Tag: aviation careers; professional pilots; airlines; (page 2 of 2)

SWA 1380

As I write this, Southwest 1380 has already started to fade from much of the public memory. Much has been made about the way the crew responded to such an explosive event—explosive in more ways than one. Nobody ever really anticipates or expects to deal with an engine that blows up in flight, let alone one that also breaks a window and generates a sudden decompression of the cabin.

That said, there is training for something like this. Most airlines in the United States have transitioned to advanced qualification program (AQP) training. Without getting into the nitty-gritty details, part of AQP includes flying scenarios in the simulator that represent real flights between two regular cities, with some kind of a snafu thrown in for the crew to handle. Some scenarios will force a diversion, and some won’t; some are deliberately vague enough that some crews will divert and some will not.

Southwest recently put its crews through an event that included a catastrophic engine failure in cruise  United did the same with its 737 crews a couple of years ago). I don’t know if the scenario included the decompression, but an engine failure is handled almost the same way in either scenario. Like many transport jets, the 737 is designed to fly at or near the highest MEAs on one engine, and it will level off at 22,000 to 24,000 feet at maximum weight on one engine. Obviously, in the case of 1380, that kind of level-off wasn’t possible, but the initial response is the same: Get the airplane into a descent while maintaining a safe airspeed. With the decompression, the goal is to get down to 10,000 feet as quickly as possible so that passengers don’t need oxygen.

Every airplane will respond differently to an engine failure. A wing-mounted engine will cause substantial yaw—possibly a noticeably rolling motion that needs to be addressed fairly quickly. The crew of this flight likely needed a few seconds to register just what had happened—after all, in the sim, everybody already knows what’s coming, but this was real. The immediate response to the cabin pressure change would have been to don their oxygen masks while regaining control of the plane. That means turning off the autopilot (or silencing the disconnect alarm), setting power on the operating engine, and retrimming. This is the “aviate” part of aviate, navigate, communicate.

Every airline dictates who will do what during an emergency, and the final report from the NTSB will spell out how the crew determined who would fly and work the radios versus running the checklist. In this case, there were at least three non-normal checklists that needed to be completed: the engine fire/severe damage checklist, the decompression checklist, and the single-engine approach and landing checklist. The crew at some point also needed to make contact with the cabin crew to get an assessment of the extent of any injuries or damage in the cabin. They likely also asked the flight attendants what they could see out the window as well—and this all happened while dealing with a tremendous amount of noise thanks to the hole in the window.

In spite of the fatality on board, the crew appears to have handled this event as well as or better than expected. No doubt the relatively recent sim event brought a sense of familiarity with the situation, and their years of combined experience helped produce a successful outcome. Like many, I’m already curious to see what the final report will say; expect to see it sometime next winter or spring.—Chip Wright

When pilots get arrested

There are certain categories of people that, when they get in trouble with the law, garner a lot of headlines. Movie and TV stars (see Sheen, Charlie, and Lohan, Lindsay) seem to always attract media attention when they get into even a whiff of trouble. Likewise with professional athletes and high-profile business people, not to mention elected officials.

Add pilots to the list.

Whenever a pilot gets involved with law enforcement, it’s usually bad, and it tends to put the media in an uproar. The reasons are pretty simple. First of all, unlike the people listed above, we pilots actually have to worry about our actions not just affecting others, but also causing harm, destruction, and death. In short, people trust us with their lives.

Remember the crew of the America West flight in Miami that was actually taxiing out for departure before being called back to the gate, where they were found to be drunk? The outrage was justified and real. Likewise with other crew members who have shown up to the airport under the influence. Every airline has their own policies for handling this sort of behavior, but I don’t know of any airline that has adopted the FAA’s eight hour bottle-to-throttle rule; it’s more like 12 hours, and the 0.04 percent allowance given by the FAA is likewise superseded by a zero-tolerance policy. The flip side is that most airlines and pilot unions will do whatever they can to help get pilots into treatment programs and put their lives back on track when they ask for help. Further, they will also gladly accept a sick call and a cancelled flight over having crew members try to fly when they shouldn’t.

Social drinking is fine when it is done responsibly. Pilots with enough time on a layover frequently have a beer or cocktail with dinner, and the overwhelming majority act responsibly. That extends to their crew members cutting them off when necessary.

But it isn’t just drinking that causes problems. Remember the pilot who was found running naked through the woods after a dalliance with a flight attendant a few years ago? I know of pilots who have done one of the following: urinated in public; got caught trying to steal something from the clubhouse of a major league baseball team (he lost a fight with the police); been arrested and charged with corruption of a minor and having intercourse with girls as young as 13; failed a drug test. Another accidentally shot his gun in the cockpit of a USAirways flight. He wasn’t arrested, but he had some explaining to do.

People get arrested for mind-numbingly idiotic actions every day. But with pilots, there is a fascination with what we do. In addition to the responsibilities of our jobs/hobbies, we are expected to have above-average intelligence and the ability to use common sense in everyday matters. We are viewed as fairly straight-laced, conservative people who simply do stupid things. We have, like it or not, an image and a stereotype.

Whether you fly professionally or not, or just aspire to, accept that others have certain expectations, and if you make a mistake, you will likely face a harsher judgment from others, if not from the law. Further, if you are hoping to make a living as a pilot, bear in mind that in the post-2001 world, there are number of criminal activities that will render such a career impossible, as you will not be able to get the appropriate security clearances.

Remember, too, our individual actions reflect on all of us, not just ourselves.–Chip Wright

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