Thursday, July 3, 2014

Back to Basics

Arrival Route of Asiana 214
This kind of flying (see left) is not that hard to do. As a novice Part 135 charter pilot I used to do it a lot. And yes, air traffic control would hold me high, and then dump me in on final, and ask me to keep my speed up, even though I was in a single engine retractable gear airplane that had to be slowed in order to extend the landing gear. It had a turbocharged (not intercooled) engine that had to be babied and I had a boss who was not keen on novice charter pilots blowing up his engines. So, a good challenge that I rose to conquer. I never hurt an airplane or a person on this approach. I think someone taught me well.

That is more than I can say for the crew of Asiana 214. Yes, the Boeing 777 is infinitely more complicated to operate than the aircraft I was flying "back in the day," but come on, that crew had weeks of training, and three pilots, two of whom were quite senior, in the cockpit that day. So, given all that, watch the simulation the NTSB put together of what happened, and tell me what you see.

I see an unstable approach. I see the observer pilot doing his job and pointing problems out to the co-captains (a captain and a check airman) and I see the two senior pilots ignoring the observant youngster, who is too subservient to get in their faces about the fact that the approach is going to hell.

Though I'll acknowledge that the intricacies of the Boeing 777's autopilot and autothrottle system contain more than one subtle "gotchas" for pilots, I believe it is the duty of anyone with enough chutzpah to captain one of these beasts that he or she work the problem until the systems are mastered. Period. At that level in our industry, it is not an issue of compensation. It is an issue of responsibility. And if you don't want that much responsibility, go back to flying Cessna Caravans full of freight.

Sadly, more critical than all the subtleties of the 777 autopilot and autothrottle systems, these pilots (other than the kid on the observer seat) could not fly a visual glideslope, nor monitor and correct airspeed deviations that day. I don't solo a student pilot until he or she shows me they have mastered those basic skills with consistency. Hopefully, Asiana Airlines has learned that they can't put pilots in command who cannot consistently demonstrate those skills, either.

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