The Boeing 737 Max and the problems autopilot can't solve

We don't fully understand the risks introduced by the rise of increasingly automated aircraft

PHOTO: AFP

If you're an airline passenger, automation is your friend - setting aside the fears over its role in the crashes of two Boeing 737 Max planes in the past five months.

The gradual spread of automation through the civil aircraft fleet is a primary reason the accident rate worldwide has fallen from about four accidents per million flights in 1977 to less than 0.4 today. Many modern airliners are capable of taking off, flying and landing without any human assistance. Pilots today, as one former pilot puts it, are less stick-and-rudder movers than they are overseers of systems.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 18, 2019, with the headline 'The Boeing 737 Max and the problems autopilot can't solve'. Subscribe