Sometimes when I talk about driverless cars I am asked to what extent we already have driverless planes today. The answer is a bit complicated:
The broader issue…is raised in an FAA report: “For any given situation, who will have final control authority?” The pilot or the flight management computer? Aircraft manufacturers and their automation designers have somewhat different philosophies. Airbus has tended to favor the machine — its automation is designed essentially to prevent the plane from getting outside its safe “flight envelope” no matter what the pilot does. Meanwhile, Boeing tends to give the pilot the final word — and its adherents can be adamant. A Boeing-flying Delta captain puts it this way: “When shit hits the fan, a pilot should be able to disengage all the magic and fly the airplane with basics…All you can do is hope the software engineers haven’t screwed you with some magical sub-mode that, [sitting] in an office with a nice warm cup of coffee, makes sense at the time.” For every fan of Airbus’s “make-it-impossible-to-crash” approach, there’s a proponent of Boeing’s support for new cockpit technology only where “there is no adverse effect to the human-machine interface.”
That is from Mark Gerchick’s Full Upright and Locked Position: Not-so-Comfortable Truths about Air Travel Today, a pretty good book although much of the material may be already known to some of the potential readers.