Pilot pressure under the spotlight

gary mason, editor, airport focus

Airport Focus Editor Gary Mason on this month’s news

The safety record of commercial aviation remains extremely high but two events, which have happened within the last seven months, have forced everyone involved to “think the unthinkable.”

The first event in September last year involved the shooting down of a Malaysian airliner over eastern Ukraine, close to the border with Russia.

All 298 people on board Flight MH17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, including 80 children, were killed when the aircraft was hit my a missile that had been fired deliberately from the ground.

The latest incident that has shocked the world in equal measure, involves the apparent deliberate crashing of a commercial airliner into the side of a French mountain by the co-pilot. A major inquiry is underway and there have been leaked reports about the mental health of the man who was in control of the aircraft when it crashed. But it appears to be an inarguable fact that the death of all 150 on board was not due to an accident or technical malfunction but a deliberate act by a member of the crew.

That is shocking on any number of levels. Pilots and co-pilots have the same status as surgeons, police officers, some scientists and technical experts. That is because others, quite literally and willingly, put their lives in their hands.

But because of the status, length of training and extremely high skill levels of these individuals, it is easy to forget that they are human beings. They are fallible and subject to personal and commercial pressures although the calm, measured, professional aura that surrounds their roles forms a natural barrier to any fault lines that may lay hidden beneath the uniform.

The tragedy in the French Alps is an opportunity to take a long hard look at these issues.


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