Los Angeles Times

Lion Air crash raises question: Are cockpits controlled by pilots or software?

When an altitude sensor failed on a Turkish Airlines Boeing 737 flight to Amsterdam in 2009, the jetliner's computerized flight controls erroneously cut the engine thrust. The pilots didn't understand what happened in time to prevent a crash.

The accident had striking similarities to the recent Lion Air tragedy in Indonesia, which took the lives of 189 people. A failed sensor led flight computers to put the 737 MAX jetliner into a series of dives, based on the erroneous calculation that it was losing lift and about to stall. The crew didn't diagnose the problem, which could have been remedied with the flip of a switch, and the plane fell into the Java Sea. The investigation into the crash is ongoing.

Aviation experts say automated systems have made planes safer than ever and are a major reason why crash rates have declined all over the world. The push to automate - which also reduces airlines' training costs - is only growing stronger. Boeing has a research project in the works to develop a fully automated jetliner. A company spokesman said last month that testing was ongoing.

But automated flight systems are also implicated in a series of incidents in which they made

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