Cockpit Automation Aviation Is Becoming More and More Modernized With

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Cockpit Automation: Aviation Is Becoming More and More ModernizedWith Advancing Technology

Cockpit Automation

Cockpit automation refers to allocating of flight operation functionsto machines. The functions were historically assigned to humans.However, with advances in technology, it has become possible forpilots to rely on machines for flight as well as air traffic control.Geiselman, Johnson and Buck (2016) describe automation as “theautoflight system used to translate aircraft horizontal and verticalpath guidance into an audio-visual display interface for the pilot”.This implies that through cockpit automation, a pilot’s manualcontrol system is replaced with an automated one. Automation beganwith the development of systems, which could be used in stabilizingthe altitude of an aircraft via flight control surfaces mechanicalmanipulation, currently referred to autopilots. Over the years, thesimple autopilots have advanced to become multiple processors, or anautomated cockpit (Vakil &amp Hansman, 2002).

In the following discussion, the research paper aims atdemonstrating how aviation is progressively becoming modernized owingto advanced technology. This is achieved through research on thebenefits, setbacks and the future of cockpit automation.


Situation Awareness

Cockpit automation results in improved situational awareness.Automation was adopted with the objective of reducing human errors,which resulted in flight accidents. Manual operation of an aircraftimplies that the pilot and crew operators had to perform most of theflight operation tasks physically, which enhanced the likelihood oferrors. Advanced technology in aviation reduces the need for flightcrew operators to be directly involved in flight operations.

Automation reduces the workload by ensuring that importantinformation is available all through the flight via monitoringdisplays and assistance systems (SKYbrary, 2016). Such asystem supports the improved understanding of the pilot about theaircraft system. The pilot seizes to be actively involved inoperating the aircraft and takes up the role of monitoring. As aresult, it becomes possible to deal with the increasing flightoperational demands through the use of automation in flight guidance,management of systems and flight planning (Mohrmann, Lemmers &ampStoop, 2015).

Low Maintenance Expenses

Automation has resulted in a reduction in aircraft maintenanceexpenses. The glass cockpit idea makes it possible for airlines tominimize costs incurred during maintenance as well as overhauling(Chialastri, 2012). In the traditional flight operations, everyairplane comprised of a box and spare part located in the hangar. Inthe event of a malfunction identified by crew members, the employeesin charge of maintenance had to fix the malfunction via replacementof the box and its parts.

Such an operation necessitated the purchase of an original component. Considering that an aircraft has many spare parts, it is outwardlyexpensive to purchase and replace all the parts. However, withcockpit automation, one computer is used to give inputs to a numberof displays. In case maintenance becomes necessary, it is only thecomputer that is changed instead of an entire box and its spareparts. This is because, the operating method of automation reducesthe number of spare parts needed in the hangar.

Costs Reduction in Training

Costs incurred by airline industries in selecting and training crewmembers, in specific pilots, have reduced with the invention ofcockpit automation. Traditionally, in order for an individual tobecome a pilot, they would have to undergo intense training. A pilotought to have had basic skills on how to manually operate anaircraft. Airline industries would also incur a lot of expenses inrecurrent training of their pilots. Contrary, automation requires apilot to have minimal basic skills and more monitoring skills.

It is possible for more people to fly airplanes with minimaltraining. All that is required is the ability to monitor the airplanevia the cockpit glass display (Chialastri, 2012). Airlines are ableto increase the number of pilots they employ. It no longer becomesnecessary to conduct recurrent training for older pilots. Inaddition, automation makes it possible for a pilot to shift operationto different airplanes. Thus, transition expenses reduce as pilotsneed fewer lessons to transition from one aircraft to another.

Operational Flexibility

Automation has resulted in operational flexibility. Traditionally,pilots would fly airplanes without the assistance of onboardinstruments. Hence, they faced many limitations because without aids,a pilot can only fly at a reduced altitude, the pilot encountersphysiological restrictions, it is impossible to fly at speed orduring unfavorable weather due to the need to ensure visual contactwith the runway (Chialastri, 2012). Automation has made it possibleto conquer these limitations. It is now possible for pilots to flyfast and at higher levels, which reduces fuel use and at the sametime makes it possible to fly above the clouds.

Flying fast ensures that destinations are arrived at with lesser timeand a single aircraft can make numerous flights on the same day.Prior to the introduction of cockpit automation, pilots weredependent on a “Non-Directional Beacon” to assist in locating therunway track (Chialastri, 2012). Safety measures, like operatingminima, were used to ensure safe landing. This meant that the pilotought to have identified the runway prior to arriving at a specificaltitude. However, automation instruments such as the “Very HighFrequency Omnidirectional Range” have enhanced signal accuracy,making it possible for pilots to use low decision altitude whenapproaching the runway (Chialastri, 2012).


Lack of Knowledge on Automated Systems

While cockpit automation requires operators to be less involvedmanually, the lack of manual operation is replaced by appropriatemonitoring of the automated system. Such monitoring requires therapid processing of a complicated and lively scene. In most cases theautomated systems processes depend on intricate rules, which are hardfor human operators to fully comprehend (Bruder, Eißfeldt, Maschke &ampHasse, 2014). Poor understanding on how the automated system works,results in suboptimal monitoring. This means that operators mayignore crucial information displayed through the automated system andare thus unable to interpret the information.

