Later On

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

More from Pilots and Doctors on the Germanwings Crash

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James Fallows has had more responses on the crash:

Following this initial item on what could, and could not have been foreseen about the Germanwings murder/suicide, and this followup in which professional pilots talked about shortcuts in modern training systems, more response from aviators and others:

1) “If you had a mental issue, there’s only one drug the FAA would allow you to take. That drug is alcohol.” From a professional pilot:

Add me to the extensive list of pilots you’ve heard from, regarding the Germanwings tragedy.  I agree with the people saying we only can blame ourselves, wanting cheap airfare and safe airlines, all while paying pilots nothing.  I personally have avoided working for the airlines, having figured out that the charter and medical flying seems to have a better quality of life, better pay over the life of the career, and more job security…

When it comes to prevention of accidents like this, I honestly don’t know what can be done.  I don’t believe having two people in the cockpit at all times would have prevented this specific instance; the guy was willing to take a lot of lives with him, what would the flight attendant standing in the doorway have been able to do to prevent that?

Many of your writers have mentioned the new ATP rules… [JF: higher flight-time requirements before pilots can be considered for flight-officer jobs] but I don’t see a solution in arbitrary flight times and educational achievement.  The European model, where pilots are hired and trained by the airline from the very beginning does seem more sustainable in my opinion, compared to the US model where pilots end up in excess of $100,000 in debt before they can even think of getting a job.

The person who pointed out the adversarial process of the FAA medical hit the issue right in the nose.  Until recently, depression alone was enough to keep you out of the cockpit, stabilized treatment regimes and doctors letters be damned.

To put it bluntly, if you had a mental issue that could be helped with medication, the FAA would allow you to take one drug that didn’t require reporting and documentation. That drug is alcohol.

2) On the tensions built into the medical-examination system. Another reader:

One pilot quoted in your piece wrote:

“The system gives pilots an incentive to cheat themselves out of the best quality of care. Any arrangement that promotes an adversarial relationship between doctor and patient compromises medicine.”

I fail to see how the relationship between doctors and pilots can be inherently anything other than adversarial.  There is no upside for the pilot when a pilot currently holding a health certificate sees a doctor.  The best result for the pilot is the continuation of the status quo.  The worst result is the suspension or ending of his career.

I hope most pilots would face this periodic career peril with a moral sense of duty to passengers and therefore will be honest and forthright in any medical exam and would promptly disclose to their employers any relevant medical condition. However human nature shows us that a meaningful percentage of pilots will conceal medical conditions or at least be very strategic in how the are examined (choosing a physician known to be lenient, seeking private diagnosis and treatment, etc.)

Thus it seems to me that the solution to this unique situation is not a more treatment-oriented system, which doesn’t address the conflict inherent in the situation.  Rather, the solution is to recognize that pilots are unique in that they must be highly skilled and physically and mentally healthy, while being entrusted daily with hundreds of lives.  Thus pilots should be required to give up their medical privacy to the degree necessary to ensure that all relevant medical facts are available to regulators and to their employers.

3) On the alcohol issue. From a doctor: . . .

Continue reading. Very thought provoking. A letter from later in the column:

It is implicit in your argument about airline cost-cutting (although it wasn’t explicitly stated) that flight crew pay must also be an indirect factor. The Colgan Air flight 3407 crash in Buffalo in 2009 is a case in point. The co-pilot had an annual salary of $16,200.

Tim Cook got a pay package worth $378 million to run Apple; if your iPhone doesn’t work, you send it back. But in some cases with commuter airlines, your life is literally in the hands of an overworked and undertrained flight crew member who makes McDonald’s wages.

A great illustration, à la Milton Friedman, of how the free market infallibly puts the right monetary value on services (snark).

Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2015 at 1:03 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life

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