According to a new book by William Langewiesche, reviewed here by the NYT, the true hero of the incident earlier this year when a US Airways plane was landed safely on the Hudson river after losing both its engines was not the pilot, Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger. It was Bernard Ziegler, a Frenchman who perfected the "fly-by-wire" technology used by Airbus. Langewiesche asserts that the Airbus was nearly capable of landing itself, even after losing its engines, and while Sullenberger made the right choice to land in the river, the landing itself required only moderate skill and any decent pilot could have done it.
It is an interesting claim, because the other headline-making air accident this year was the loss of Air France flight 447 on June 1, en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris. On that occasion, there were several suggestions that fly-by-wire, and the lack of manual pilot overrides on Airbus aircraft (in contrast to Boeing), were responsible.
Langewiesche further claims, credibly, that being an airline pilot is such an incredibly monotonous job that the best and brightest do not want to do it today. (Some pilots may find unusual ways to alleviate that boredom.) Michael Moore says that pilots in the US are so poorly paid today that many of them work second jobs. No wonder so many foreign pilots are now working for Indian carriers, who not only continue to pay well, but Air India pays expat pilots more than Indians. In fact, their annual bonuses (up to $15,000) are comparable to the total annual pay ($17,000) of some pilots for major US airlines, if Moore is correct.
Air India, of course, is in a financial crisis, as -- to a lesser extent -- are all Indian carriers; so such generous pay may not last long. But good pilots are still required, even if Airbus planes require little skill to fly.
Unless Airbus invents a pilotless aircraft (Boeing doesn't seem very impressed with fly-by-wire), I think interesting times are ahead for the airline industry, and for passengers.