The outcome of such monitoring failures is misconceptions by flightoperators, which could result in accidents. Rosenkrans (2014)supports this finding by stating that current accident reports depictan inability by flight crews to use the automated management systems.Formerly, most aircraft accidents were a result of issues related tothe manual skills needed when flying an airplane. Conversely, thoughautomation may have reduced such manual errors, new issues haveemerged concerning the managing of complicated aircraft automationsystems (Vakil &amp Hansman, 2002).

Increases Errors

Cockpit automation increases errors by the pilot and other crewmembers. These errors have been highlighted by Rosenkrans (2014)following the author’s research on the aviation technology. Thehighly incorporated flight desks as well as extra features in oldaircrafts have enhanced the complexity in flight deck operations.Pilots are likely to become confused due to the many featuresresulting in errors in the management of flight paths. The aviationsystem is structured in a way that it relies on pilots to reducesafety and operation dangers. This is achieved through successfulmanagement of malfunctions, which surface during normal flightoperations. But, with cockpit automation, a pilot that lacksknowledge of the system may be unable to notice when it malfunctions.Hence, the pilots’ ability to mitigate danger reduces.

Coordination Problems

Increased automation of aircraft operations results in coordinationissues. The individuals in charge of manufacturing and creatingautomation instruments provide the airline industry with usefulresources, which are to be used by flight crews. Nevertheless, theability of airplane computer system surpasses what is required forcustomary line operations. This could result in operational extremes.It is possible for crewmembers to become so engaged in the directingof automated flights resulting in the loss of situational perceptionof fundamental flight parameters (Young, Fanjoy &amp Suckow, 2006).Also, pilots not comfortable with the idea of using computers mightfeel intimidated. Thus, they abandon the use of computer systems toother crew members leading to reduced crew coordination (Young,Fanjoy &amp Suckow, 2006).

Communication Conflicts

Advanced technology in aviation is also a cause of communicationconflicts among flight crew members. Cockpit automation results incommunication conflicts between the air traffic controllers andflight crew due to the dispatch of different information, conflictsthat arise from risk evaluation, time pressure in addition toairspace limitations (Mosier et al, 2013).

Dispatch of different information – presently, flight crews obtaintheir information mainly from radar inside the aircraft, automatedmessages like “the Automatic Terminal Information Service” aswell as communication from the ground (Mosier et al, 2013). Airtraffic controllers depend largely on information from groundsources, communication among crews and radar. Because the sources ofinformation are different, each has a unique perspective and rate ofupdate. This could result in informational conflicts in the eventthat crew members and the air traffic controllers make decisions,each using a different source (Mosier et al, 2013).

Conflicts that arise from risk evaluation – it is possible for apilot and traffic controller to share the similar information fromthe automated system. However, conflicts arise when the sharedinformation is not understood in the similar manner. For example,information on storms or wake vortex may be interpreted differentlyby either party leading to conflict, which in turn enhances errors(Mosier et al, 2013).

Time pressure – cockpit automation enhances the speed of flightsand makes it possible for a single aircraft to be used severally onthe same day. This resonates to more workload for traffic controllersand pilots, which could lead to conflicts (Mosier et al, 2013). Bothparties work under pressure and disagreements may arise in thedepartures or arrivals.

Airspace limitations – the more trips flights make the morearrivals and departures (Mosier et al, 2013). Prior to theimplementation of automation systems in aircrafts, airlines mustensure that they have enough space. Lack of ample space limits theability of airplanes to land or depart safely.


Despite the many setbacks from cockpit automation, the technologyhas the potential to greatly improve flight and air traffic controloperations. It is important to find solutions to the setbacks andenhance the effectiveness of automation systems.

In future, it is expected that there will be software updates onautomation systems. The updates act as an effective way of reducingavoidable errors in automation. For instance, “a new function inthe latest En Route Automation Modernization software upgradeprovided individual controllers with the ability to set up customizedwindow” at a Washington center (Federal Aviation Administration,2015). But, as controllers made changes to the system, the changeswere stored in memory. This resulted in the consumption of processingpower required for the effective operation of the entire automationsystem. The Washington center resorted in suspending thecustomization function. This creates an opportunity for the center towork on an effective way of upgrading its software to ensure that anycustomizations by traffic controllers do not affect the entireautomation system of an airplane.

It is anticipated that engineers and manufacturers of automationsystems will create improved automation designs, which aim atavoiding automation surprises. Automation surprises are a result ofmode errors that are undetected by pilots. They could also be due tothe lack of knowhow of automated modes. Geiselman, Johnson and Buck(2016) propose that an automation design, which uses a “context-awarecomputing approach”, is able to result in automation, which has thecapability to adapt to its region of use as well as environmentalchanges.

Airline industries will be required to offer training to theirflight crew members on automation systems. Most of the errors linkedto automation derive from lack of knowledge on how to interpretinformation from the systems. Training on automation technology willenhance the monitoring skills of pilots and different crew members.The outcome will be a reduction in errors and enhanced coordinationamong crew members.


Advances in technology have resulted in modernization in aviation.One such technology is cockpit automation. Prior to the invention ofautomation, aircraft operators would operate the aircraft manually.Now, flight operation functions are performed by machines. Pilots arenow more involved in monitoring the control system. The benefits ofcockpit automation include improved situation awareness, lowmaintenance expenses, costs reduction in training and operationalflexibility. The drawbacks include lack of knowledge on automatedsystems, which increases errors, coordination problems andcommunication conflicts. In future, it is anticipated that engineersand manufacturers will create improved cockpit automation designsthat reduce the errors with the current automation systems.


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