On modern commercial airliners, how much of the flight could be fully taken care of by the auto pilot?

Speldosa
  • On modern commercial airliners, how much of the flight could be fully taken care of by the auto pilot? Speldosa

    If one wanted to, how large part of the flight could a modern commercial airliner do completely on its own? That is, if the pilot only was allowed to set things up and then leave the cockpit, from where (taxiing, take off, et cetera) and for how long would the airplane be able to handle things itself before things went out of hands?

  • This should apply to the most advanced modern airliners. Older aircraft may not have all of the same automation available. The autopilot can take care of most tasks between takeoff and landing.

    The pilots have to take care of starting the airplane. This includes turning on electronics, bringing up the aircraft systems, and starting the engines.

    Taxiing is pretty much on the pilot, there is no automatic taxi yet on commercial airliners.

    Once the aircraft is lined up with the runway, the pilot can hit the TOGA (Takeoff/Go Around) button. The plane will automatically apply the right amount of thrust for takeoff. The pilot will then rotate the plane (lift the nose) at the rotation speed (calculated before the flight), and the plane lifts off. Shortly after that, the pilot will engage the autopilot.

    If the autopilot is set up to follow GPS waypoints and proper altitudes, it will be able to take care of the climb, cruise, and descent portions of the flight. The autopilot can follow the best speeds and fly through each waypoint in the flight plan.

    Once the aircraft is approaching the runway, the pilot will tune the proper ILS frequency for the runway into the navigation radio. They will then engage the Approach mode, which captures the localizer (lateral navigation left/right to align with the runway) and glideslope (veritical navigation up/down to have the proper approach path). The pilot then needs to deploy the flaps and landing gear as the plane slows down for landing.

    In the lowest visibility conditions, the plane is capable of the approach and touchdown on the runway all by itself. The pilot will then apply reverse thrust and brakes as needed to slow down.

    Now that the plane is back on the ground, it is once again the pilot's job to exit the runway and taxi to the gate. Shutting down the engines and then the electronics will also be up to the pilot.

    What is the autopilot still missing?

    • Responding to ATC (readback clearances, change frequencies)
    • Reacting to nearby traffic
    • Following ATC instructions (climb/descend, turn, slow/accelerate)
    • Reacting to emergencies or system failures
    • Controlling lights, flaps, landing gear

    This is of course a high level view and there is so much more that goes into the flights.

    Also, keep in mind that we have the technology to do much more. It just hasn't made it into service for one reason or another (lack of development and testing, not seen as important, etc.). We have UAVs that are much more automated than this. However, they are still working on how to effectively avoid other aircraft.

Tags
Related questions and answers
  • If one wanted to, how large part of the flight could a modern commercial airliner do completely on its own? That is, if the pilot only was allowed to set things up and then leave the cockpit, from where (taxiing, take off, et cetera) and for how long would the airplane be able to handle things itself before things went out of hands?

  • After answering this question on History.SE, I started to wonder if it would be possible to find out even more detail about the plane now that its serial number is known. I have no idea what kind of flight records the US Army Air Corps kept, however. I know most flight logs today are kept by pilot, but I imagine there would be some way to trace what pilots flew a particular plane. I have no idea if this is possible for USAAC trainer planes in the 1930s. Could I get access to these records? If so, how would I go about it? I'm mostly interested in seeing if I can find out more information

  • , etc) which could be used to hold the position of the control surface without the pilot applying any force. But now, we don't usually have trim tabs, and with fly-by-wire systems forces have been reduced on the pilot. Does trimming do anything other than reduce pilot workload? Also: Do modern aircraft still follow this concept of trim to reduce pilot's continuous force on the flight controls? Apart from pilot workload and fuel efficiency (I know that trimming an aircraft can produce drag), what other benefits does trim offer? Without trim tabs, how is trimming accomplished?

  • Flight hours costs approximately $285 per hour. Below is a screenshot from a local (Newport Beach, CA) school regarding what it takes to become a private pilot. So I was hoping that maybe there might be a school in a local country like Mexico where I could do that for less money. If so, are there any things that I need to take into consideration. Or how do I make sure that those hours will be applicable to my license to be able to fly in the US?

  • In the olden days there used to be a navigation officer in commercial airlines who had the tasks of navigation and radio communication. But, in modern commercial airliners there is no navigation officer. Do the pilot(s) take the additional responsibility of radio communication and navigation? Or is the navigation part now done by onboard computers and systems? If the electronic navigation system fails, are there any backup plans? Are physical maps and a compass then used to determine the direction and position?

  • I know aircraft commonly have rotary actuators to extend and retract the flaps. I am not sure how many but I think I read two per flap on a 747. My question is what is the result if one actuator fails? I don't know if more then one needs to fail in order for a flap not to extend or retract. I am mostly wondering if could cause an aircraft turn-back because somebody told me it could. However that does not seem right to me. I thought the flaps are extended before take-off so that worst case scenario prior to flight is a minor flight delay to replace it. I suppose if it failed just prior

  • In reference to this incident by a certain (in)famous artist, i'm wondering how effective modern aircraft are at clearing smoke for single aisle commercial aircraft such as B737/A320 or a business jet like in the story? Which direction does the airflow in a cabin move? Top to bottom? How far are people effected by secondhand smoke if somebody lights a cigarette? Would it be within a one-meter range or would people notice across the whole cabin?

  • With 2,000hrs of flight time, a commercial ticket for ASEL and AMEL, CFI, CFII, MEI, and a Master's in Aeronautical Science I could easily qualify to fly right seat for a regional airline, but I just can't compete with pilots willing to work for $17k/yr. For comparison, federal minimum wage is currently just over $15K/yr. Why are the starting salaries at US Regional Airlines so low? It seems odd... level of skill and education. Supply and demand is one explanation, but I really don't understand how there is so much competition for flying jobs but at the same time there is a supposed "pilot

  • In February 2014 a co-pilot hijacked Ethopian Airlines flight 702 and took it to Switzerland. Now in March there is some speculation that Malaysia Airlines flight 370 may have been hijacked and destroyed by the pilots - maybe they took a nose dive into the Andaman Sea? So my question is this: is there an automatic or say anti-pilot warning system on commercial airliners? In other words, a system that is non-maskable (can't be disabled by the pilot) and which will automatically warn ATC about unexpected conditions (like a sudden decrease in altitude)?

  • The major reason that lead Aeroflot Flight 593 to crash was the partial disengagement of the of autopilot (by the pilot's kid who was in the cockpit) which could have been avoided if the pilots were more familiar with the Airbus 310-100 or there was an audible alert. Do new Airbus aircrafts have an audible alert in such cases now? were the old ones some how altered to implement this?

Data information