You be the judge.
a) A flight engineer of the airline is on the flight, as a passenger. He requests the pilot to show his (engineer’s) daughter the inside of the cockpit. The pilot obliges.
b) A plane is delayed. It has to resume its flight to another destination. One of the waiting passengers happens to be a pilot of the airline. Passengers are uppity. There is another plane available. This pilot, who had checked in as a passenger, obliges, and flies the plane to its destination. Passengers happy.
c) A VIP is on board. He is the minister of aviation. He asks for the cabin to be inspected in flight to check on the operation efficiency of the crew. He does so and is pleased. No adverse report.
d) A pilot’s son is flying in dad’s plane. Dad takes the kid into the cockpit. A passenger complains.
e) A plane is flying at 3,000 metres (9,843 feet) height. The pilot asks for a coffee. The crew member gets it. He drinks it. End of story.
f) A plane is flying at 3,000 metres (9,843 feet) height. The pilot asks for a coffee. The crew member gets it. The coffee spills. It damages the controls.
g) A door of the aircraft swings open immediately after take-off. The crew member does not phone the pilot, in spite of having a phone next to her.
h) In a normal approach during landing, the co-pilot gives instructions to the crew.
i) In a normal approach during landing, the co-pilot gives instructions to the passengers.
In which of these cases would you hold the pilot responsible for such gross violations of procedures as to withdraw his licence? What rule, if at all any, has he broken?
The answer is that he would be suspended in all but g), which happened on a JAL flight. And the crew member was following the orders! Trust the Japanese to be disciplined!
What are the do’s and don’ts of the flying business? If readers remember their reading of air accidents, they will notice that most mishaps occur either during take-off or landing. These crucial times need concentration at peak levels. Investigations found that a lot of idle chatter was taking place, both in the cockpit and with the crew in the cabin. It was taking a toll on the attention necessary during these important seconds.
The authorities came up with a solution. Considering 10,000 feet as a Laxmanrekha, they banned all idle talk, unnecessary banter, when the aircraft was below that limit. Touch the imaginary boundary, until going up or while coming down, just ‘shut up’, except discussions with ground controllers and between the pilots. This was necessary to limit mishaps. Silence, during ascent or descent, if broken, would lead to harsh punishment. That also included the airline itself. It would have to face the music too.
Cockpits are sealed during flights after the World Towers attack by airborne terrorists. Entry and exit from the cockpit is now a regulated affair, even above 10,000 feet. There is an SOP (standard operating procedure) for that. Notice how the crew often draws and ‘undraws’ the curtain between business class and the cabin up front.
In India, violation of the ‘no-entry-by-unauthorised-personnel-in-cockpit’ rule was so rampant that the DGCA (director general of civil aviation) issued stern warnings to all airlines, including private and chartered flights. So, when one hears of ‘pilot error’, especially when the pilots are fatal casualties, no need for cynicism. The investigators may, indeed, be right.
What about that hapless attendant on the Japanese flight where the plane took off without the door being attached? She was strictly following the ‘No talk’ rule; which, mercifully, has been changed to include certain emergencies.
So, which is the safest airline to fly? Maybe the one that always has an armed marshal on board.