Don’t mean to be Debbie Downer on this gorgeous Friday… So I’m going to state the positive: In light of all the sensational plane crashes in the past year, let’s remember air travel just saw one of it’s safest years in 2014. (More fatalities, however, but fewer plane crashes all together. )
Yet I get that it is normal to understand these statistics, but still get nervous jumping on a plane. You have no control… more than likely don’t know what goes into flying a jet…and are literally putting your life in another person and company’s hands.
So this latest Germanwings crash can make us all a little uneasy, especially now that officials are saying the pilot deliberately crashed the plane. After 9/11, our main fear was an outside network sabotoging our flights. Now, a new worry – destruction from within.
Here is what we should be concerned about:
1) How are pilots vetted for mental stability? As of now… they are tested annually or semi-annually…but they are supposed to self-report if they are ill or mentally not well. Reports now say the Germanwings pilot hid an illness from an employer. Good example of why few really self report: they risk being taken off the job.
What we need is more teamwork – diligence by co-workers and family members to report any signs of mental instability. Better psychological testing and background investigating on the mental health of potential pilots. Should the medical community, although held to strict privacy standards, somehow report when the patient could put other lives at risk? That is a tricky, subjective slope.
Requiring more than one pilot in the cockpit is another good start to prevent the act of one unstable pilot – the US requires it and as of today, airlines worldwide are rushing to adopt this policy.
2) Regional airlines – What airline are you really flying?
Although Germanwings is owned by Lufthansa… There is not enough transparency in travel when you book on a regional airline. For instance your flight on American Airlines could have one leg of the trip on American Eagle, which could really be operated by Compass airlines – confusing? Compass Airlines is contracted by American… and doesn’t necessarily have to follow American’s training procedures, maintenance manual, etc. But because it will say “American Eagle” flight, one may assume it is part of the American family.
In fact, Compass is a regional airline, and recently we’ve seen some regional airlines come under scrutiny for pilot safety, after a 2009 crash in Buffalo NY on a Colgan flight (code share w/Continental.) The FAA then demanded more pilot training hours, but these regional airlines are pinched for cash and can’t pay pilots as much as other airlines. Now the pilots have to pay for more training too. So are these regionals getting the cream of the crop pilots for low salary and high training costs.. in the midst of a pilot shortage?
3)When flying foreign airlines, you have to know they don’t come under the same regulations as the US – It would take a lot of time researching each foreign airlines’ policies, but there is a place you can go to see how a foreign airline ranks in safety. Generally, Western Europe has ranked high in safety.
For airline safety ratings check here: www.airlineratings.com/airlines-ratings.php And…here are airlines blackballed by the FAA and EU aviation authorities: www.1001crash.com/index-page-liste_noire-lg-2.html
And like I said – air travel is very safe looking at the statistics. However… there is always room for improvement. Hopefully, this terrible incident wont be in vein, but will propel airline regulators to re-examine all safety protocol, and find better technology or strategies to make the flying experience even safer.