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Are They Pilots or Just Equipment Operators? by Britt Storkson Owner, P2FlowLLC Well-known meteorologist and former airline pilot, Chuck Wiese commented on the computer-controlled airline pilots of the July 6, 2013, Asiana Airlines Flight 214 that crashed while attempting to land at the San Francisco International Airport. To briefly recap the series of events leading up to the crash: Asiana Airlines Flight 214, during its approach to the San Francisco Airport, came in too low and too slow. At the very last second, one pilot noticed the problem and attempted to pull the plane up for the correct approach angle, but it was too little too late and the tail of the plane hit the concrete seawall. The plane slammed to the tarmac and slid down the runway, resulting in the aircraft catching fire. An investigation revealed the pilots were “distracted” and assumed the autopilot was landing the plane, but it wasn’t - as it was disconnected at the time and they should have been flying the plane manually. Chuck Wiese, in his commentary about the accident, said the people flying the plane were not pilots. He said they were equipment operators. In this context, the word “pilots” means those who know what the airplane can and cannot do and how the airplane works, in great detail. Pilots know how to make airplane parts or at the very least provide valuable input regarding airplane construction or modification to deliver the desired performance. In short, pilots should have the “final word” when it comes to aircraft operation because of their extensive training, knowledge, and experience. Conversely, the word “equipment operators” used here means those who simply press buttons and move levers in response to various stimuli (lights, buzzers, computer-generated commands, etc.) and have little or no idea how the equipment really works. With all respect to equipment operators everywhere, the term “equipment operators” used here reminds me of those intelligence tests used to measure the responses of birds and other animals. One type of testing machine turns on a light and the bird has a certain amount of time to pull a string; the machine responds by delivering a treat to reward the bird for its actions. Please note, all one needs to perform this task satisfactorily is to respond correctly to various stimuli. Respond correctly and you will be immediately rewarded. There is no need to know how the equipment actually works, how to troubleshoot anything, much less be able to independently develop this machine in the first place. In other words, no independent thought is needed. Being a computer programmer, I’m a “pilot” when it comes to computer controls development. I make computers, I know how computers work internally, and can manipulate or modify the computer “brain” (microprocessor) to obtain the desired results. Everything that computer ends up doing (or not doing) is my responsibility. However, the term “computer programmer” is also used to describe those who simply operate computers that are defined by someone else, not make them. In fact, I was hired by one company primarily (as near as I could tell) because I was a computer programmer (a “pilot”) and I had computer programming skills. I was dismissed some time later because, while this company claimed they wanted a computer programmer (pilot), what they really wanted was an equipment operator - and they didn’t know the difference. The difference is, the computer programmer defines everything the computer will or will not do. The programmer can write the code to allow the equipment operator to modify how the computer functions in certain areas, but the programmer is responsible for the total performance of said computer. While there certainly is a place for equipment operators, they are not the ones who ultimately decide what the computer does or does not do. That’s the job of the computer programmer. The best the equipment operator can do if there is a problem he or she cannot fix is to shut off the power to the machine and call for help. Britt Britt Storkson may be contacted via e-mail to michele@ 44 APRIL 2022 WorldWide Drilling Resource®