If the avionics industry can't get it right, why should the automation industry think we can? #safety #pauto #merritt

This is a guest blog post by Rich Merritt, former Senior Technical Editor of Control:

Walt:

Well, they can't say we didn't warn them.
From yesteroday's paper, an Associated Press item:

Some 51 "loss of control" accidents occurred in which planes stalled in flight or got into unusual positions from which pilots were unable to recover, making it the most common type of airline accident, according to the International Air Transport Association.
http://thegazette.com/2011/08/30/as-planes-become-more-reliant-on-automation-are-airline-pilots-forgetting-how-to-fly/

I wrote about this in my old column, Control Report:
In an airplane, for example, the automatic pilot may be correcting for a situation such as wing icing, but not be informing the pilots that it is having a difficult time. When it no longer can keep the plane flying safely,it suddenly disengages, and the plane corkscrews toward the ground. The pilots, who might have been schmoozing with the flight attendants all this time, suddenly are presented with a violently acting airplane in a dangerous flight condition and they have no idea why.
http://www.controlglobal.com/articles/2004/45.html

And then you picked it up for SoundOff:
Rich Merritt is a contributing editor to Control. He wrote an op ed piece for his local newspaper, the Cedar Rapids Gazette,  last week, and has given me permission to post it on Soundoff!! Rich's point hit me pretty hard.

We've always pointed to the avionics industry and their intense insistence on human factors engineering as a model for the "control room of the future." Maybe we're further away from preventing disasters in process plants and refineries and oil platforms than we thought.
http://community.controlglobal.com/content/if-avionics-industry-cant-get-hmi-right-what-makes-us-think-we-can

I have since learned that Rockwell Collins avionics are not used in commercial airliners--just military and private jets. Still, I look for the oldest airplane still flying when I book tickets, because the older avionics are safer than the new ones.