Airline Pilots can not hand fly an airplane any longer. This is no fault of their own, but it is the fault of the airlines. Airline Pilots are encouraged to turn on the autopilot, even in VFR conditions, around 400 feet above ground on take off and turn it off around 1000 feet above ground or lower upon landing. In Instrument conditions (IMC) the pilot has to use the autopilot. If the Pilot does not follow company procedures and there is an incident, that pilot is subject to being fired. All pilots flying above 28,000 feet are required to use the autopilot.
The above has led to the erosion of hand flying the airplane as airline pilots have lost their skills to do so. The only time a pilot is hand flying is in the simulator. Another factor in airline accidents is the way Boeing Airplanes are controlled versus Airbus Airplanes. Boeing has tradition yokes in their planes. When one pilot is pushing forward on the yoke in a Boeing, both yokes go forward. Airbus uses side sticks and fly by wire. If one pilot is pushing forward and the other is pulling back, then only one control input is being recognized. This is the worst setup I have ever seen, and am shocked it was allowed in certification and still being allowed. This situation has led to numerous accidents and deaths.
I have flown with many airline pilots throughout the years. I have found that the best airline pilots are those that own their own GA Airplane. In my plane and theirs, I have found that these pilots are the best in hand flying an aircraft. It amazes me in my Bonanza that they can hold an altitude to 0 feet and never deviate off course.
I have owned several airplanes over my flying career. They have all been legacy aircraft none of which had an autopilot. I am surprised that I have many more hand flown hours than most airline pilots flying today. I have always said that any type of autopilot in an airplane is one of the safest pieces of equipment that you can have. My problem is that the costs of buying and installing a TSO’d autopilot is more expensive than my airplane is worth. I have talked to the FAA about allowing non TSO’d autopilots to be installed in legacy aircraft for safety reasons. That argument has never flown with the FAA. I have stated on numerous occasions that the FAA does not believe in safety, or they would have an open mind on this issue. This could prevent many accidents and save lives. Non TSO’s autopilots have been used by the experimental group for years and have been proven effective. The cost of these is extremely less than a TSO’d unit. Part 23 is being rewritten by the FAA. One could only dream that they would allow non TSO’d equipment in legacy aircraft as Canada does.
I feel strongly that Airline Pilots should have to take 2 cross country trips a year in a GA Airplane, hand flying, to maintain their proficiency. I also believe the Airlines should relax their rules on hand flying. If the autopilot goes out on a departure in IMC, it could not be a pretty picture for the pilot to hand fly the procedure.
Hopefully the FAA and the Airlines will react to a rash of accidents and require Airline Pilots to have more actual hand flying experience.