THE BLOG
07/04/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Craplex Cockpit Computers 5: Unsafe At Any Speed

The British FAA Exposes Cheap-ass Airline Executives

A tribute to airline executives

February 9 PBS Frontline: Flying Cheap with Miles O'Brien.

Mr. O'Brien: "But there is nothing about Buffalo or the six crashes that preceded it that gives you pause for concern?"

Regional Airlines' executive: "Absolutely not. Our safety record is outstanding."

Mr. O'Brien to former DOT Inspector General Mary Schiavo: "At one of the (Senate) hearings (on Buffalo) was the airline's CEO. The families collared him and were taken aback when he said, 'Oh, we fixed it; it's all fixed.' Could it be all fixed now?"

Attorney/author Ms. Schiavo: "No, it's not fixed. That an executive would respond that way to -- I call them 'crash families' -- it's unfortunate, but to the family of someone who died -- shows a couple of things: one, he's flippant. And two, he does not understand the families of crash victims. They know more about what happened and how to fix it than any person on earth. And they are relentless. And if he thinks he can give them a flippant answer and believes they're dumb enough to believe that he's fixed everything overnight, this man is extremely naive. And he's in, I hope, for a big lesson."

A Dilbert tribute to airline execs

The phone conversations between literary agent Sam Fleishman and myself continue around themes in my forthcoming Murder By Computer.

Sam: "I get it that the British FAA finds that world governments haven't updated cockpit design regs since WWII and that Designers have built craplex cockpit computers that pilots can't control. What role do airline executives play?"

John: "Puppeteer Gippetto to their pilots' Pinocchio. These skinflints control purse string training dollars, so the Brits blame them for creating a generation of 'button-pushing pilots who have forgotten how to fly.'"

Sam: "Thousands of pilots around the globe can't fly? What does that tell us about Air France 447 falling out of the night Atlantic sky last June?"

John: "Those pilots might not have been able to hand-fly their A-330 after their flight displays crashed. We may never know, but this is consistent with the trace evidence."

Sam: "How do we fix a generation of pilots who can't fly?"

John: "There's no quick solution. The FAA, Designers and airline execs took twenty years to fly us into this corner. The industry needs to join the twenty-first century and upgrade to intuitive Garmin touch-screens or Apple iPads."

Sam: "You're scaring me."

John: "You should be scared, because the Brits skewer execs for cutting pilot training budgets to the bone."

Sam: "Have an example?"

John: "Remember I explained that the Buffalo plane's stick-pusher shoved the nose down, surprising the pilot, who in a knee-jerk reaction, yanked back on the controls, triggered an accelerated stall, so that they spun in?"

Sam: "Terrifying."

John: "Well, the NTSB's Buffalo report blames the airline's execs for never providing their pilots with simulator stick-pusher training. The Board is furious; they publish a laundry list of stick-pusher murders going back to '94 that they warned the FAA and airlines about."

Sam: "What did the FAA and airlines do?"

John: "The FAA answered the NTSB's concerns in 2008 that stick-pusher classroom training was good enough. NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman sounds livid: 'The tragedy in this accident (Buffalo) is that what we uncovered, we already knew.' She knows the next one's coming."

Sam: "Whose side is the FAA on? Wait... you told me that NASA and NTSB research showed that three out of four pilots crashed the simulator during a stick-pusher warning -- even though they knew it was coming. My odds of surviving a stick-pusher event are one in four? Casinos give better odds."

John: "That's what Mary Schiavo means by, 'No, they haven't fixed it.'"

Sam: "She's saying that we're going to have more Buffalos?"

John: "Nothing to stop them. Stick-pusher simulator training is a ruse that amounts to giving a cancer patient aspirin. Here's an airline exec pandering 'Sticky the stick-pusher'."

Sam: "What else did the Brits document?"

John: "That computerized cockpit pilots need more training, not less. And that what little training the execs fund is wrong."

Sam: "Meaning bogus stick-pusher training -- this is nuts."

John: "Yep, and the Brits say that execs don't teach pilots enough right things. They teach their pilots everyday computer ops, but don't teach them what to do about Computer traps, turning crews into test pilots whom we blame for crashes. Meanwhile their two-faced Gippetto execs give somber press conferences about how safety is their number one priority while their other face lobbies for the status quo."

Sam: "What's behind this?"

John: "M-O-N-E-Y. The Buffalo News Washington bureau chief Jerry Zremski reports, 'Once again, corporate lobbying dollars win out over average citizens,' said Scott Maurer, who lost his daughter in the crash. Maurer noted the aviation industry lobbied strongly against the proposed increase in pilot training. Susan Bourque, who lost her sister Beverly in the crash, asked, 'How many regional airline crashes is it going to take before our government does something? Evidently, six in a row is not enough.'"

Sam: "You're saying that execs are lobbying for more crashes? Why fight more training?"

John: "Because pilots in the sim don't make money for the corporation. Execs would have to buy extra multi-million dollar simulators, construct buildings to house them and hire more instructors. Not gonna happen in an industry that charges five bucks for a pillow."

Sam: "Well, if pilots don't learn to work the Computer in the sim, how do you learn?"

John: "The Brits say trial-and-error, on-the-job training. On my first 767 flight, I told my copilot who'd been on the jet five years make the landing in a Boston blizzard because I didn't trust my new skills."

Sam: "You're saying that despite high air fares, many pilots are not qualified?"

John: "Not me -- the British government. Here's a Mark Fiore tribute to airline execs we granted $15 billion in bailout money who now lobby to perpetuate stick-pusher murders."

Next -- British FAA: Examiner Pilots Can't Spell "Cumputir Problim"

Read all John Halliday's columns at: www.huffingtonpost.com/john-t-halliday/