Regional pilots routinely pressured to break the rules

Seeking consensus among the pros who are involved - perhaps as a guideline to the politicians and bureaucrats
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Regional pilots routinely pressured to break the rules

Unread post by bimjim » Wed May 26, 2010 ... sured.html

Jacob R. Chambers: Regional pilots routinely pressured to break the rules
By Jacob R. Chambers
May 25, 2010

As a former regional airline captain I am circumspect each time attention is focused on aviation safety. The latest efforts toward increasing pilot professionalism are timely, yet for line-pilots across the country, these talks and the inevitable regulations that will come from them are likely to be seen as ineffectual.

While there is no doubt in any pilot’s mind that she or he is ultimately responsible for the welfare of their flight and that this responsibility requires discipline in large measure, one cannot ignore the organizational context of a regional airline. One is asked to bend, if not break, the rules all the time. In my experience, the most important attribute for an airline captain is not sharp flying skills but rather a stubborn resolve to do right in face of frequent pressure to do otherwise.

When I voluntarily left my job in May of last year I wrote a letter to each senator on the Aviation Subcommittee, offering to share my experiences. At that time, the investigations were just starting to point to pilot professionalism as a burgeoning problem after the Colgan Air crash in Buffalo.

Along with scores of other conscientious, committed professional airline pilots, I could have furthered their understanding with some anecdotes about what really happens on the line. My offer to help went unnoticed, yet I have persisted in saying what a lot of pilots would if given the chance: Until you restore a thoughtful upper-level support structure that fosters “doing right” throughout the company, you will continue to have problems.

While I would be the last to excuse unprofessional behavior, common sense recognizes that people are influenced by their working context; and if this context regularly disregards safety, where does that leave the finer point of professionalism?

Consider just one example. While doing preflight checks in the cockpit, I once found that the crash ax — a specialized firefighting tool—had been replaced by a wooden-handled roofing hatchet purchased from a local hardware store.

For me, that incident was the last straw. I realized that the mission statement was inverted, the credo busted.

While I will not tell you that the corporate culture caused me to act unprofessionally, it did lead me to leave my job. And while it is hard to directly connect the airline corporate culture to these unprofessional actions, it would be telling to analyze the pay rates and working conditions of the companies in the latest round of pilot carelessness.

In doing so you would find what line-pilots know and hope the investigators will finally note: that there are good airlines and really bad ones, and the bad airlines inculcate not a commitment to excellence but an institutional mediocrity if not lawlessness.

The majority of pilots are committed, caring professionals, stubborn enough to fight their own organizations when necessary to do the right thing.

Jacob R. Chambers of Chestnut Hill, Mass., is a former airline captain.

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