Our student Mike Hildebrandt recently brought this mesmerizing essay (with the mysterious title “The Human Factor”) to our attention. The author of the essay, William Langewiesche, describes the last moments of doomed Air France Flight 447 in riveting detail, and he also makes the larger point that as automation makes commercial aviation safer, the possibility of pilot error becomes more likely in those rare instances in which an unforeseen event occurs mid-flight. In the words of Mr Langewiesche:
To put it briefly, automation has made it more and more unlikely that ordinary airline pilots will ever have to face a raw crisis in flight—but also more and more unlikely that they will be able to cope with such a crisis if one arises. Moreover, it is not clear that there is a way to resolve this paradox. That is why, to many observers, the loss of Air France 447 stands out as the most perplexing and significant airline accident of modern times.
So, does this particular paradox have any feasible solution? Also, what is the “optimal” rate of technological automation? (Diagram below courtesy of Aaron and Hsinya Lin.)