Do pilots still land commercial airplanes themselves?
Monday, February 10, 2014
With modern airplanes, the technology is so advanced that it would seem the plane could fly itself. Stories abound of pilots who take a nap during their shift and let the auto pilot take over. But how far can the auto pilot take you? Would it be a safeguard in the event that both the captain and co-pilot would become incapacitated? Would it be able to land an aircraft safely?
The answer: most modern airplanes are able to land autonomously as long as they're programmed accordingly. They can approach the runway, flare, recognise the runway's centre line, touch down and utilise the wheel and air brakes. However, autopilots aren't able to apply thrust reverse and can't make the turn at the end of the runway independently. So based on this, you can't say that pilots aren't necessary in order to fly a plane, though they do rely on the automated features for some aspects of the flying process.
So in what situations would it be wise for a pilot to land the aircraft entirely manually? One such situations would be if visibility is low. The autopilot helps, guides and assists pilots when visibility is impaired and can land autonomously when visibility is reduced to zero. On the other hand, when faced with conditions such as strong gusts of crosswinds, the autopilot would not be able to do much, as the pilot must rely on his senses and experience. In those cases, the landing procedure takes place entirely manually. This can also benefit the pilot, as it's important to keep practising for complicated circumstances and situations.