WSJ today

ebaybob

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Sorry if this has already been posted...interesting thoughts though.

Linky...

http://online.wsj.com/article/0,,SB112485143336421543,00.html?mod=todays_us_opinion

And text...

BUSINESS WORLD
By HOLMAN W. JENKINS, JR. http://online.wsj.com/img/colhed_business_world.jpe

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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Holman W. Jenkins Jr. is a member of the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal and writes editorials and the weekly Business World column.


Mr. Jenkins joined the Journal in May 1992 as a writer for the editorial page in New York. In February 1994, he moved to Hong Kong as editor of The Asian Wall Street Journal's editorial page. He returned to the domestic Journal in December 1995 as a member of the paper's editorial board and was based in San Francisco. In April 1997, he returned to the Journal's New York office. Mr. Jenkins won a 1997 Gerald Loeb Award for distinguished business and financial coverage.


Born in Philadelphia, Mr. Jenkins received a bachelor's degree from Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, N.Y. He received a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., and studied at the University of Michigan on a journalism fellowship.


Mr. Jenkins invites comments to holman.jenkins@wsj.com1.



When Robots Blacken the Skies
August 24, 2005; Page A11
A Cypriot 737 that crashed last week apparently flew on autopilot for a considerable period after its flight crew was incapacitated for reasons that remain a mystery. It crashed when it ran out of fuel. Here's a puzzler. Autopilots are computers, which fly planes. Most modern airliners are capable of fully automatic landings. In "fly-by-wire" aircraft, even when "manually" flying the aircraft, the pilot is really just sending instructions to computers that operate the controls.

Q: Why can't these instructions be sent from the ground?

A: All those computers in the cockpit are still the equivalent of the un-networked IBM PC of the 1980s. Vital information is carried to the flight deck instead by radio voice, at a speed and accuracy that would make a Cisco engineer choke on his pocket protector. Indeed, as airlines roll out Internet access for passengers, a laptop jockey in coach soon will be more networked than the flight crew up front.

This anomaly will grow more pressing as traffic grows, leading to more accidents of sufficient drama to make the evening news. Boeing predicts a major crash a week by 2010. And we already have a pretty good idea what will cause these crashes: Four out of five today are "controlled flights into terrain" -- the crew malfunctions, not the airplane. We also know the single biggest cost item for the struggling airline industry -- wages and salaries, especially those of pilots.

OK, send those letters accusing us of wanting to automate pilots out of their jobs. Folks, we're halfway there. Cockpits haven't been equipped with Dobermans yet, but airlines are growing keener to discourage pilots from touching anything. This development feeds on itself, as noted by a British Airways pilot in a widely discussed article for the British pilots' association, prompted by his employer's policy of banning manual-thrust control by its Airbus pilots in normal operations.

Wrote Captain Malcolm Scott: "This ban is likely to lead to further deskilling and further increase in errors. Without a significant change in the airline's policy, the inevitable response will be a complete ban on manual flying. . . . The public will accept fully automatic aircraft once they have been shown to be safer than human controlled aircraft. It is just a matter of time."

It's also a matter of air traffic control, the key factor in keeping an airline cockpit the most technologically backward cubicle in corporate America. Under the current ATC architecture, the pilot's one irreducible function is to provide a pair of eyeballs to prevent collisions with small planes that flit around the skies without the radar transponders that would make them visible to the automatic collision-avoidance systems installed in jetliner cockpits.

Sept. 11 offered the FAA a respite from pressure to radically upgrade this system, and also from demands that its ATC functions be surrendered to a private corporation that could deploy new technology before it becomes old technology. But this holiday may soon come to an end.

By 2008, Europe will have launched its own satellite system to compete with the Pentagon's GPS, galvanizing a now-dormant competition finally to develop a new navigation system that will tell every plane where all other planes are heading and automatically keep them from colliding. Traffic is growing again, testing the limits of the current system, thanks to a proliferation of smaller planes flying direct routes between secondary airports.

With general aviation manufacturers starting to make a computerized "glass cockpit" standard equipment, private flying is also on the verge of a renaissance. A NASA project aims to fully automate the small plane of the future, making personal aviation a possibility for those not gifted with the money and time to master flying skills. Expect the skies to get more crowded still.

But the biggest wrinkle may be pent-up demand from government and private operators for access to the national airspace for unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs. A Homeland Security official estimated that his agency would, in a few years, be operating 10,000 unmanned birds to patrol the borders, pipelines, electric grid, etc. The Coast Guard wants them for fisheries protection, the Forest Service for fire fighting, and so on.

