Winston Aldworth is the Herald's Travel Editor.

Winston Aldworth: The most dangerous part of a plane

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

It must be bloody easy to fly a passenger jet.

When Air India's captain B.K. Soni fancied a kip on an April 12 flight from Bangkok to New Delhi, he showed a couple of flight attendants how to keep an eye on the cockpit, popped the Airbus A321 into auto-pilot and wandered back to business class for some shut-eye. Already in business class - and already in the Land of Nod - was his co-pilot, Ravindra Nath.

One of the cabin crew accidentally nudged a switch in the cockpit, shutting down the auto-pilot and sending the dozing duo scrambling for the controls to prevent the plane from crashing.

Of course, it's a terrifying story and could have ended in disaster. But captain Soni's snooze reveals the extent of understandable faith that those really in the know place in aviation electronics: this guy must really have trusted the auto-pilot. And he's the human-pilot.

His scheme for a nap would have worked fine, if it weren't for the crew member. Electronics did their job; the human let him down.

Air travel is safer than ever and getting safer. The Aviation Safety Network has declared 2012 the safest year for commercial flying since 1945.

Bring on the fully robotic plane. Captain Soni would sleep soundly.

- NZ Herald

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Winston Aldworth is the Herald's Travel Editor.

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