Yesterday, the media was full of stories like:
Co Pilot was flying 777 for first time without a trainer
Flight MH370: Co-pilot flying without ‘check’ pilot at time
MH370 co-pilot new to Boeing 777
Malaysian co-pilot was on first 777 flight without minder
One time, I was watching a news report about flooding–this was back when I was in 4th grade or so–and made a comment about how goofy the reporter was being. My dad replied with something like: the reporter doesn’t know which end of a boat goes forward. I think these news stories are that same type of situation.
I know what the news media is trying to say. They are trying to say something like: the first officer (aka co-pilot) had limited experience…could that play a role. But, they really end up showing they know nothing. Here’s why….everyone has a “first time” with “no check-pilot” in the cockpit. And that first time usually happens fairly quickly. But that doesn’t make it unsafe.
As I understand it, when you move to a new piece of equipment (a new airplane), you spend loads of time in class having to memorize procedures, how the airplane works, wiring diagrams, speeds, and about ten thousand other things. Then, you spend about a billion hours in a simulator proving you know all this stuff. You then spend more time in the simulator going over procedures and practicing the mundane details of flying the airplane. THEN, you spend your next five flights or so flying with a check-pilot to make sure you know your stuff. At any point in this, a failure washes you out of the program. If the check-pilot doesn’t like the way you do something…that could wash you out. You can’t remember which bus has some obscure circuit on it…you wash out. Can’t remember the checklist on what to do when aliens take the plane…you wash out. My point is, MUCH is expected of people when they are training (I remember my dad studying and studying and studying more when it came time for his training).
But I hear it now: why does their first time “behind the stick” have to be with passengers? Can’t we do something different?
Even if there were such things as “trainer airliners” where people could actually fly the airplane without passengers, there would still come a time when people would have their “first time” “alone” “with passengers.” I think the lack of serious accidents shows how successful the training regimes really are. Now is not the time to have a knee-jerk reaction and go off the deep end.
I’ll say it again: trying to blame this on pilot error now…with no details…is just dumb.
[Update 2014-03-25 08:17:21] Rush brought this up on his program yesterday (I was listening on the way to work). Here’s a link to a transcript where he talks about this on his website. Scroll near the bottom of the story
Image from peter thoeny via flickr