I've read the whole discussion since the desaster unfolded and decided not to chime in until we have some solid FDR and CVR data available, but now that things have already calmed a little and since I've had somewhat of an eye opening experience yesterday I'll do so now. Longer post coming up, apologies in advance.
The new technology categorically makes the airplane safer from a pilots perspective. It’s horribly sad that it took a massive loss of life to uncover the issue (or issues). But when people say that modern airplanes have become too complex to fly, they should probably ask the people that do the flying.
Indeed, but IMHO exatly that is a two edged sword. It's great that modern aircraft have all sorts of electronic safeguards, assistant and deep reaching automation to help the crew reduce workload, handle difficult conditions etc. But what if (all of) those fail and fully manual hands on flying becomes the task du jour?
Getting to my "eye opening experience" from yesterday mentioned above. I'm an instrument rated PPL holder, just shy of 1200H TT in 10 years. The most performant aircraft I fly are the Lancair Evo and the Citation M2, both mostly single hand. Both quite fast and nimble little beasts that will punish you if you don't stay well ahead of them at all times, yet extremely fun to fly.
Yesterday, lovely sunny sunday morning, perfect time for an Evo joyride to LOWZ. At the airfeld I meet a buddy who's captain on the B77F with over 18k hours TT, he decides to come along as his wife intended to go to a tea party he didn't fancy too much to be polite
We brief the weather, föhn conditions (the powerful southerly katabatic winds) across most of the northern alps, so we're prepped for a bit of a rollercoaster experience. When I'm on my own joyriding I usually handfly all the time unless I hit IMC to enjoy the scenery, yesterday we enganged the AP for having some chitchat until reaching the mountains. Well before reaching the first ridges we enounter the first mountain waves, climb to FL140 where it's still a little calmer. Reaching top of descent I disengange the AP and my buddy starts setting us up for the approach, below FL100 it starts to get interesting, we are thrown around like a leaf in the wind and I can clearly see my buddy has trouble staying in the approach pattern. Serious work with both hands and feet is required at this point. I take over at 2000AGL, on short final it's so violent that I eventually decide to go around, my buddy already looks pale white in the face. Second approach works out fine, less random crosswinds and we grease it (well not really
Having some coffee and cake on the terrace in the sun we watch plenty of other incoming AC battle the winds, go around, try again... While chatting we are joined by a few others, talk about the weather and handflying in those conditions. The locals mind you are saying "oh it's fine today, great vis, a little choppy, no biggie" all whilst some colour is slowly returning to my buddies face. Eventually the conversation topic reaches the 737MAX and also touches AF447, we mostly agreed that airline pilots nowadays are really just sitting there pushing a few buttons and watching it go. So while they may have thousands upon thousands of hours in their logbook, a very tiny share of that is actual flying. Doesn't matter most of the time, but when the shit hits the fan, the automated systems fail or let alone they go in zombie mode like with the 737MAX, the crews seem to be totally overwhelmed by the situation. What say you?