A friend once told me “Flying is much easier than driving a car or any other skill. All you have to do is turn on the auto-pilot, and you can read a book.” I could not understand why it took so many years of training and studying to become a pilot. Flying is a rewarding career, but like in all others, you have to pay your dues.
The truth is: an auto-pilot is a convenience for the pilot. It would obviously be a hassle to have to hand-fly an aircraft for 10-12 hours straight. The pilot doesn’t just have to know how to fly an aircraft, he or she must know exactly what is going on at all times. The pilot must know exactly what the auto-pilot and aircraft is doing, and how to deal with a problem should one develop. Yes, a pilot can relax a bit, once the aircraft is in cruise, and perhaps attempt the occasional cross-word puzzle or something, but the pilot can NEVER loose situational awareness. Pilots are constantly tested and retested for knowledge and flying skills.