Leveraging on technological advancement to improve efficiency – life lessons from the cockpit

Have you ever wondered how the aviation industry leverage on technological advancement especially with computerization to help with navigation and assist pilots to operate the aircraft more efficiently?

Cockpit of Fokker 50

Cockpit of Fokker 50

Well let us step back a few years early when the commercial flight first started. Back then most of the planes were manned by a 5 crew complement consisting of 2 pilots, a flight engineer, a navigator and a radio operator. With technological advancement the aircraft manufacturers managed to get rid of the radio operator, then the navigator and finally the flight engineer. Almost all of the modern aircrafts are now operated by 2 pilots in the cockpit. Since I am currently flying the B747-400, let me use this aircraft type to explain and illustrate my point and how we can use this lessons from cockpit in our daily life.

Glass cockpit of B747-400

Glass cockpit of B747-400

The B747 was the first wide-body commercial airliner that first flew commercially in 1970. The first generation of the B747, the B747-100/200/300 was designed based on a 3 crew concept, the 2 pilots and a flight engineer. In 1989, Boeing came out with the B747-400, an improved version of the B747-300, with longer range, improved engines and with electronic instrument display (glass cockpit) to replace the conventional dials and meters of the older planes. With the improvement and advance technology, the new design dispense with the need of the flight engineer. The B747-400 now only has the two pilots in the cockpit to man the flight. It also changed the aviation scenario, from medium haul flight that averages 8 hours, to the long haul point-to-point flight of around 14 hours.

The Airbus Industrie too capitalised on this technological advancement in computers and electronics to design their new generation of aircrafts. It pioneered the use of digital fly-by-wire flight control systems in a commercial aircraft with the introduction of the A320 in 1988.

How is this possible? In the case of the B747, how can the same plane with the same complex systems be manned by two people instead of three? Well, it is all about leveraging on the advanced technology, computers, and automation that has taken over the function of the flight engineer. The computers and automation has also changed the roles and responsibilities of the two pilots. With this new generation of airplanes, the pilots do not fly the aircraft. This is left to the computers and automation whilst the pilots manage them.

Whenever there is any system malfunction the onboard computers will alert the pilots of this malfunction, and depending on the severity of the malfunction, the automation takes over and provides an alternative source to contain the problem.

This same concept could also be applied in life as well when we leverage on automation to reduce our workload and increase our efficiency. We use automation to simply our work and let them do the work for us. Our role is just to manage them. However we must always remember who the master is and who the slave is. Too much dependence on them could result in us becoming too complacent and we become a slave to them. When that happens, instead of helping us, they become a burden to us. Instead of making our life easier, they increase our workload. Therefore, we must always be the master and not the slave to the computers and automation. Use them to our advantage as to how and when we want to use them.

Written by Azharuddin Osman

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