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Can a Plane Land and Take Off on Autopilot?

The answer to whether a plane can land on autopilot is YES. An airplane equipped to land by itself on autopilot is described as having “autoland capabilities”. But can the plane take off on autopilot? The answer to that is NO, at least not yet with the current technology.

Is it safe to autoland an airplane?

Thanks to modern technological inventions and excellent FAA procedures autolands are 100% safe.

However, pilots are required to carefully monitor the autoland procedure during the entire approach. The flying pilot does not take manual control of the airplane until after touchdown.

Landing a plane on Autopilot

An Airbus landing itself on Autopilot. Video: YouTube.

How often do pilots autoland?

1. An autoland is required if the weather is down to certain minimums

There are several conditions that have to be met before you can autoland an airplane, such as:

  • A max wind speed/crosswind allowance.
  • Weather visibility requirements.
  • Current crew (pilot) qualifications requirements.
  • Airport requirements. Only certain airports are equipped and approved for landings on autopilot.
  • Airplane specific equipment requirement.s

2. Pilots autoland when they want to

  • Pilots sometimes perform autolands for practice-purpose only.
  • Other times, pilots sometimes perform autolands after very long flights for practical and safety reasons. This is most prevalent on widebody aircraft after a very long flight, especially all-nighters.

Why? Pilots are human beings too, subject to the very same jetlag and fatigue that you are subject to after a very long flight. The flying pilot may feel fatigued and may manually land the airplane at the end of a very long flight through multiple time zones. The answer? Autoland.

However, pilots love to manually land the airplane. It keeps them current and sharp, and it’s always “the thing to do” for the typical personality trait and the “can-do” attitude that most airline and military pilots possess.

How smooth is an autopilot landing?

Autoland approaches are smooth, most often resulting in a smooth touchdown as well. However, there are times when the autoland touchdown is on the rough side.

Landing an airplane manually, pilot attitude (humor)

Was it a smooth landing? Open that cockpit door at the gate for a “pat on the back” from the disembarking passengers!

Did the landing unexpectedly result in a HARD touchdown? Heck, keep that cockpit door shut until the last passenger is off! Just have the flight attendants tell the passengers the pilot is ex-Navy, a carrier pilot. Or, tell the passengers the autoland COMPUTER landed rough.

can a plane land, autoland, and take off on autopilot
Boeing 757 landing OSL Norway. Photo: First Officer Joe, BA.

Take Off on Autopilot

Airliners do not take off on autopilot yet. However, technology is getting closer to where a commercial plane can take off on autopilot too. Airbus is among the leaders in implementing such technology.

At what point do pilots engage the autopilot on takeoff?

The normal protocol for the engagement of the autopilot after takeoff is 1,000 feet above ground level (AGL).

Questions or comments? You can contact us here.

Featured Image: London Heathrow (LHR). Photo: CaptainJetson.com.

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