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Home > Airplanes > Which has the better flying philosophy - Boeing or Airbus?
Which has the better flying philosophy - Boeing or Airbus?
Aviation - Airplanes
Thursday, 10 November 2005 05:12

Dear Capt Lim,

First of all, I do appreciate your work - you are doing a great job!

My question is about the auto pilot system on the Boeing and the Airbus.

On the Boeings, when the pilot engages the autopilot mode for landing, it turns off automatically if the pilot happens to push the steering (wheel? lever? - I*m not sure) down hard. It will then return to manual mode.

But on Airbus 300s the autopilot mode does not change even if the pilot does this. Is this true? I*ve heard that the 1994 China Airline Airbus 300 crash in Nagoya, Japan, was probably due to this. I have also heard that some accidents have happened with Boeings when auto pilot mode suddenly switched off during landing.

Which do you think is better?



Osaka, Japan

Hi Hari,

I have flown the Boeing as well as the Airbus A300s and I prefer the philosophy of Boeing that gives the pilot ultimate control. 

On the Boeing, it is true that a pilot can override the autopilot with a predetermined force applied on the controls. How? Well, the autopilot disengages immediately when the pilot manually pushes the control column, the control wheel or depresses the rudder pedals harder than usual. A warning message *AUTOPILOT DISC* is displayed in the cockpit if the autopilot is manually or automatically disconnected.

The Airbus philosophy is different. There have been some issues on the design of the autopilots on the Airbus planes. They prefer to give more control to the computer, believing that it would eliminate pilot error. However, some have expressed concern that the plane has become too sophisticated.

On 26th April 1994, A China Airlines flight took off from Taipei for Nagoya, Japan with a total of 271 persons, consisting of 2 flight crewmembers, 13 cabin crewmembers and 256 passengers (including 2 infants).

When the Airbus A300-600 was making an ILS approach to Nagoya Airport, the copilot, who manually flew the plane, accidentally depressed the GO lever. The plane automatically went to GO AROUND mode - causing the plane to increase in thrust and climb above the ideal landing profile.

The autopilot was subsequently engaged but the copilot was not aware of it and continued to fly the plane manually. In fact he was fighting against the automation! He continued to push the control column down to land but the automation countered the push by trimming off the forces.

When the captain, who was also not aware that the autopilot was still engaged, took over the hopeless situation to go around, the aircraft began to climb very steeply due to the excessive trimmed up force. It then stalled and crashed - 249 passengers, including 2 infants and 15 crewmembers were killed and 7 passengers were seriously injured. The aircraft caught fire and was totally destroyed.

Yes, the autopilot on the Boeing can fail when engaged. It is not a big deal as the pilot is always there to take over control manually. I am not clear which Boeing accidents you are referring to. On the Boeing 777, there are three autopilots and it is very rare for all the three to fail at the same time.


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Hi Lim,

I know this is an old topic so sorry for bumping this up.

The questioner mentioned that when you press the control column, the auto pilot disengages giving the pilot manual control...which is correct as you also confirmed.

But isn't it the same in the airbus? particularly the older airbus? While you mentioned the Nagoya crash, how about Aeroflot flight 593? the (irresponsible) caption had his children in the cockpit and his son accidentally applied some pressure on the control column that disengaged the autopilot.

Also when the autopilot is engaged,it appears on your instruments (provided you scan them ofcourse) so its not like an invisible force out there to get you.

In the battle between giving more control to humans or computers, statistics have shown that humans (read pilot error) tend to make many more mistakes than a computer. Would you agree with this statement?

Incidentally, the safest of boeing planes- the B777 - also has a FBW system where pilot imputs are actually controlled and interpreted by computers. The 787 will be also be similar if not more sophisticated. Similarly, NASA and Boeing are working on AI systems (based on neural networks) that would take further control from the human and let the computer decide what and how to do it based on human input.

So it seems that, implicitly, Boeing is also going the airbus way and agree with their (Airbus) philosophy.

What are you views on this?

Fawad , 17 Jul, 2010

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