The Industrial Revolution in the 19th century and the Technology Revolution in the 20th century saw incredible innovation in transportation, communication and manufacturing. The more recent Information Revolution has made the amounts of information and speed of access available to anyone at anytime almost beyond comprehension.
What have we done with this nexus of innovation and information? The benefits are profound and life changing. Medical procedures let people hear who were previously deaf and amputees now have bionic limbs. Smart phones and personal computers have literally redefined life in America. Whether for aerial surveillance or weapons delivery, military aircraft no longer need to have a pilot onboard the aircraft.
An Air Force pilot sits at a base in Oklahoma and flies a mission over Afghanistan. This warrior is juxtaposed with a Marine Lance Corporal obtaining intelligence on foot in the same distant theatre. It is totally possible to see the replacement of human combat troops with remote controlled fighting robots in the very near future. How would this change the battlefield? Would traditional military engagement become irrelevant if there were no humans on the battlefield? Would it become just another internet video game?
Humans, their interactions and their relationships have become removed from so many parts of our culture. Today, if you call a business and are greeted by a real person instead of an automated response, you likely got a wrong number. It is possible to order merchandise from an internet store and the first time it is touched by human hands is when the package is carried from the UPS or FedEx truck to your door. We know that the tire pressure is low on our vehicle because we got an email from On Star. Moms routinely text their teenagers on smart phones to come to downstairs for dinner, :( lol. Can we achieve the same quality of outcome when we relate to each other only with or through machines?
In the post 9/11 environment, access to airline flight decks has been exceedingly restricted by the TSA. Air traffic controllers have been prevented from observing actual flight operations in real time from the cockpit. There has been substantial attrition and replacement hiring of new controllers since the post 9/11 flight deck restrictions were put in place. Therefore, at some major hub airports as well as smaller facilities around the country the majority of controllers have never ridden in the cockpit of an airliner on an actual flight. Most airlines routinely and willingly have controllers observe training sessions in sophisticated visual simulators. These highly sophisticated simulators mirror the aircraft characteristics exactly. Flight simulators, however, do a poor job of exposing ATC controllers to the “real world” airline flight deck.
Does the controller see their task as “controlling the aircraft” or effectively communicating instructions to a flight crew? Are pilots just the unnecessary, but required connection between the controller and the airplane? Is it important or even necessary for the controller to be aware of the human and mechanical processes that need to take place when a flight is given the instruction, “Descend and maintain 3000, turn left to a heading of 120 and intercept the localizer. Maintain 170 knots to BRAVO and contact the tower now on 123.45.”
Is there an actual relationship between pilots and controllers or are they just playing a video game?