Human Factors: Pilot Error

A few days ago, I was watching a documentary about air accidents. The bad part of documentaries is that, if you know in depth an accident, you’ll always find a trivial if not contradictory story. The good part is that you can find some interesting case that you did not previously know about. This was my situation with Crossair 3597 and the analysis of the facts. For good reasons, I did not trust the TV documentary and accessed the official report. However, in this case TV seemed to be right: Researchers went through the whole records of the PIC finding hard to explain why this pilot was flying passengers and writing all of these findings on the official report.

In some places, it is hard or impossible to run this kind of investigation. Certainly, regulators and operators can have the biggest interest in making the pilot appear as guilty of an accident. First, if he did not survive, he will not reply. Second, responsibility for the accident goes a little bit further from them and Third, they do not have too much to change under this kind of outcome since, at last, the problem came from a bad pilot.

Pilots associations, at their time, do not like having the record of a pilot subject to any kind of criticism and try to stop a research that could go beyond current licenses and type ratings. Any other is called “throwing garbage to his memory”. Actually, I remember a situation when, after pointing to the low experience of a pilot involved in an accident, someone told me that I could not demonstrate that a more seasoned pilot could have avoided the accident. That was true, as well as the fact that the person who said that could not demonstrate that an expert pilot could not have avoided the accident: Draw.

Pilot error, of course, exists. If the record of a pilot is a clearly inadequate one and it is finished with a deadly accident, the knowledge of this record will trigger questions about who, how and why hired him and how was the training and the checks that every pilot has to pass. Victims, including very often the pilot himself, deserve going through the records without witch-hunting spirit but trying to know and to avoid the same mistake in the future. Perhaps, this is more important than ever: We have MPLs and even pilots that are completing their training in the right seat of some airlines.

The Crossair example is a good one. Any investigation should be driven by the principle of knowing the truth, all the truth and nothing but the truth…and no interest should be above this.

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