Debate Over Air France 447 Crash Continues Among Pilots


An analysis of the Air France 447 disaster in June 2009 by author William Langewiesche, published in Vanity Fair, provoked reactions from readers as well as fellow pilot and writer Patrick Smith of Langewiesche, in his detailed narrative of the Airbus A330 crash that killed 228 when it stalled into the Atlantic Ocean, argued that today’s airline pilots lack traditional flying skills as they operate technically advanced jets. “This is another unintended consequence of designing airplanes that anyone can fly: anyone can take you up on the offer. Beyond the degradation of basic skills of people who may once have been competent pilots, the fourth-generation jets have enabled people who probably never had the skills to begin with and should not have been in the cockpit,” he wrote.

Smith, an airline pilot, is a fan of Langewiesche but was “steaming mad” about the article’s conclusion that in his line of work, it’s about operating computers rather than flying airplanes. “I’m not arguing that pilots’ hands-on flying skill have probably been degraded over the years,” he wrote. “But this is because a newer set of skills is required to master the job. A high level of competence is demanded in both skill sets, but it’s unfair, and wrong, to contend this newer set is somehow less important or less valuable than the other.” The Air France Airbus crashed after a chain of events that included pitot icing and multiple pilots trying to analyze the problem.