Thursday, February 18, 2010

Who me worry?

It is just awful to read about air carrier crashes that are in part due to crew incompetence. The example that immediately comes to mind is the Buffalo crash earlier this winter. That crash was the result of two people who shouldn't have been in the cockpit of that (or any plane in the case of the captain). The co-pilot wasn't nearly trained /experienced enough, but in time she may well have been ok. The captain, who flunked several flight checks, clearly didn't belong there.

So, what are the minimum hours of flight time a new hire should have before flying as a professioanl in the right seat? Are 250 hours enough or are 1500 more appropriate. Remember a co-pilot or first officer can be upgraded to captain the instant the captain becomes incapcitated.
Well obviously, the more hours the better unless they aren't "good hours". That is hours spent exposed to all the complex facets of aviation, like flying in all types of weather conditions. Learning to make timely decisions such as going to an alternate when things are really bad. Or knowing how to communicate properly, not only with ATC but "company" to ask for help if and when it is needed. Are pilots too dependent and lulled by all the automation aboard the newer planes?
I am afraid that some of the newer academy trained pilots get the minimum exposure to the really bad situations a pilot may experience. Such as losing an engine on take-off in the fog and mist. A simulator just can't make the hair stand up on the back of your head or make you stain your pants the way the real thing can. Getting an inch or so of rime ice on the wings that won't come off as the boots are inflated will do it though. So you get the point. Training for two or three hundred hours in sunny Florida or California just isn't going to expose you to many weather extremes. And the weather is the number one bugaboo after all. I realize that there are various ways to get valuable flight experience, but never can it be "enough" in two or three hundred hours.
In my case as I earned my ratings at my own speed, it was done in years rather than months. The advantages of that was it gave me time to learn and integrate all my experiences. I learned to deal with mountains, ice and snow, coastal weather,the far West as well as many different type airports, as I flew in different areas of the country. Some more like a cow pasture to the biggies such as KBOS, KJFK, KATL and KOKC. I just couldn't have done it all in six months. And yes I realize that it is not practical for someone interested in a flying career to take ten years to get their ratings, but you get the idea. Too short a time, and too few hours, with limited exposure to different areas, just won't make one a smart experienced safe pilot.

The recent expose on public tv about the regional air carriers touched on some of these things. The limited training some commuter pilots have. The pay and long hours all are negatives that need to be addressed. I am not as relaxed as I used to be when contemplating air travel. I worry that some of the pilots are so reliant on all the auto systems the newer planes have, that they won't be able to respond when the alarm bells go off. Not the least of my worries is that I have more time in my logbook than one or both of the pilots up front.