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Autopilots Produce 'Skill Fade' for Pilots

Since their invention a century ago, autopilots have helped to make air travel safer and more efficient. That trend continued with the introduction of computerized "fly-by-wire" jets in the 1970s. But now, aviation experts worry that we've gone too far. We have shifted so many cockpit tasks from humans to computers that pilots are losing their edge. Without actual flight experience or practice, pilots develop what aviation experts call "skill fade" or "skills decay."

Computers now handle most flight operations between takeoff and touchdown—so "frequent practice" is exactly what pilots are not getting. Even a slight decay in manual flying ability can risk tragedy. A rusty pilot is more likely to make a mistake in an emergency. Automation-related pilot errors have been implicated in several recent air disasters, including the 2009 crashes of Continental Flight 3407 in Buffalo, Air France Flight 447 in the Atlantic Ocean, and the botched landing of Asiana Flight 214 in San Francisco in 2013.

As a result of these tragic accidents, a report from a Federal Aviation Administration concluded that pilots have become "accustomed to watching things happen, and reacting, instead of being proactive." The FAA is now urging airlines to get pilots to spend more time flying by hand.

Possible Preaching Angles: We can also experience a "skill fade" in our spiritual lives. When we leave prayer to the experts we can experience a "prayer fade." We can also experience an "evangelism fade,""service fade," or a "Bible reading fade," when we just watch things happen or rely on the experts rather than engage in the activity.

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