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Risks of automation: a familiar issue in the aviation industry

Automation is in increasing feature in many areas of life, including personal transportation. In a recent post on this blog, we noted that one of the safety improvements made in the aviation industry over the years has been to ensure pilots are trained in manual operation of airplanes so as to avoid accidents arising from overreliance on automation.

A recent article looked at the increase in automation in motor vehicles and what the automobile industry and regulators could learn from the experience of the aviation industry when it comes to automation. As the article points out, the experience of the aviation industry is that while automation has resulted in increased productivity, safety, efficiency and reliability, it has certainly not eliminated all safety risks. This is true for two reasons. 

First of all, there are safety risks associated with automation when automation does not work as intended. These risks arise not only because of human factors automation cannot adequately account for, but also because of unforeseen circumstances and failure of the automation itself. Second, safety risks also exist when automation does work as intended. Loss of skills, operator complacency, and even loss of professionalism can also lead to accidents. The need to address these risks is something the aviation industry has had to deal with in order to minimize safety risks.

One of the things the auto industry could learn from the aviation industry is the willingness to collaborate in solving safety issues as an industry rather than as competing businesses. Competition in the auto industry is too often an impediment to such cooperation. The automobile industry could also make improvements in the availability of information about accidents and in making a concerted effort to address cybersecurity issues.

None of this is to say, of course, that the aviation industry is perfect in addressing safety risks associated with automation. Risks continue to exist, accidents still occur, and individuals are still harmed. When this does happen, working with an experienced aviation attorney is essential in order to protect one’s legal rights and to seek fair compensation from responsible parties. 

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