Statistics about plane accidents consistently show pilot (or other human) error as the leading cause of crashes. With current advances in technology, it is therefore tempting to strive towards replacement of pilots with automated systems. However, I have never seen a tally of how many plane crashes are actually prevented by pilot skill, that would otherwise have resulted in loss of life. Are there any statistics available on this subject?


closed as primarily opinion-based by mins, DeltaLima, Farhan, vasin1987, Danny Beckett Mar 21 '15 at 13:16

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    $\begingroup$ That's hard to say as you can count anything as crash prevention. And it is hard to define an "almost" crash. Is a TCAS warning already considered an almost crash? That's probably why you don't find many statistics. But you'll find plenty of incidents where a fully automated system would probably have crashed, yet the pilot managed to land safely (Hudson River, LOT twisted nose wheel landing and so on) $\endgroup$ – Maverick283 Mar 21 '15 at 9:30
  • $\begingroup$ Perhaps your question should ask about incidents where the human pilot correctly took manual control because the auto-pilot wouldn't have been able to handle things properly. $\endgroup$ – ChrisW Mar 21 '15 at 10:05
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    $\begingroup$ As an accident is (or is usually) a chain of events, preventing an accident means preventing at least one of those events to occurs, even if the public will see only the last event as decisive. How many events have been prevented silently? This is not possible to answer this. Prevention is a permanent role of the crew. We should thanks the crews at each flight, not only after an heroic action to prevent the last event of the chain. $\endgroup$ – mins Mar 21 '15 at 12:45
  • $\begingroup$ To me it seems, if you want to make this question less opinion based it will end up to be something like: "What are some incidents where a pilot could not have been replaced by automatic systems" which would then lead to this question. I have not found a list of published occurrences nor can I find a number, yet I'd say in about 10%-20% of all flights made, an automatic system may not have been able to recover or interrupt the chain of events mentioned by @mins $\endgroup$ – Maverick283 Mar 21 '15 at 16:45
  • $\begingroup$ All of them, except those that aren't. $\endgroup$ – J. Hougaard Aug 8 '17 at 12:34

Any manually-flown landing would meet your requirements. If the pilot does nothing on final approach, the plane will almost certainly come to a fiery end.

Landings that were very, very close to a crash aren't reported all that often - if you made some monumental screwup and managed to salvage it, would you write it up for the FAA? Not many people report almost-car-accidents or red light violations either.

  • $\begingroup$ Yes, I suppose any dull, nominal flight could be considered due to pilot skill. But those are also typically flights that could be performed just as well by a fully autonomous plane, even with today's technology. I'm more looking to compare cases where the presence of a human caused an accident in the absence of any other off-nominal circumstances versus cases where the presence of a human prevented an accident from happening where something was off-nominal. So that would, for example, include cases where a pilot prevented a crash when a mechanical failure would have resulted in a crash $\endgroup$ – Jeroen Mar 21 '15 at 9:01
  • $\begingroup$ Unlike driving a car, the pilots are legally required to report all near-misses to the FAA. Airline safety management systems rely on honest reporting without fear of repurcussions (unless the mistake was really negligent). But with two or more pilots plus ATC plus airport fire services watching, you can't exactly hide big mistakes... $\endgroup$ – Ben Mar 21 '15 at 9:17
  • $\begingroup$ Near-misses involve another aircraft, and at airliner speeds cannot be avoided without technology so surviving one here doesn't count. Regarding witnesses, if you stalled your 182 on approach to an unmanned country strip, pulled it out just before impact and tapped the approach light with a wingtip before thumping it down on one wheel, would you write it up or simply go home for fresh underwear and never speak of it again? $\endgroup$ – paul Mar 21 '15 at 11:10
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    $\begingroup$ This was close to my first thought on the matter: Nearly every single flight is kept from crashing by the presence of a pilot, and it isn't limited just to the landings either. Poor pilot technique can just as easily cause a crash during the takeoff roll, during the climb, cruise, or descent. Not to make light of the question, but that is what the pilot typically does: fly it from point a to point b without crashing. That's the job. $\endgroup$ – Lnafziger Mar 21 '15 at 16:01

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