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Pilots might not be swashbuckling heroes

March 17, 2014 - Paul Giannamore
OK, now I’m ready to start building righteous indignation regarding Malaysian Air flight 370.

At least, I will couch this with a gigantic “if.”

IF this is a deliberate act by the pilot or copilot, then we have to start rethinking our whole attitude toward aviation.

Because this would be the second major Suicide by Jetliner I can think of. The first was EgyptAir Flight 990, back in 1999, when the captain of the jet bound for Cairo from Los Angeles, with a stop at JFK in New York, got up to go to the bathroom. While he was away, the relief captain apparently decided it was time to cleanse his soul, started saying that he relied on God and nosed the jet into the Atlantic Ocean.

Nice fellow, eh?

Now, it depends on who you ask about that crash, by the way, which continues to protect the IF in my statements about Malaysian Air 370. The NTSB said it was a deliberate crash caused by the pilot. The Egyptian authorities say it was a malfunction of the elevator on the jet and the pilot was just praying.

We have evidence in the U.S. of commuter pilots, who fly much of the passenger traffic out of places like Pittsburgh, as overworked, underpaid and generally worn out, to the point where federal recommendations have had to be made regarding their working conditions, which are hardly the glamorous dreams of jet flying we have when we’re kids.

Factor in mergers, union issues (remember the pilots who overflew Minneapolis by more than 100 miles because they were arguing about how to use a company scheduling system) and any personal life disappointments and it sounds like the perfect stew for a cockpit filled with disgruntlement.

Sure, I prefer to think the guys and gals out front are a combination of Chuck Yeager, Pappy Boyington and Sully Sullenberger, but they just might decide to see what would happen if we flew a regional airliner into the ground or one of the Great Lakes.

And it’s cold comfort that U.S. law followed the Archie Bunker arm-everybody theorem of defense, allowing pilots to pack on the flight deck.

The best result would be a pair of pilots shooting at one another in the tiny, pressurized cockpit. Did I mention we need at least one of these uniformed cowboys to land the darned thing?

So, to recap my view of airline flight, I get to check my sense of humor at the curb, remove my belt and shoes, separate from my cell phone and laptop or tablet, be probed, searched, X-rayed, have my luggage put on double-secret probation, my CPAP searched for bomb residue, get my ticket stamped, try to keep my pants up and reunite with my phone and shoes while running for a train, have my check-ins put in the cargo hold plane-side because there’s never enough overhead bin space for everyone aboard the stretched 80-passenger Piper Cubs being flown on many domestic routes, and then, if I’m really lucky, I get locked into a pressurized titanium Q-Tip that might be flown by an armed madman.

The armed madman gets a privileged high-speed minimum-security line because he’s got tin wings on his blazer and his oversized hat and learned to fly a largely robotized jet.

Makes perfect sense to me.


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