The philosophy of Southwest is pretty baffling. Their 737-200s understandably had no auto throttle  and a very basic autopilot, that of the Sperry SP-77.

Southwest became, and still is, the biggest customer for the Boeing 737 family. The Launch customers of the 737-300s. 737-500s, (Both Classics) and the 737-700s (A NG), Southwest wanted things its way.

Apparently, because of the desired commonality between the 737-200 cockpit all the way to the 737-700 cockpit, Southwest, until recently, had the VNAV and Auto Throttle (A/T) either marked as “INOP” or covered so that they may not be used. So aircraft which promised better fuel savings through the optimal use of automation couldn’t deliver their best simply because the vertical climb, and the thrust settings could not be automatically managed by the automatics on board. All this despite Southwest being touted as “an industry leader in airline efficiency”.

Today, when discussing the issue with FMS developers, we were surprised why Southwest would have deliberately kept automation off its pilots. Yes, the analog displays on the Classics and the EFIS style displays on the -700s speak of commonality, but was it mere commonality?

Apparently things have changed since a new management has come into force. Auto-throttles (which were always present but never used) helped saved the airline significant money. And with a drive to fly RNP approaches, flight decks have been modernized. Hopefully VNAV has also been enabled, though unlikely.

So with the potential to effect savings with an age old A/T technology and better displays that ensure greater situation awareness, why didn’t Southwest adopt these? Even more thought provoking is that Southwest hasn’t had a single fatal accident. Could the lack of automation kept pilots in the loop?

There are many questions about Southwest that need a decent, definitive answer. Hope the answers come in.

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