Nightly News   |  November 19, 2013

Are pilots relying too heavily on auto-pilot?

A new FAA report to be released later this week warns of “automation addiction” and calls on airlines to reinforce basic flying skills. NBC’s Tom Costello reports.

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>>> there is news tonight about the safety and airline pilots, for that matter they're relying these days too much on automation in the cockpit and losing basic completing skills. a new faa report to be released this week warns of what they call automation addiction, and talks about flying skills, tom costello has more.

>> reporter: in today, highly automated cockpit, how much flying do the crews actually do? this pilot worries about younger pilots relying too heavily on auto pilot .

>> it is there to help you. it is not the actual commander of the airplane. you are. and so you need to use it as an adjunct. it is like another crew member helping you.

>> reporter: now, an faa report raises the red flag , saying that pilots rely too much on an automated system, and that some pilots lack the knowledge and skills to properly control the plane's trajectory. that was part of the problem in 2009 with a commuter plane problem in buffalo. and perhaps the crash off the coast of california this year. as a test, captain tom casey who flew the boeing triple 7 , once kept track of how rarely he touched the controls, on an auto pilot , from london, take off to touchdown, just several times.

>> that is being in command of a system with wonderful computers that do a great job. but it is not flying.

>> reporter: real flying, says casey, was shown by captain sullenberger when he landed the plane on the hudson. nearly everyone says that automation has improved the flying. but even the airline and pilots agree they need to avoid that addiction and keep the completing skills fresh.