Automation surprises: Something every pilot may soon experience

John Ewing has recently written an interesting post on Aviation Mentor where he noted that as general aviation becomes more and more complex, pilots should expect to experience more and more so-called “automation surprises.” What are “automation surprises” – especially in the aviation context? As John explained:

Automation surprise occurs when a system, such as a GPS receiver and/or autopilot, does something the pilot neither expected nor intended. The result is that the aircraft deviates from an assigned heading, route, altitude, or approach path and the pilot may lose situation awareness, too.

You have probably already experienced a few automation surprises behind the wheel of a new car in recent years; however, experiencing an automation surprise in an aircraft obviously carries a much greater risk. John classified various potential automation surprises into a couple of broad categories (operator error, unexpected mode changes, missing the missed approach and procedure problems) and he listed several suggestions to help pilots avoid automation surprises that are well worth repeating again here:

  • Know your own limits with regard to currency/proficiency
  • Know thy aircraft’s equipment
  • Monitor what the automated systems are doing
  • Stay ahead of (or at least be in synch with) ATC’s game plan
  • Maintain situational awareness
  • Develop and use SOPs (standard operating procedures)
  • And be prepared to catch and correct errors.

However and as John concluded at the end of his post, you are the last line of defense for when automation goes bad and its important to always monitor your technology to ensure that its working properly.

Hence and its worth asking: Have you ever experienced an automation surprise with new technology (GPS, glass cockpit)? If so, what happened and what advice or warnings would you give to other pilots?

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