As I understand it, a series of waypoints can be programmed, by a pilot, into one of the autopilots on a Boeing 777. If the autopilot is engaged, the autopilot will cause the aircraft to fly to each waypoint in turn, automatically steering the aircraft as necessary.

It is not clear to me whether the autopilot automatically disengages after reaching the final waypoint or whether it maintains (for example) a magnetic heading and altitude.

What happens after reaching the last programmed waypoint if the pilot does not intervene?

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    $\begingroup$ In an attempt to rescue this question from closure, I have replaced the original question with one simple generic question that I believe addresses your main concern. If you dislike what I have done you can undo my change by clicking the "edited" link and then "rollback". $\endgroup$ May 20, 2014 at 9:19

3 Answers 3


The first point I would stress on is that you don't program the autopilot. You program the FMS (Flight Management System), which looks like a very large calculator. In this picture it is the device under then first officer's hand.

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On top of the PFD (Primary Flight Display) you see the MCP (Mode Control Panel). This is what controls the modes that the autopilot system will follow, here is another image of it:

enter image description here

Typically the entire flight plan is programmed into the FMC and then during various stages of flight, the autopilot is engaged to help with navigation.

This flight plan includes the departure, enroute waypoints or tracks, and then generally the arrival at the destination; but that is it - it does not include the runway information, etc (as this may be subject to change).

The FMC takes this information and other data (weight, fuel, temperature, weather, etc.) to calculate a flight plan which is then displayed; and the pilot will then select and activate a flight plan.

In most commercial flights however, the flight plan is already loaded in the FMC from the flight operations department and the pilots simply select the predefined flight plan. Punching in a large flight plan takes a significant amount of time so many times this is already downloaded from the flight ops center.

At any stage of flight, the autopilot may be armed and engaged to do one of many things - either maintain thurst, or heading, or control the climb/descent; or follow the flight plan. It may also be disarmed during any stage of flight.

If the autopilot is armed and it set to follow the FMC's flight plan; then after the last waypoint it will follow the waypoint heading.

So, if the last way point is a holding pattern, it will continue on that pattern. If the last waypoint was a marker it will reach that marker, and then continue at that heading and speed; even though there are no more commands coming to it from the FMC (since its at the end of the programmed flight plan).

Note that reaching the end of the flight plan from the FMC does not disengage the autopilot; there are many other things that might do that though.

All the above comes from my time in a 737 and 777 simulator.

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    $\begingroup$ One nitpick. The MCP programs the flight director and if the autopilot is engaged, it follows the guidance from the flight director (which is also displayed on the PFD regardless of autopilot activation). $\endgroup$
    – casey
    May 21, 2014 at 2:10

The last waypoint is usually at a holding pattern where the plane will fly in circles until the pilot disengages to continue to land.

For example in Helios flight 522 the crew got incapacitated and the plane ended up in a holding pattern for an hour until it ran out of fuel. This was a Boeing 737 but I imagine the 777 having the same.

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    $\begingroup$ This really depends... A lot (most) flight plans that commercial jets fly end either with an arrival or the actual airport when there are no arrivals. The end of an arrival may be a holding pattern, but is much more often a specific heading or an instruction to expect radar vectors after the last fix. $\endgroup$
    – Lnafziger
    Apr 3, 2015 at 22:53

When a Boeing Jetliner reaches the end of the programmed flight plan track with the autopilot engaged in Lateral NAV and the pilot does not intervene, (which is usually at a terminal aid (VOR or NDB) at the destination airport); the autopilot will remain engaged, however the tracking mode will default to the last flown track heading into the last navigation aid and the heading window will open showing the numerals. Pilot intervention is then required to change the heading or tracking of the aircraft as desired or instructed by ATC.

  • $\begingroup$ do you have any reference? $\endgroup$
    – Federico
    Apr 4, 2015 at 8:14

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