Tuesday, 4 December 2012



Currently there are approximately, oh I don’t know, but it is in the hundreds of thousands, airline pilots globally, however, in ten years’ time this number will have both reduced and increased. Okay I know that does not make sense, neither mathematically nor linguistically.
I am implying that the number of commercial, in other words primarily airline pilots, will have numerically increased, but their collective experience will have decreased as the ‘veterans’ of the industry retire. This will leave a very worrying gap.
Now I am not a ‘dinosaur’, one who harps on as to how it used to be, and how it should still be done. Yes, admittedly I have been flying the ‘Airlines’ for almost 30 years, in-fact since I was 19 years of age and have over 18,000 hours of flying experience in my log books. I have also been fortunate to fly for airlines from more than ten different countries, embracing many different cultures; I have seen the good and the bad, promoted the good and walked away from the bad.
                                          (Author is wearing the 'picasso' themed sweater!)

I do understand the need for progress and industry advancements. But and it’s a big ‘but,’ I have my concerns that sophisticated automation is taking over. HAL (One less than IBM, for those who remember the Stanley Cubrick movie 2001) is becoming more and more of a worrying reality on the modern airliner flight deck.

I am also finding that reliance and reliability are frequently taking over from awareness and understanding. In my role as a training captain I have seen supposedly experienced pilots literally stabbing at buttons and flicking switches hoping that these actions will rectify a particular situation, showing minimal understanding of the systems involved. Somewhere, something at a basic level has broken down. Would you want your family flying as passengers in the back of this crew’s aircraft; neither would I.
              (The muscle is the Auto-flight system, the brains the Flight Management Computer, the         operator and over-seer.....the pilots.)

In the last couple of years we have seen how situational awareness, when absent, can and will cause a perfectly serviceable aircraft to fly into the ground. How a lack of understanding basic aerodynamics will place a reasonably serviceable aircraft at the bottom of the ocean; or how personality disorders, often through local cultures, will reduce almost four hundred tonnes of Boeing’s finest aircraft into scrap metal.

(Korean Airlines Boeing 747-200 C.F.I.T in Guam)

These all could have and should have never occurred; their victims should still be alive. An aircraft commander guilty of these crimes  is only spared being described as a ‘serial killer’ due to simple definition and timescale, but they are just as complicit as any Fred West or Ted Bundy.

Teaching and training, discussions and consultations, sharing of experiences but above all learning and understanding; should mitigate the number of these incidents and accidents.
(Air France Airbus 330 loss of control and crash into the Atlantic Ocean.)

I find that the attitudes of members of all nations can be included in my statements. The western world is not exempt, poor attitudes prevail here too…..one Far Eastern airline I flew for, the ex-pats had an unofficial ‘shoes on – shoes off’ policy for take-off. If it was an ex-pat as the aircraft commander then they felt that they could relax and make themselves comfortable. However, if it was a ‘local’ Captain, then shoes would remain on until gear up in case of a runway ‘excursion’ or rejected take-off. I now realise in equal measures the arrogance and ignorance of this mentality.

(TACA Airbus 320 runway 'excursion in Honduras.)

There are many excellent pilots in Africa and Asia, just as there are many in the western world, yet disturbingly there are similarly many that shouldn’t be entrusted with anything more complex than a light switch, let alone a hundred million dollar plus aircraft.

There is arrogance, ignorance, mistrust, unprofessionalism and a general lack of ability globally, throughout all cultures. We have regulatory bodies such as the FAA, JAA and EASA amongst others, though they try hard and their motives are well founded but  I find that often they are realistically impotent. Yes their members and regulators can push out rules, requirements and guidelines. Yes these same bodies can carry out company department audits and random spot checks on airport ramps. I have been ‘ramp-checked’ and been asked the most ridiculous questions by various people, on one occasion it caused me to suspend belief in both their qualifications and sanity.
Have an experienced Airbus training captain delve into an airline’s Airbus flight operations department, the same goes for Boeing, Embraer et al. Do not allow a Human Resources ‘expert’ or an engineer investigate this flight operations department, in simple terms, ‘like for like’.

However, more often than not these are no more than carefully orchestrated charades. Whether it is slipping members of an African ‘authority’ several thousand dollars to go shopping instead of digging any deeper into a company’s infrastructure, or trying to pull the wool over the eyes of European regulators in a way that would have the directors of the iconic movie ‘The Sting’ blushing in disbelief.
Hundreds of innocent people, men, women and children die needlessly each year because of mistakes which should have been avoided. Whether the root causes are due to improperly policed national authorities allowing pilots with falsified documents to be in command of multi-million dollar aircraft, or western pilots who ‘slip’ through the ‘training’ net due to company politics, amongst other ‘crimes’. I have personally witnessed many of these, not in deepest darkest Africa or a once colonial outpost in the Far East, but in Europe.
(A pilot with fake documents and a barely trained co-pilot got into a Yak-42 private jet to fly three-time Russian league champion team Lokomotiv from Yaroslavl to Minsk.
44 died after a failed take-off.....)

These ‘so called’ pilots are no better than east European pick pocket gangs which can be found roaming on any given afternoon any busy London street, as they too think that they can and will get away with their crimes and deceptions. I say they shouldn’t, they should be made accountable and to a lesser extent, ‘exposed’.

The sixty thousand dollar question is….what is the answer? Well I can only see one option; a totally independent non-affiliated team of ‘over-seers’.  A team which has the political and regulatory backing of aviation authorities globally; a team which has the powers to descend on an airline and request immediately training documents and operational line documents. A team whom are able to attend flight simulator training details or ‘fly the line’, as observers with crews which have not been cherry picked; this team would have the recognition of the member states and able to make their findings heard, respected and ultimately acted upon.
I know we already have teams of auditors belonging to various authorities and organisations; however, there are also consultants that are brought in by the soon to be audited companies to show how to pull the wool over their eyes. Everyone wins except for those innocent people who die as a result of these charades.
How do we go about making this fabulously rewarding profession all we hope and desire it to be? Petitions, lobbying….strongly worded letters? I am told that we have systems involving checks and balances in place and in a moral unbiased world they would work. It’s obvious that they don’t as yet another aircraft over-runs a runway breaking up and killing yet more innocent people. As well as a disregard for SOPs and ATC procedures where but for the grace of your God, nobody was killed.

This is where I need your advice and assistance. Or sadly, am I just wasting my time…………

Watch this...so true.