Saturday, 20 June 2009

There are TWO pilots on the plane, damn it - revisited...

Just when I thought my blood pressure was safe on this subject, along comes the sad tale of the Captain who died en route to Newark. A very sad thing to happen for his family - I really feel for them. But get this, people - there was NO DANGER, and there was NO EMERGENCY! Because, and I'm going to say this quietly - there is more than one pilot on the plane! Shock, horror, probe, hold the presses!

(If you're experienced in aviation, you can skip the next paragraph. But if you're not, I recommend you read on. Particularly if your name is Jim Ferguson! More on that later....)

This, my friends, is because, even on a short-haul flight, you will have two pilots on the flight deck. One is called the Captain, and one is called the First Officer. They have exactly the same training, the only difference between them generally being experience (usually, but not always, Captains have flown more hours than First Officers) and responsibility - because it's the Captain who ultimately carries the can for the safety of the aircraft. When it comes to flying, though, there's nothing that separates them - they each take turns to land, take-off, or operate the radio - one becomes "pilot flying" for each flight, and one "pilot not flying" - but each has their own role, and as I said, they take turns. Yes, that's right, an FO might have landed the plane you were on when you came back from Spain last year! I know - shocking, isn't it?! Anyhow, ultimately, First Officers will generally become Captains themselves after a certain number of flying hours, and having passed the simulator for promotion. So, each Captain has been a First Officer at some point.

So, are we all clear so far? Good.

Now, take a look at these fantastic nuggets of journalism. (I apologise for not putting in the hyperlink - that feature doesn't seem to be working at the moment).

They contain such brilliant lines as:

Most of the passengers had no idea of the danger
That's what co-pilots are for, he says - to stand in for the pilot in case of emergency

And this brilliant piece of fiction by Jim Ferguson:

Jim Ferguson - an aviation writer from the UK - told BBC News the plane would have been difficult to land with only one pilot at the controls, as might have been the case on flights manned by only two pilots.

"You could, I gather, land a 777 single-handed - but it would require a lot of effort and it would appear [in this case there was] a very young co-pilot - so if there was another one, that would help.

"It would be very difficult, very distressing. I don't know if this [scenario] is carried out on simulator training or not.

Be still, my beating heart.

So, my dear Jim, if you're reading this - this is for you.

I hate to break it to you, but really only one person lands a plane anyhow - sure, the other one is on the radio and assisting, but there's only ever one person "at the controls". So it's not such a huge leap to cope with it all by yourself. And as for whether this is done in the simulator - I think the Captain "dies" on my husband every time he goes into the sim! Pilot incapacitation is practiced all the time. How can you possibly be an aviation "writer" and not know that? The mind boggles.

Golly, I feel much much better now. Much more healthy writing it all down than shouting at the TV!

Does anyone else share my annoyance?


  1. Unbelievable! I can't believe he calls himself an aviation writer and knows so little. Just shows how much salt you have to add when these so called 'experts' comment on the news.

  2. And all this time I thought the First Officer was just there to get the Captain coffee and carry his hat...

  3. Yes.... Love and I share your comments, The press pilot number issues always cause grief in our house. What suprises me is how even if the pulic note a second pilot in uniform what do they think he does?I would add that typically on my partners long haul routes there are 3 pilots...goodness knows what his role is thought to be !!

  4. Here Here. What a numb skull he is!

  5. Amen, sistah!

    I think you should position yourself as the aviation expert and chase Jim Ferguson out of his job. For Pete's sake!




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