Editor's note: A previous version of this story misspelled the name of Antonello De Galizia.
As Eastern Air Lines Flight 401 descended toward Miami Inter-national Airport on the night of Dec. 29, 1972, the flight crew noticed a light that should have confirmed the nose gear's position failed to illuminate as expected.
Instead of proceeding with the approach, the three-person flight crew leveled the aircraft at 2,000 feet, activated the new autopilot system installed in the 5-month-old jet and immersed itself in troubleshooting the landing-gear problem. Six minutes passed before they realized something else was amiss.
"We did something to the altitude," said the first officer, according to cockpit voice recorder transcripts. "We're still at 2,000, right?" Captain Robert Loft then responded: "Hey, what's happening here?"
Five seconds later, the L-1011 TriStar jet crashed into the Everglades, killing 99 of the 176 people aboard. National Transportation Safety Board investigators cited the pilots' inattention and distraction as the probable cause of the crash. But for the first time, investigators also examined the interplay between pilots and the autopilot system in commercial aviation.
Nearly a half-century later, the relationship is better understood as a complex endeavor. Calibrating trust between the two has become an important design trait. Yet problems persist. First observed in aviation, they're now occurring in car crashes. In investigations into fatal Tesla and Uber crashes, NTSB investigators found that human motorists responsible for driving were lulled into a false sense of security by driver-assist systems controlling the vehicle.
Experts warn that lessons learned about guarding against this "automation complacency" in aviation are not being heeded in automotive applications.
"It has to be brought into the consciousness, because these lessons have been paid for in blood," said Frank Flemisch, a professor of human systems integration at Germany's RWTH Aachen University who has worked in the automotive and aviation industries. "We have paid for them, so why not use them as a society? The trick will be, on one hand, to use those lessons but adapt them for this new domain. That's not just copying the techniques, but adapting and translating them."