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Concern in the cockpit: Does autopilot = rusty pilots?

EUGENE, Ore. - Pilots are the people you trust with your life from takeoff to landing.


But pilots across America are coming under scrutiny after a recent FAA study concluded they're depending too much on autopilot and not enough on their own know-how.


"When you rely upon this type of equipment and you don't have the full stick and rudder skills which we've traditionally taught our pilots, we get ourselves into a real bind," said Mark Rosenker, a former National Transportation Safety Board chief.


Take for example the 2009 crash of a regional airliner that killed 50 people in Buffalo, New York. Investigators said the pilot made a mistake responding to a stall warning, which led to the fiery crash.


At Eugene's Lane Aviation Academy, future pilots learn to fly airplanes in the midst of all the automation, said director Stephen Boulton.


Students must pass vigorous exams and prove they can manually handle in-flight emergencies.


In 2009, Captain Sully Sullenberger turned a could-be tragedy into triumph when he landed his plane on the Hudson River after it lost all engine power.


"I learned these fundamental skills very well," said Sullenberger, now a CBS News Aviation Safety Expert, "they were so deeply internalized that even after 40 years they were very accessable to me."


And Lane Aviation Academy students like Jacob Edmonds said there's no slacking when it comes to pilot safety.


"It's a generally good thing to know," he said. "Save yourself a lot of trouble."

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