Washington: Prolonged use of cockpit automation negatively impacts pilots' ability to remember how to perform these key tasks in case of an emergency, a new research shows.
Cockpit automation hampers pilots' thinking skills such as navigating, remaining aware of the status of the flight and diagnosing troublesome situations, it added.
"There is widespread concern among pilots and air carriers that as the presence of automation increases in the cockpit, pilots are losing the skills they still need to fly the airplane the 'old-fashioned way' when the computers crash," said Steve Casner, research psychologist at NASA's Ames Research Center in the US.
For the study, Casner and co-authors Richard Geven, Matthias Recker and Jonathan Schooler studied 16 experienced pilots as they flew routine and non-routine flight scenarios in a Boeing 747-100 simulator.
Levels of automation available to the pilots were varied as the researchers graded the pilots' performance.
The pilots also reported what they were thinking about as they flew.
Results indicated that pilots often struggled with maintaining awareness of the airplane's position when the global positioning system (GPS) and map display were disabled or with troubleshooting problems when the automated systems were not available to provide hints.
Furthermore, pilots who relied more heavily on the computers to handle these tasks and who allowed their thoughts to drift during flight were more likely to suffer the effects of rusty cognitive skills.
"Our results suggest that we might be a bit less concerned about things that pilots do 'by hand' in the cockpit and a bit more concerned about those things that they do 'by mind'," Casner added.
Pilots' ability to remain mindful and engaged as they watch computers do most of the flying may be a key challenge to keeping their cognitive skills fresh, the authors concluded.
The study was published in the journal Human Factors.