The Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS) continues to receive reports indicating that pilots’ ability to maintain real-world awareness can be eroded by over-reliance on (often highly dependable) programmed control of the aircraft.
In one report, pilots admitted that they had focused so much on programming the aircraft’s automation systems that they missed cues that would have called their attention to potential problems. “We were flying a red eye with destination weather sitting at 400/1, drizzle and mist,” the captain reported. “The approach was properly briefed and all checklists complied with correctly.” The first officer was flying and selected “level change” while descending. The Vnav did not engage when selected, however, and he then selected “approach.” A few moments later, the tower called a low-altitude alert and the crew elected to go around.
Both needles had been centered on the flight director, but the pilot monitoring said he never looked closely enough at how the approach was set up on the master control panel. “I realized later that the level-change function had not disengaged either, which explained why everything remained centered as the aircraft descended toward the ground,” concluded the captain. “One thing I will include on all approaches in the future is a mental or verbal verification of the final approach fix crossing altitude at the time of crossing.”