Why don't pilots always use autoland?

Hugh
  • Why don't pilots always use autoland? Hugh

    In aeroplanes that are equipped for autoland and landing at an airport with a working and adequate instrument landing system for the conditions, why would a pilot choose not to use autoland?

    If I had to guess, I'd say it's due to some of the following:

    1. Autoland is stressful and labour-intensive for pilots compared with flying the plane normally into the ground in VMC.
    2. Autoland produces less comfortable or otherwise "worse" quality landings.
    3. Using autoland is less fun or enjoyable for the pilots.
    4. The use of autoland is restricted by aviation regulations.

    But I don't have any sources to back up these claims.

  • There are a number of reasons why pilot don't use autoland all the time, even if the airport and aircraft are equipped with the right equipment.

    To name the two most important ones:

    • Pilots need to practise their flying technique. If they would always fly autopilot, they would lose the skills to fly. Skills that they need when the autopilot does fail. There are phases of flight where it is better or even required to let the autopilot do its job, but landing is one the things pilot are allowed to and need to be capable of doing themselves. Of course autoland needs to be practised as well.

    • Auto land requires very accurate ILS guidance. Even if the airport is equipped with calibrated ILS Cat IIIb equipment (required for autoland), the signals will be degraded by traffic that is operating near the ILS antennas. Under low visibility circumstances, when pilots cannot land visually, traffic spacing is increased and ground vehicles are not allowed anywhere near the ILS antennas to ensure the best possible signal quality. This is a standard part of the Low Visibility Procedures (LVP) of all airports. The downside of this is that the capacity of the airport is reduced. If autoland would be performed while there is no ILS signal protection, the effects can be spectacular at best or fatal at worst.

      Singapore airlines 777-3000ER incident in Munich (by BFU)

      Photo by BFU, incident report here

  • Autoland is typically only used when it absolute has to, which means when the weather dictates or when it needs to be used for currency requirements. ATC doesn't care if you are going to do one, but I have heard guys give courtesy calls to the tower letting them know they'd be autolanding.

    The biggest pain with autoland is that it is a monitored approach. My only experience with those are in Category II ILS approaches (though my aircraft did not have autoland capability). Monitored approaches are higher workload and are briefed and flown differently than normal approaches*. As noted by another answer, when you are going to fly an ILS to cat II or III minimums, the ground controllers need to be protecting the ILS critical areas to guarantee the glideslope quality if you are going to follow it below cat I minimums. This may require coordination with the tower controller.

    Lastly, other pilots I've asked about autolands in Boeing widebody aircraft have all told me some variation of not liking to autoland unless they have to do one per company procedures.

    *Feel free to ask "What is a monitored approach?" in another question and ping me and I'll address specifics

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