Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Pilots on the Germanwings Murder/Suicide

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James Fallows has an excellent column of professional pilots commenting on the Germanwings incident:

After the Germanwings crash I argued that no single safety device or security protocol could protect the flying public against a pilot determined to do harm. A number of veteran pilots write in to agree, but also to suggest that this episode illustrates some structural problems within the modern cost-cutting air-travel industry.

1) “Low-cost pilots, low-cost lives.” Adam Shaw, who has had a varied and interesting career as a writer and flyer and now leads an aerobatics team in Europe, writes as follows. I’ve added interstitial explanations in brackets [like this]:

No one can disagree with your: “ no new regulation… can offer perfect protection against calculated malice.”

But eliminating P2F is the first step. [JF note: P2F, or “Pay to Fly,” is a scheme in which pilots-in-training, while still paying tuition to a flight school, simultaneously serve as flight-crew members on real airlines carrying real passengers. That is, rather than earning pay for their work, they are the ones paying. Without getting into all the details this is now widely considered a scam.]

A good second step is the FAA’s reinstatement of  the very old  (your piece leads folks to believe it is new…) rule  requiring 1500 hrs of flight time before taking the ATP written. [JF: The change that the FAA ordered two years ago, as explained here, was requiring first-officer or “co-pilot” candidates to have an Airline Transport Pilot certificate, which among other things requires 1500 hours of flying experience. Before that, people could apply for first-officer positions with only a Commercial certificate, with an experience minimum of only 250 hours.]

Asian and European authorities should instantly copy this. Why? Because in the years it takes to get to 1,500 hrs (flight instructing, crop dusting, banner towing, flying jumpers, or whatever) budding pilots get real experience with airplanes with that are often gritty, shitty, and temperamental.

The years they put in to get those 1500 hrs also—and this is just a critical—expose them to their peers, to repeated medical examinations… to repeated scrutiny. [JF: Working with ATP privileges requires a First Class FAA medical certificate, with a full medical exam every six months. Working with Commercial privileges requires a Second Class medical, with an exam once a year. Private pilots like me can fly with a Third Class medical, which lasts either two or five years, depending on your age.]

These days, the 250-hr button twiddling geeks  can go from pounding the sidewalk to the right seat of a passenger jet in less than two years. That’s two medicals, and practically no peer-review, not time for quirks, or worse, to become apparent. I know the trend is for low cost airlines ( low cost training)  low cost clothes, low cost food, low cost… lives.

With most old-fashioned pilots retired or within minutes of retirement, we’re now faced with left-seaters who have come up the ab-initio or worse, the geek P2F, way.

Unless things change, and change fast, we’re going to see a lot more AF# 447, Asiana #214, Transasia #235  events in the coming years.

And when people start looking for whom to blame, the answer is simple: Joe-six-pack who wanted a $99 flight from New York to L.A, or Pierre Baguette who wanted a 65 Euro Paris-Casablanca…and the cynical bean counters who make this possible

You can see a video of Adam Shaw’s formation-flying team here, and one of him flying through the mountains with his dog as first officer here.

On the point he makes about the value of sheer experience: Within the next year I should have reached 2,000 hours of total flying time. That is not much from the perspective of someone who does this as a professional but reflects my trying to stay at it steadily year by year.

The difference from when I had 250 hours of experience, or 500, is not any particular new skill. Indeed, many obligatory pass-the-test skills have certainly atrophied. (Like, an NDB approach or “turns around a point.”)

The difference is simply that I’ve seen more things happen, so there’s an ever-decreasing realm of situations I will encounter for the first time. It’s roughly similar to the difference between parents’ first few nervous weeks with a baby and what they learn as the months (and children) roll on. In the amateur-flying world this includes: what it’s like when the alternator fails; what it’s like when you have an oil problem; what it’s like when you have to tell a controller “unable”; which mountain passes you’re better off avoiding; which level of crosswinds and gusty winds you can handle on landings; which clouds mean trouble and which don’t; what cues let controllers think you know what you’re doing and which signal the reverse; at what temperature range just above and below freezing you need to be most alert to icing; what errors or lapses you’re most likely to make. This is known in the aviation world as “filling up the experience bucket before the luck bucket empties out,” and I agree with Adam Shaw, from his much more experienced perspective, that it’s an important part of developing qualified airline pilots.

2) “An incentive to cheat.” . . .

Continue reading.

Later in the article, one of the pilots comments:

There is a national and international shortage of commercial pilots resulting in the lowering of standards in employment and certification, particularly among foreign carriers. It is also why there is increasing reliance on automation in aircraft design, particularly in the Airbus philosophy of restricting pilots from overriding the autopilot to enhance sales. Watch the video [below – LG] on the Airbus’ own chief test pilot fly a new a-320 into the woods at the Paris Air Show a decade ago as a demonstration of the potential evils of automation.

Here’s that video:

Written by LeisureGuy

28 March 2015 at 1:01 pm

Posted in Business, Government

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