I am an airline pilot. Yes, I said that. I was grounded by type 1 diabetes, and even though I’ve long moved on to another career, I’ll say it again – I am an airline pilot. My heart lies in it, and even now, nearly 20 years later, it still hurts when someone does harm to the profession. Unnecessary loss of life and true tragedy hurt more, but I have to say a few things.
First, I don’t feel less safe flying tonight than I did a week ago, and it has nothing to do with the fact that I’m flying an “American” airline. Lufthansa’s pilot training is likely a model the world could learn a lot from. Sometimes, bad things happen, and the only positive thing one can say is that we can hope to learn from them, and even a model program can be improved. That doesn’t help much if you lost a loved one in this horrible accident, but it is true.
Second, I have never been impressed by media coverage of anything aviation related, and that trend continues with this accident. I’ve seen the 1,500 hour requirement here in the USA touted on a few occasions. Frankly, I’ve got no problem with that requirement, but it ignores other training models, notably Lufthansa’s ab-initio program.
Finally, things have changed since I was a 23-year old regional airline new-hire copilot, and not always for the better. In addition to the most rigorous physical exam I’ve ever experienced (courtesy of American Airlines medical), I also got to experience 580 true-false questions of things like “I am afraid of snakes” and “I want to kill my mother.” For the record, the answers were true and false. Apparently, that, and most every other kind of psychological evaluation is not as popular as it once was. I’m no doctor, but that might be something that needs to be revisited as we move forward from here.
In the end, I can’t put in words how sorry I am that this happened. If you’ve ever known someone who lost their life in a plane crash, and I have, it’s just not something that a blog post can capture. That said, I can only hope that the media hysteria gives way to an earnest effort to learn everything we can and take steps to assure that no one else has to experience a loss like this ever again.
-MJ, March 27, 2015