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In aeroplanes that are equipped for autoland and landing at an airport with a working and adequate instrument landing system for the conditions, why would a pilot choose not to use autoland?

If I had to guess, I'd say it's due to some of the following:

  1. Autoland is stressful and labour-intensive for pilots compared with flying the plane normally down to the ground in VMC.
  2. Autoland produces less comfortable or otherwise "worse" quality landings.
  3. Using autoland is less fun or enjoyable for the pilots.
  4. The use of autoland is restricted by aviation regulations.

But I don't have any sources to back up these claims.

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    $\begingroup$ Because someday, somewhere, sometime, it won't be available. And they need to be proficient at hand-flying when autolanding isn't an option. If they cannot hand-fly, bad things happen $\endgroup$ – abelenky Jan 11 '14 at 18:50
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    $\begingroup$ To legally use autoland, that use must be permitted by the operators operation specifications. The two 747 carriers I worked for in the 1990s deliberately left that out of their op specs because (1) it's expensive to maintain, (2) they didn't want to spend the resources to train for it, and (3) they didn't conduct operations down to minimums that would require autoland. Though not maintained, the autoland systems were typically (but not always) still hooked up, and we would occasionally do one for fun (even though it was technically illegal). They produced really crappy landings back then. $\endgroup$ – Terry Jun 30 '14 at 15:28
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There are a number of reasons why pilot don't use autoland all the time, even if the airport and aircraft are equipped with the right equipment.

To name the two most important ones:

  • Pilots need to practise their flying technique. If they would always fly autopilot, they would lose the skills to fly. Skills that they need when the autopilot does fail. There are phases of flight where it is better or even required to let the autopilot do its job, but landing is one the things pilot are allowed to and need to be capable of doing themselves. Of course autoland needs to be practised as well.

  • Auto land requires very accurate ILS guidance. Even if the airport is equipped with calibrated ILS Cat IIIb equipment (required for autoland), the signals will be degraded by traffic that is operating near the ILS antennas. Under low visibility circumstances, when pilots cannot land visually, traffic spacing is increased and ground vehicles are not allowed anywhere near the ILS antennas to ensure the best possible signal quality. This is a standard part of the Low Visibility Procedures (LVP) of all airports. The downside of this is that the capacity of the airport is reduced. If autoland would be performed while there is no ILS signal protection, the effects can be spectacular at best or fatal at worst.

    Singapore airlines 777-3000ER incident in Munich (by BFU)

    Photo by BFU, incident report here

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    $\begingroup$ To be honest all these reasons sound like technical problems that can be overcome. Practicing flying technique could be done once a week to keep from being rusty. A high quality front camera combined with modern image processing could replace the reliance on ILS (the pilot has to use vision, after all). And as for "rough" landings, that just sounds like a property of old fashioned autoland systems. Surely they could be tuned to provide a smoother landing than the average human pilot? $\endgroup$ – Jez Jan 31 at 16:13
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    $\begingroup$ @Jez I am sure the technical problems can be overcome, but the business case has to be positive as well. To justify the enormous investment required, you need to save the money somewhere. Where are the benefits? $\endgroup$ – DeltaLima Jan 31 at 17:29
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Autoland is typically only used when it absolute has to, which means when the weather dictates or when it needs to be used for currency requirements. ATC doesn't care if you are going to do one, but I have heard guys give courtesy calls to the tower letting them know they'd be autolanding.

The biggest pain with autoland is that it is a monitored approach. My only experience with those are in Category II ILS approaches (though my aircraft did not have autoland capability). Monitored approaches are higher workload and are briefed and flown differently than normal approaches*. As noted by another answer, when you are going to fly an ILS to cat II or III minimums, the ground controllers need to be protecting the ILS critical areas to guarantee the glideslope quality if you are going to follow it below cat I minimums. This may require coordination with the tower controller.

Lastly, other pilots I've asked about autolands in Boeing widebody aircraft have all told me some variation of not liking to autoland unless they have to do one per company procedures.

*Feel free to follow "What is a monitored approach?" in another question and read more about specific question.

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    $\begingroup$ "ATC doesn't care if you are going to do one" and "the ground controllers need to be protecting the ILS critical areas" seems to be contradicting statements, could you elaborate? $\endgroup$ – falstro Jun 5 '14 at 11:22
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    $\begingroup$ ATC doesn't care (they won't stop you) but they do need to be aware that you are doing it if and only if you are using it below Cat I minimums (ie they need to know if you are using it "properly" due to poor visibility, or just doing it for practice in good visibility and could take over if there's a problem below Cat I minimum). It's good etiquette to inform them anyway, but it's not required. $\endgroup$ – Jon Story Jan 30 '15 at 17:24
  • $\begingroup$ Sorry i didnt see it earlier. I add link to your new question already $\endgroup$ – vasin1987 Mar 12 '15 at 8:56
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    $\begingroup$ Good answer! Just want to mention that not all autolands must be a monitored approach.It’s probably just a company procedure, or recommended sop on your type. I know both Boeing and Airbus companies perfoming normal automatic approaches and autolands in EASA-land $\endgroup$ – Radu094 Oct 21 '17 at 11:15
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There is a percieved public belief that autolands are safer (and better?) than manual landings, neither of which I believe to be true.

‘Better’ is a subjective quality, though I certainly pride myself to achieve smoother touchdowns than an autoland, the reality is an autoland is always rougher and more violent than the worst manual landing by any rookie pilot. In fact, it’s quite an insider joke to tell the cabin crew it was an autoland and blame it on the machine whenever I have a bad manual landing.The word ‘positive landing’ was on the engineer’s minds.

‘Safer’ , now that is the real point: autolands are a necessary evil, which we put up with in bad weather because we would not be able to land manually/visually otherwise. I would argue the chance of the machine cocking up the approach is higher than a well-train pilot not being able to land manually. People screwup or become incapacitated aswell, but the chance to manually save the aircraft from a malfunctioning autopilot at 50’ durring autolanding are slim at best:

On my a/c the PM needs to call ‘Flare’ or ‘No Flare’ at 30 feet , indicating to the other pilot that the machine is working correctly or not, in which case the PF must take manual action to save the day. This in zero visibility, below 30’ (hopefully above the runway), in an aircraft flying 140kts and descending at +700 feet per minute. And you ask why we don’t do that every day?

TLDR: Autolands are not better nor safer than a well-trained pilot’s manual landing. They are used when necssary, as a secondary option

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