockie » Tue Mar 17, 2015 11:35 am

Human error is often a problem with their integration and over-reliance on technology that is itself woefully insufficient for the dynamics of aircraft operation. It is insufficient because technology doesn't think, it only does what an engineer preprogrammed into it. Most flights are mundane but there are enough where my planning and decision making for destination and alternate is a continuous process throughout the flight based on constantly updated weather/runway information, fuel monitoring and any number of other intangible factors. That requires cognitive reasoning based on experience that computers are not capable of and will never be until someone creates a true, self-aware artificial intelligence.

Humans make mistakes, but unlike computers we have the ability to recognize that mistake and correct it in real time before it becomes a problem. An AI that can do that is a long way off, and there are already prominent scientists warning about the unpredictable consequences and the ethical quagmire of creating a true AI.
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Re: Which would be more dangerous?

Post by jump154 » Tue Mar 17, 2015 12:09 pm

awitzke wrote:People (the public) will never fully trust in a completely automated system. Even if it's "proven."
But hey already do -- I don't see drivers on the monorail at CYYZ, the shuttle trains to the rental car facility at SFO are automated.... I'm sure there are other.

Elevators -- in the old days there was a guy in the cage, opened the door and controlled up/down -- now we all just step in and press the button.

Aircraft will be just taking things one step further.

Overriding sentiment in my office after the SFO 777 incident, was "they should not be allowed to switch off the automation"

IMO It won't take that much convincing.
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Re: Which would be more dangerous?

Post by complexintentions » Tue Mar 17, 2015 12:26 pm

.Ben wrote:I think saying pilotless airliners in 50 years is a safe bet, most of the technology is already here, and it would be cost effective on something the size of an airliner

Humans make mistakes.
- Actually ALL of the technology is already here. It's been here for decades. So why are we still not using pilotless airliners? The issue is far more complicated than simply being technically possible.

-Why would human mistakes made by programmers of pilotless aircraft be somehow less serious than human mistakes made by pilots?

There are many examples in history of technology that was never implemented even though it existed. "Proof of concept" for drone flight is old news. But making it work commercially isn't a given. Even if people like to sound wise by claiming that it's inevitable.

Why in 50 years? Why not 40? 70? The fact is, if it was really cheaper to do now, it would be happening now.
Overriding sentiment in my office after the SFO 777 incident, was "they should not be allowed to switch off the automation"
This is what I like to refer to as "anecdata". Something someone "heard in their office", so it must reflect all of popular opinion. :roll:

Incidentally, the automation was not "off" on the Asiana crash, it was working exactly as designed. In other words, technology was present and sufficient to prevent the accident - it simply wasn't heeded! The ignorance of the general public is not exactly a strong case for pilotless aircraft. The poor piloting in SFO could just as easily be substituted with poor programming of a drone, or the poor decisions of a remote operator. Still doesn't change the outcome. Short of AI, ALL technology is subject to human error. Period. And if someone can explain how entirely new complex infrastructure to facilitate the remote operation of an aircraft is cheaper than having the operator IN the aircraft, I'm all ears! Particularly given all the lamenting about how pilots are always willing to work for nothing....
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Re: Which would be more dangerous?

Post by photofly » Tue Mar 17, 2015 12:44 pm

complexintentions wrote: -Why would human mistakes made by programmers of pilotless aircraft be somehow less serious than human mistakes made by pilots?
The biggest factor in answering this question - as far as public perception goes - is to consider that the pilot who is or isn't going to make a mistake is on board the aircraft with the passengers and has skin in the game.

If it was known that the programmer of a pilotless aircraft was going to be shot if the aircraft crashed, people might feel differently.
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Re: Which would be more dangerous?

Post by Rockie » Tue Mar 17, 2015 1:08 pm

Since an AI that can replace a thinking human being hasn't yet, and may in fact never be invented, it's premature don't you think to assume it won't make mistakes too?
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Re: Which would be more dangerous?

Post by CID » Tue Mar 17, 2015 1:51 pm

Rockie, your viewpoint seems more romantic than technical. "AI" isn't neccesary. In fact it would be less benificial. The whole point is to make the machine perform it's function without question. Once you put short term variability in the equation, the results are difficult to determine. Just like with human pilots.

The key is to have a very thorough algorithm that takes as many scenarios into consideration as possible.
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Re: Which would be more dangerous?

Post by Legacy » Tue Mar 17, 2015 2:56 pm

A bunch of you that think this will happen are under the assumption that a pilotless aircraft is going to cost the same as a piloted aircraft. Not even remotely close. I wouldn't be surprised to see it cost 100 million more. So not only do you have to pay a huge amount more for the aircraft you STILL have to pay for someone to fly it, or monitor it, remotely. So the benefit to cost, if any, might not even be there. No to mention who will be the first insurance company to insure and what will they charge until such a system is a proven one. The REAL savings in airliners is the fuel. That is what the future is going to dictate on the advancements in airliners.
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Re: Which would be more dangerous?

Post by Rockie » Tue Mar 17, 2015 3:28 pm

CID wrote: Once you put short term variability in the equation, the results are difficult to determine. Just like with human pilots.
I'm sure you noticed, but flying an airplane 24/7/365 in extremely busy airspace in all kinds of weather is chock full of short term variables.
CID wrote:The key is to have a very thorough algorithm that takes as many scenarios into consideration as possible.
Ah...if only it were as easy to do as it is to say....
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Re: Which would be more dangerous?

Post by GyvAir » Tue Mar 17, 2015 4:41 pm

Taking all the pilots out of the picture removes a very prolific source of short term variability.

Autopilots never fail to have their head in the game due to a cold, a bad burrito, divorce proceedings, dropping a device on the floor, one too many the night before, etc. etc.

No egos to help get into situations requiring drawing on extraordinary piloting skills to get out of.

A sudden snow squall blowing up on short final wouldn’t even trigger a need for a decision with no pilots involved.

Just to name a few..
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Re: Which would be more dangerous?

Post by CID » Tue Mar 17, 2015 5:06 pm

I'm sure you noticed, but flying an airplane 24/7/365 in extremely busy airspace in all kinds of weather is chock full of short term variables.
The short term variability I mentioned has nothing to do with combinations of weather and workload. It has to do with "decision making". Computers follow the directions given to them. Therefore, no short term variability like a conscience, or a headache or fatigue will affect the ability of the computer to follow the program. And with proper "watch dog" systems and redundancy, even failure shouldn't stop it.
Ah...if only it were as easy to do as it is to say....
Keeping an aircraft in stable flight, or landing or taking off is not a daunting task for computers and their programmers. Neither is avoiding CFIT. Or avoiding other traffic. Or following routing information. Or diverting around weather. Individually these are not insurmountable tasks. Together they can be difficult for human pilots but if there is something that computers are awesome at it's multi-tasking. With no additional stress to add short-term variability.

These are not just dreams. The technology is available today and pilots on the more advanced aircraft are now more system managers than airmen. In fact, for some of these airplanes like the 777, it's best to let the automation do it's thing. Without all that automation, it would be impossible to consistently safely operate such an aircraft on the routes it flies with just two cockpit crew members.

Remember, trans-oceanic flights used to have two pilots, a flight engineer, a navigator and an communications officer on board. Automation has reduced the crew to 2 even on aircraft that fly 4 times higher, 5 times faster, and with 10 times the passenger loads. And with a tiny fraction of the accident rate.
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