Auto-Land is Here for GA – Ready?

Congratulations to Garmin on the announcement of Autonomí, their new emergency autoland technology. Though obviously a high-priced entry and not available to most, it is a smart and definitive aviation game-changer. And we all know it will very quickly evolve beyond the current emergency application to normal operations. Lots of comments in our popular FaceBook post had many people warning “watch out pilots” as our jobs may soon be totally automated. The current technology is only available in the Piper 600 turboprop and the Vision Jet (and for emergencies) but possible early application would be in any aircraft using the Garmin 3000 system and having autothrottles; Honda Jet, Embraer, and TBM Turboprop.

If you have not seen this technology, watch the video here. On command (or potentially with a metered inattention period) the Garmin unit takes full control and decides on the nearest suitable runway, alerts ATC and directs the plane to a safe landing; all while alerting the passengers to not touch the controls. This clever system crabs for a crosswind and switches to a slip during the roundout and touchdown.  Autonomí even applies the brakes on the runway and shuts down the engine for a safe deplaning!

Evolving beyond the safety application for nervous fliers, this technology automates one of the most challenging parts of flying for future GA fliers. This can potentially open up aviation to a whole new market of people who may be stymied by the personal challenges or physical dexterity required to land an aircraft reliably. As a lifetime CFI, I have close to 50,000 landings logged. Teaching safe and accurate landing is one of our primary challenges as CFIs. And we all know this subtle art can be more than some people can master reliably and consistently. Autoland has the potential to eliminate this barrier and open the doors to many more future pilots. Whether this is a good thing will be debated for years, but the change is now upon us. Technology is rapidly subsuming every human challenge in our amazing world of abundance and automation.

Personally, one of my favorite activities after a long charter trip is getting out my 7AC Champ and landing in a series of different nearby grass fields, each with its own challenges and rewards. Autoland is not for me (at least for normal operations), and usually I fight with our SOPs to get more hand flying time in the jet (that is why we fly?) Let me know what you think. Fly safely (and often).


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About the author

David St. George

David St. George is an FAA DPE (Sport to Multi ATP) and a Part 135 charter pilot flying the Pilatus PC-12 in the NYC area. He recently renewed his Master Instructor for the tenth time and is a Charter member of SAFE. Formerly a 141 Chief Instructor for over 25 years, with a Gold Seal CFI. David started flying at 16 and has logged over 15,000 hours. He owns a 1946 7AC Aeronca Champ and wrote the SAFE Toolkit app.


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