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Wednesday 30 May 2012

Red Herring Air Express

Another day, another EU story from the dwindling band of hacks toiling under the gaze of the less than benevolent Richard “Dirty” Desmond at the Express, this time about something that they can use to properly frighten the readers – flying. We all do it, the one transport mode where all are prepared – car drivers included – to trust our safe passage to the two inhabitants of the flight deck.

Nothing to do with the EU this time

The story, attempting to suggest that the EU is about to introduce rules which will increase the potential for pilot fatigue, has also been picked up by the Mail, but it’s Des’ finest who have the extended edition, complete with an example that has nothing to do with the UK, or indeed the EU, and has rather more to do with the state of the airline industry across the north Atlantic.

Moreover, as with much of the EU bashing stuff, the discussions on flying hours are just that – there is a need for all member states to agree them, and even then there is the option of the UK continuing with its own rules if those exceed the minimum in whatever comes out of the European Parliament (EP) talking shop. It won’t affect day to day safety of your flight.

The example the Express cites in support of its claim on fatigue is the crash of Colgan Air flight 3407 on approach to Buffalo, NY, in February 2009. Tiredness may have been a contributory factor, but the reasons are far more complex. The primary cause of the accident was that the aircraft entered a deep stall, going into a flat spin from which the pilot could not recover.

This was caused by falling airspeed: the aircraft stall warning – a “stick shaker” – deployed, followed by an automatic “stick pusher” to remind the Pilot Flying (PF) that the nose-up attitude was too high to prevent a stall. The PF should have increased power and not pulled the nose up, but he pulled up and did not advance the throttles sufficiently, as was the operator’s standard practice.

Moreover, the co-pilot retracted the flaps, making the stall more or less certain: the aircraft would not have been able to remain airborne at that speed with no flap deployment. She had done an “all nighter” to get a free seat on a transcontinental flight to get to work – and here, the dreadful pay regime for new pilots enters, as discovered by Michael Moore some years previously.

Moore found that rookie pilots were being paid less than $17k by “feeder” airlines, and that after repaying their training costs, some were looking at seeing only $9k of that. Although some UK fringe carriers are not the best of payers, they aren’t that bad. Moore concluded, in words he will not want to hear again, “be nice to people on welfare – they may be flying you to Buffalo”.

And the Express is bang out of order suggesting that is likely in the UK.

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