Researchers at NASA's Ames Research Center studied how the prolonged use of cockpit automation negatively impacts pilots' ability to remember how to perform these key tasks and suggested that pilots' thinking skills, such as navigating, remaining aware of the status of the flight, and diagnosing troublesome situations, are most vulnerable in today's automated cockpits.
Researcher Steve Casner said that there is widespread concern among pilots and air carriers that as the presence of automation increases in the airline cockpit, pilots are losing the skills they still need to fly the airplane the 'old-fashioned way' when the computers crash.
More significantly, however, the study found that pilots often struggled with maintaining awareness of the airplane's position when the GPS and map display were disabled or with troubleshooting problems when the automated systems were not available to provide hints.
Furthermore, pilots who relied more heavily on the computers to handle these tasks and who allowed their thoughts to drift during flight were more likely to suffer the effects of rusty cognitive skills.
Casner added that their results suggest that they might be a bit less concerned about things that pilots do "by hand" in the cockpit and a bit more concerned about those things that they do "by mind." said.
Casner continued that pilots' ability to remain mindful and engaged as they now watch computers do most of the flying may be a key challenge to keeping their cognitive skills fresh.
The study is published in Human Factors.
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