Autopilots and autothrottles commonly used on modern aircraft are useful tools but may have already led to degraded piloting skills, according to the FAA, which earlier this month released a safety alert to encourage manual flight operations. In a Safety Alert for Operators (SAFO) the FAA said flight operations data has identified "an increase in manual handling errors." And, says the FAA, continuous use of automated systems "could lead to degradation of the pilot's ability to quickly recover the aircraft from an undesired state." The FAA's SAFO encourages operators to "take an integrated approach by incorporating emphasis of manual flight operations into both line operations and training." The SAFO also offers guidance on operational policies.
According to the SAFO, "appropriate opportunities" for pilots to exercise manual flying skills include non-RVSM airspace operations and conditions of low workload. At the same time, the FAA also urges operators to develop and review their policies to ensure that pilots understand when the use of automated systems is preferred -- such as during high-workload scenarios and conditions that require precise flight operations. The FAA recognizes that some crew operating conditions may limit the ability of pilots to practice manual flight. It advises that airlines adapt their policies to ensure that their pilots "have the appropriate opportunities to exercise the aforementioned knowledge and skills in flight operations."