Photographer: Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg

Airbus Says Pilots Won’t Be Crowded Out of Cockpit by Technology

Pilots shouldn’t be replaced by fully automated systems even after the deliberate crash of an Airbus Group NV A320 last month -- because on balance they make flying safer, according to the chief of Airbus’s commercial airliner unit.

While it would be technically possible in the long term to fully automate airliner movements, that step shouldn’t be taken, and technology and training should be improved, Fabrice Bregier, the division’s chief executive officer, told journalists at a briefing in Paris today.

“You can always find examples where having a pilot in the loop will be the determining factor” in preventing accidents, Bregier said.

A Germanwings co-pilot deliberately crashed an A320 into the French Alps in March after locking his captain out of the cockpit, according to investigators. Increased use of technology that doesn’t require intervention from a pilot and changes in cockpit procedures are among improvements that have been suggested to prevent such incidents.

Many airlines have changed their rules so that two people are in the cockpit at all times, a regulation that was already followed in the U.S.

“To say that we’ll leave two people in the cockpit is a measure of good sense,” Bregier said. “Will that be sufficient? It’s not for me to decide. But I think we shouldn’t swing from one extreme to the other in saying we need to protect passengers from the pilots.”

Remote Control

The industry should also consider implementing systems to take control of aircraft from the ground in emergencies, German air-traffic-control agency DFS Deutsche Flugsicherung GmbH said this month.

Better technology does have a role, said Bregier. As computers have taken a greater role in controlling planes, the number of accidents has been cut in half, he said. Manufacturers should be able to work with airlines to cut accident rates further by a factor of two or three, he said.

Training is also important, Bregier said. In situations where the plane’s computer suddenly cedes greater control to pilots in cruise phase, the crew can become disoriented from the transfer,

“We can’t just say it’s the fault of the crew,” he said. Training needs to improve to ensure that pilots can adapt quickly, he added.

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