Tired Airline Pilots And Human Error

There are plenty of jobs I would suck at, and in a few cases I’ve had a chance to prove it. I’m completely certain that no amount of training could overcome my total lack of fitness to be an airline pilot.

I’m absent-minded, easily distracted and prone to yelling at the navigator. I have no sense of direction. I’m afraid of heights. I would be a disaster.

I couldn’t possibly board a plane without believing that some people are much better at all that than I am — and that the pilots are among those people.

When I think about the mistakes I see drivers make every day – the mistakes I see myself make – I am awed by the skill and precision of airline pilots. They are the reason for the impressive safety record of U.S. aviation.

And, yet, nobody is perfect.

“Human error stubborn snag in airline safety,” is the headline on a story in USA Today that cites 55 reports since 2000 of pilots in the United States forgetting to set the wing flaps properly in advance of takeoff. That omission is believed to be the cause of the Spanair crash in Madrid that killed 154 people in August.

None of the U.S. incidents caused a crash, but the story reported that “pilots — many surprised that they made such a critical error — say that stress, fatigue or interruptions to their routines caused them to make big mistakes.

In a related story, USA Today reports that “Errors by pilots or maintenance workers caused all nine fatal airline accidents in the U.S. since 2000, according to National Transportation Safety Board data.”

No wonder the NTSB recommended back in June that the Federal Aviation Administration look at “the unnecessary danger that is caused by fatigue in aviation.”

Now would be a good time.





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