Are pilots addicted to the autopilot?

Recently, Air Facts magazine has posted another great question to online readers concerning whether or not the autopilot is overused. Specifically, Air Facts asked readers:

Question: The loss of control of an Airbus A330 over the Atlantic has led to calls for more hands on (as opposed to autopilot) training for airline crews. This subject has recently gotten a lot of attention in the press. Much ado about nothing or a real problem?

Reader John Zimmerman commented that he believes its unrealistic to expect pilots to not use the autopilot as much as modern aircraft need the autopilot to fly. He then added that you should “just try to hand-fly an airplane at 35,000 ft” and that the issue not being discussed was the way in which the autopilot failed:

It seemed to pretty much throw up its hands and say “you got it!” You would think there might be a safer way to alert the autopilot monitors (pilots) that there was an airspeed problem. Or maybe a 5 second warning before disconnecting.

Regional jet pilot Craig Beaty then commented that while he is completely comfortable with hand flying, he would still be reluctant to fly a jet with a broken autopilot for more than 2 to 3 of the 4 to 6 flights he typically does daily because its demanding to hand fly a high performance jet with passengers.

Finally, commenter Timothy Ettridge wrote that given a choice between a 2500 hour Alaskan bush pilot and a 20,000 hour airline pilot, he thinks the bush pilot would more likely have the “better touch” on the controls. He then added the more provocative thought that:

Airline pilots seem to be becoming more like computer graphics artists like me; more a manager of elaborate systems than a skilled artisan. Put a pen or paintbrush in my hand, and I’m not better than a child. Stick an airline pilot in a mountain valley on a windy day, and would he become like a child at the controls?

Hence, we want to ask you our readers what you think: Are pilots becoming to dependent on the autopilot and autopilot flying or perhaps the problem is the way in which the autopilot itself is designed?

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