The military is already steamed because it takes months to get clearance to fly one of its Predators in U.S. civilian airspace, and frequently the FAA requires a chase plane. Not least of the problems are rumors, such as when a Cessna cargo plane was downed in Alabama after colliding with an "unknown object," pointing a finger at the Pentagon for allegedly conducting unauthorized flights.

This is to say nothing of a frustrated clamor for civilian UAVs for similar monitoring and security purposes, but also to provide telecom coverage over wide areas more cheaply than a satellite. The technology is ready to go but investors aren't, because the FAA hasn't found a way to permit these craft into its airspace. Once such civil operators enter into the mix, the skies could fill with 25,000 UAVs -- more than twice the number of aircraft operating at any single moment today.

Unmanned aerial vehicles offer too many benefits to be held back because the country doesn't want the expense or hassle of upgrading our ATC system for the networking age. In turn, gadgetry developed to allow unmanned vehicles to operate safely and eyeball-free in the national airspace will inevitably find its way to commercial carriers. Already, separate French and Japanese projects are investigating pilotless cargo and passenger planes, while Northrop and Boeing plan next year to fly full-sized unmanned fighter prototypes for the U.S. military.

You can be sure, too, that long before passengers are willing to climb aboard an unmanned airliner, they'll be demanding planes that can be controlled from the ground -- as any entry level UAV can be -- in an emergency.



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wrxpilot

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I wouldn't even get in a robotic car or train. Why in the world would people want to fly in a robotic plane?? Ridiculous story.
 

Immelman

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wrxpilot said:
I wouldn't even get in a robotic car or train. Why in the world would people want to fly in a robotic plane?? Ridiculous story.
I am guessing you have not been to a major airport (as pax) lately... many throughout the world now have fully automated trains that take you around the terminals, to transportation, etc... immediately SFO and JFK air-trains come to mind. I went and looked: No driver! Perhaps DFW and SEA as well.

....it will be interesting to see what happens in, say, the next 30-40 years with respect to this.
 

siucavflight

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Immelman said:
I am guessing you have not been to a major airport (as pax) lately... many throughout the world now have fully automated trains that take you around the terminals, to transportation, etc... immediately SFO and JFK air-trains come to mind. I went and looked: No driver! Perhaps DFW and SEA as well.

....it will be interesting to see what happens in, say, the next 30-40 years with respect to this.


We will be out of oil and unable to fly before anyone gets on any type of automated flight.
 

air_chompers

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I am willing to get in a automatic car as long as every one else does the same.
 

jtf

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Enough
What percentage of CFITs are airline? It's a pretty miniscule amount with GPWS and EGPWS. I would believe many more air to air collisions mostly due to the pitiful excuse of a government agency known as the FAA. They have failed miserably in even their own crappy ideas for upgrading ATC, much less taking things to a higher level. I would think that they could do something utilizing ACARS or something similar with the radios as a backup if the onboard unit fails. Admittedly they will need more tax dollars to implement any new programs and nobody really wants to pay any more, but they have squandered hundreds of millions already that sure haven't even brought out their old plans. I also don't think privatization will do much better since the FAA will still make the rules that would surely handcuff most innovations that private companies would try to make.

I'll retire in about 30 years if the oil lasts and I don't get too sick of the business or lose my medical. I would bet that in those 30 years there will still be 2 pilots in the cockpit. Between the governments ineptness at moving forward in technology for ATC and the airlines spending billions of dollars on airplane purchase orders that they will still be trying to fly 30 years from now that are certified for 2 pilots, I just can't see the pilots getting removed from the cockpit any time soon. Many companies are still flying around with FEs in aircraft that are 30 years old or more that still require the third up front. Maybe there will be some shift down to 1 pilot as a backup for the computer or ground control within the next 30 years, but there will still be mostly 2 pilots until then.
 
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wrxpilot

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Immelman said:
I am guessing you have not been to a major airport (as pax) lately... many throughout the world now have fully automated trains that take you around the terminals, to transportation, etc... immediately SFO and JFK air-trains come to mind. I went and looked: No driver! Perhaps DFW and SEA as well.

....it will be interesting to see what happens in, say, the next 30-40 years with respect to this.
Technically, you're right. I have ridden most of those trains and never had a problem, but that's almost like riding an elevator. I was thinking more along the lines of a long distance train where random events occur and intelligent decision making is required. AMTRAK, freight, and European trains come to mind.
 
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