Sunday, February 03, 2013

A Pilot Landed An Airplane

Here's a true story that should be very boring.

A company has many workers trained for the same job, and on every shift they assign two qualified employees to the workstation. Both have plenty of experience and either one could do the whole job alone, but as they are both present, they work together to maximize productivity and minimize mistakes. They never both take a break at the same time, and they take turns doing the various tasks. One day one of them passed out at work. The other one continued doing the job safely while a doctor helped the incapacitated one. It added a little excitement and a lot of paperwork to the work day, but the healthy employee didn't do anything he didn't do any other day. The only concern anyone had was for the health of the affected employee, a twenty-eight year veteran.

The news story says, "A co-pilot was able to land a Seattle-bound Alaska Airlines flight safely in Portland after the plane’s captain passed out Thursday night."

Aaagh. "The assistant manager was able to complete a customer transaction after the manager passed out at a Seattle Wal-Mart on Saturday." Aaagh. "A Jehovah's Witness successfully handed out seventeen leaflets after her sister got a blister and couldn't keep walking." Aaagh.

Both people at the front of the airplane are pilots. They both know how to fly the airplane. The "co-pilot" (not even a term used in the industry) is a pilot, fully qualified on the airplane. It's not newsworthy that he or she can land the airplane!

Maybe other people are so bad at their jobs that they couldn't complete a job they were ostensibly trained and qualified for if their co-worker collapsed. Clearly the person who painted the signs on this fuel truck was in dire need of a co-worker for translation and interpretation of instructions.

I would laugh so hard if that fuel truck pulled up to service my plane, that I would need a co-pilot to take over. If they pulled up right after I had landed after a long flight, I might need a new pair of pants, too.


john b said...

I grew up in an aviation family, always aware that both chaps up front were pilots - but I was really surprised recently to read Ernest K Gann and discover that in the 30s and 40s, a first officer was called a co-pilot, and was genuinely considered a dogsbody who got little-or-no respect. Suddenly that cultural thing at least started to make some sense in terms of derivation.

John Schlosser said...

To be totally fair, Cessna's manuals refer to pilot and copilot in terms of position in the cockpit. Minor detail.

Aviatrix said...

I sometimes use the same designations in maintenance writeups, e.g. "Copilot shoulder belt inertial reel sticks." But I don't forget how to fly when I sit on that side.

There may have been a time and place where the copilot was an unskilled apprentice, but there was once a time when they painted the name of the town in big letters on top of buildings to help with air navigation.

Or maybe people still think we need that.

Chris C. said...

Going off on the tangent of your last section there, with the signage error, one of my favorite stories of modern malfunction is here:

So glad that we are getting occasional posts from you again!

grant said...

The change in aviation culture, from co-pilot as apprentice/whipping boy (sorry, no girls allowed) - to the co-pilot as a highly-trained, junior partner and error-checker, is actually fairly recent. Crew Resource Management ideas only developed in trail of such airline disasters as Tenariffe, where it was apparent that a more assertive First Officer, could well have prevented the accident.

Majroj said...

To read the town name on top of a barn with a 747 you'd have to fly inverted. Not recommended.

BTW, whomever photoshopped the tanker couldn't spell "Arabic"? (haha)

Sarah said...

Photoshop? Yeah, it could be. But it's not obvious. I assume you're looking at the pixel stipple around the text thinking it's an artifact of editing. But it could be a jpeg compression artifact. You see similar patterns elsewhere in the image, for example around the pointing guy.

majroj said...

Wonder about the "copilot" designation in places like, well, where safety is of less concern and pilots aren't bursting out of the woods to work.

(Sarah, you have a point).

Aviatrix said...

I got the pic from cakewrecks, so I have no stake in its authenticity.

townmouse said...

This is my favourite translation error of all time. It's via the BBC so must be accurate, right?

A Squared said...

I think that the aspect which the general public finds fascinating about this is the fact that if the airplane is one pilot incapacitation away form being unpiloted. Of course pilot incapacitation is a fairly improbable event, but as was just demonstrated, not outside the realm of possibility.