This posting is a departure from my usual ones about my adventurous flying experiences. But I’m going to do it anyway because enough is enough. It could be titled human factors 90, aircraft 10. Here’s why.
I have been doing accident investigation and research for more than fifty years. I know, statistically that nine out of every ten aircraft incidents and accidents are related to human factors (crew screw ups). Very few have been caused by equipment (airframe or structural) malfunction. That’s one hell of a lop sided score, so to prove my point I have selected a series of events I will present and comment about.
January 13, 1982. Air Florida flight #90 (a Boeing 737-222) crashed into the 14th Street Bridge across the Potomac River immediately after takeoff from Washington National Airport. The details are available to anyone wishing to look them up on the internet. But that’s not my comment on this accident that killed 78 innocent people. It wasn’t the airplane at fault, it was a flight crew (human factor) cause. They didn’t have the experience to know how to cope with the conditions. NTSB simply chalked it up as, “pilot error.”
December 20, 1995. American Airlines flight #965 (a Boeing 757) crashed into the mountains while making an approach to Cali, Colombia. 151 passengers and 8 crew members died. It wasn’t for lack of crew experience; it was because of crew confusion using automated equipment for navigation that flew the aircraft into the mountains: The cause, “pilot error.”
August 27, 2006. Comair flight #191 (Bombardier 100ER) crashed during takeoff from Blue Grass airport just outside of Lexington, KY. 47 passengers and 3 crew members were killed. The crew did not follow instructions and used a runway not long enough to get the aircraft into the air. I could go into great detail about the failure to use cross checking while taxing instead of bullshitting. I won’t. It’s all too common and it won’t stop. The cause, “pilot error.”
May 12, 2009 Colgan flight #3407(Bombardier Q-400) crashed making its approach into Buffalo, NY. The cockpit voice recorder indicated that the crew was bull-shitting about their lack of experience flying in ice during the approach and lost control of the aircraft which had accumulated ice. They simply lost control of the aircraft killing everyone on board and one person on the ground. As I have written about many times, the last words recorded were, “Jesus Christ!” The other most common last word is, “Oh shit!” The cause; “pilot error.”
Oct. 29, 2009. NW flight #188 was on a routine flight from San Diego to Minneapolis (a normal flight time of about four hours). Over flying their destination by more than 100 miles could not be logically explained. Falling asleep could if they were honest. Certainly one of the cabin crew could have come up front and asked, “what’s going on? But, nobody did and the whole thing ended up being an incident instead of a serious accident. The cause? You decide.
June 26, 1988. Air France flight #296 (new fly-by-wire Airbus A320-111) on low pass fly-by at Mulhouse-Habsheim airport in France crashed into the trees because the computer systems control did not respond to the pilot’s command. 3 of the 130 on board were killed in the crash. What’s my point? We’ve gone out of the box with “fly by wire and glass cockpit technology.” If the pilot cannot have direct control of all systems, look for more disasters when the shit hits the fan in an emergency.
In this same theme, consider WHY Sully has my greatest personal respect for turning a near disaster into success when his Airbus (state of the art automation) couldn’t respond to his engine power commands because of computer control. Had HE controlled his engines, no matter what shape they were in as a result of bird strikes, I have no doubt he could have returned to his departure point or at least made it to Newark or Teterboro.
Do I fly in today’s commercial aviation? The answer is NO, unless the aircraft is a Ford Tri-motor or Douglas DC-3. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. If it is, give me a shot at it without a computer saying, “you can’t, I got it.”
You can read about many of Captain Ike Eisenhauer’s true life adventures as the Captain of Robert Vesco’s Multi-Million Dollar Boeing 707 where Kings and Rulers of Nations flew, partied, wheeled and dealed with corporate CEO’s. You can find them in his articles when you read the Airliners and Airports Magazine.
The Link to the website of Airliners and Airports is on the right of these pages, Where you can order a subscription to Airliners and Airports Magazine and see what else they offer. Great opportunity!