AVmail: November 16, 2009
Each week, we run a sampling of the letters received to our editorial inbox here in AVmail. One letter that's particularly relevant, informative, or otherwise compelling will headline this section as our "Letter of the Week," and we'll send the author an official AVweb baseball cap as a "thank you" for interacting with us (and the rest of our readership). Send us your comments and questions using this form. Please include your mailing address in your e-mail (just in case your letter is our "Letter of the Week"); by the same token, please let us know if your message is not intended for publication.
Letter of the Week: Whining Pilots
In a given week, my career responsibilities may take me to two or three cities across the U.S. On more than one occasion, I've seen both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts on the same itinerary. Airline travel is not without annoyances, but in recent weeks, a particular thing has started working its way to the top of my list of travel peeves: whining airline pilots. I can guarantee with 95 percent certainty that if two or more people with white shirts and epaulettes are chatting together in an airline terminal, they're probably complaining about their jobs.
Airline flying is among the most respected of all professions, and the outwardly negative demeanor I see detracts tremendously from the well-earned image. As a private pilot who strives to maintain the utmost professionalism in my flying, I'm heretofore going to do my own part to restore prestige to the role of commanding the big iron. From now on, whenever I see pilots complaining in the terminal, their names and an account of their actions will be sent to airline customer service at my earliest convenience. I'd encourage the rest of my travel companions to do the same.
Airline pilots, I know the job ain't what it used to be, and it's not likely to change for the better. Ruminate all you want in private, but when wearing your uniform in view of passengers who entrust their lives to you, provide the modicum of professionalism the people expect. If that's too much to ask, please turn in your stripes and earn your pay on the ground like the rest of us.
I was happy to read about the new FAA leader's comments on recent airline pilot performance problems. In particular, I agree with his choice to not comment on the poor soul who landed on a taxiway rather than the runway. That seems like a case of human error while the pilot was doing his best to perform properly. The FAA has never (in my opinion) been terribly harsh on pilots who make simple human errors.
The pilots who failed to notice passing their destination made a completely different kind of error — failing to even try to do their job. They were obviously too busy doing something else (we may never know what) while letting the plane fly itself. For me, this is an unforgivable sin, and apparently Mr. Babbitt thinks so too.
I'm not so sure about the ill-fated pilots of Flight 3407. It seems their problem was lack of expected skills rather than lack of trying to do their jobs. This might be traced to the FAA's outrageous attitude toward airlines as "customers" which may have led to less regulation than cooperation. That was all part of the illusion past FAA leaders had that it was a corporation rather than a government agency. Fortunately, Mr. Babbitt is working very hard to fix that problem, too.
I am surprised to hear that a substantial group of your readers felt that the revocation of the crew's tickets was "a little extreme." Any one of us can have tickets suspended or revoked for busting the FARs in far less life-threatening or public-endangering ways.
Let us please remember that the fact that these pilots eventually delivered their passengers safely to their destination was something of a fluke. To be oblivious to multiple forms of attempted communication for an hour, while flying a perfectly functional airplane, is so overwhelmingly flabbergasting to me, I can't even visualize it! It speaks to the deepest possible levels of malfeasance and unprofessional behavior.
Had their trance not been ended finally by a call from a flight attendant, what would have eventually snapped them out of it? Sputtering Engines? F-16s alongside? (I'm surprised that didn't happen, but that's another issue). Depending on the flight profile, geography, and weather, it is not at all impossible that there could have been insufficient fuel for a return to Minneapolis.
Luck, not flying skill, got those people home safely. The FAA would have been remiss had they not acted to promptly discipline these two men who unquestionably endangered the lives of a lot of people by their utter incompetence. A slap on the wrist would unquestionably have sent the wrong message to all pilots and to the flying public.
Boom Goes The Rule
In the article it is stated the "U.S. restricts overland flight speeds to below Mach 1 for aircraft like the Aerion." This is not entirely true. The regs say that no sonic boom may reach the ground. It does not say you must remain subsonic. Since there are no aircraft, to my knowledge, that can fly supersonic without a boom reaching the ground the statement in the article is somewhat correct at this time. If an airframe is developed that can achieve this feat, then the article is wrong.
In regards to the story regarding the fly-by-wire system's role in the successful outcome of Flight 1549 it's worth noting , the system first flew in 1957 in the CF-105 Avro Arrow, which was cancelled by then-Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker. Fly-by-wire was developed by A.V. Roe for the Arrow.
Sometime in he mid-1980s, I flew to Dulles from Georgia to pick up passengers who were returning from England. It was a beautiful clear day as I landed and taxied to the general aviation ramp as I had done there so many times. As I approached the ramp, I noticed it was clear of airplanes and there were several hundred people standing outside in front of the GA terminal building. I expected to be guided away from the cleared area, but instead, was signaled to park in front of the crowd.
I secured the cockpit and slowly got out of the airplane, which on that day, was a Beechcraft King Air. I asked the lineman what was going on? He said, "The last SR-71 is inbound from LA on her last flight and a record run." Within 15 minutes, I joined the crowd to see the Blackbird fly overhead, do a military 270 degree approach to the runway and land, taxi to our ramp and park in echelon formation with my airplane! I was stunned as we all watched as ground crews ran to the airplane with 55 gallon drums to catch the fuel dripping from underneath the airplane. I learned later this was normal due to the expansion and extraction of the fuel tanks at high speed, high altitudes.
Soon the pilot and navigator exited their cockpits wearing spacesuits. After all settled down, I met them and was invited to climb up the ladder to view the cockpit. It was all truly amazing and a day I will not forget.
Political Action Saves Airport
The Washington Pilots Association, local pilots, and supporters of Vista Field worked very hard to educate the electorate about the value of airports in the recent election. Several candidates for city government and the Port of Kennewick came forward who voiced concerns about closing the airport. Election results for the Port of Kennewick and the City of Kennewick show that five of seven aviation-friendly candidates were elected.
The aviation community came together in a big way to work with candidates, educate the public about the benefits of the airport, and overcome several anti-aviaiton/anti-airport incumbents. Marjy Leggett, Airport Support Network volunteer for Vista Field played a key role in encouraging diverse aviation groups to join the effort to change City and Port District policies inimical to the viability of Vista Field and general aviation.
Just a note to say thanks for your publication. It's authoritative and always timely in its content. I look forward to it arriving each week. Criticism comes quickly, it seems. Kudos should be quicker. Good job, folks.