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Cockpit Interference – A Serious Issue

A subject that has been coming up with more frequency of late relates to interference in how an aircraft is operated – and from where that is coming.


November 23, 2007
By Rob Seaman

A subject that has been coming up with more frequency of late relates to interference in how an aircraft is operated – and from where that is coming.

The pressure to perform is a big issue – especially with corporate aircraft (the dollar figures are so much more visible to those signing the cheques). Along with that, access by the guy with the money to the people entrusted to spend it on his/her flight ops is unequalled in all other modes of air travel. Whether the influence or stress to perform on time (perceived or real) comes from a charter client or an actual aircraft owner, the bottom line is the folks in the back have very direct access to the people entrusted up front to “drive the bus.” Such open access can and does have both positive and negative aspects to it.

While it is good for the flight crew to build a relationship of trust and understanding between themselves and the owner/passenger, it also holds true that they can and do become victims of pressure. Successful and established business and industrial leaders are accustomed to getting results in their everyday matters. That is what makes them successful after all. The kick here is that flight crew needs to focus on their professional training and expertise and use this to manage the demands from the cabin.

The majority of corporate aircraft users have a working knowledge of the “can and cannot issues” related to aircraft ops. But when it comes to influence from the weather, changes in ground conditions and even mechanical concerns – the flight crew must defer to their experience and training – not the urges to get there at all cost! The average corporate aircraft owner, if asked if he or she would prefer to get there safely or risk life and limb, will obviously acquiesce to the judgment of the flight crew.

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The problem that does and has shown itself is when the crew is driven by an urge (real or perceived) not to disappoint and accordingly put aside better judgment in favour of being top notch in the owner’s eyes. Being able to say no – and keep the relationship and trust intact – is something that corporate operators – flight crew and management – are facing with increased frequency. And I for one believe that it is not so much that the passengers we serve are getting more demanding as it is we, as an industry, have done such a great job of proving ourselves, that it is not that often we actually have to say we cannot or should not in our best judgment try to do what is being asked. Let’s face it, human nature drives us all to not to want to hear the word “no”.

To support this concept – and please by no means take this as being judgmental – the most recent incident where pressure to please may have been an issue – can be found in the Global 5000 landing disaster at Fox Harbour, Nova Scotia. The stories and speculation about what really happened are rampant at this point in time, however there are some obvious observations and conclusions to be drawn.

Start with what is known – it was rainy and windy – according to some reports “high” winds. So at the time of landing, the runway was classified as “contaminated” and the 4,500 landing distance offered under ideal conditions would be compromised. The other thing to consider is that the aircraft was new – less than 100 hours total time on it and it was only delivered to the owners a few weeks prior.

Accordingly, the flight crew, while experienced as pilots, where not as experienced as they could be with that particular aircraft type. In what was clearly an effort to make sure all the runway was used to advantage, they landed short, hitting a small lip on the ground before the pavement. The impact caused part of the landing gear to collapse and the aircraft went spinning down the runway until it came to rest. The good news is that no lives were lost – although there were injuries. That is a credit to the aircraft design and manufacture. So that is what is fact in this case.

What is more speculative and worthy of discussion is why this happened? If the runway and landing at Fox Harbour was going to be marginal, there were alternatives to use. Why were they not called into play? And with this particular operator, this was not the first time that such an incident has occurred at both this field and others. It has not been the same crew each time either. So this leads to the question – was there undue influence or stress placed on the crew to make the destination as planned?

Those answers will come in time with appropriate and proper investigation and reports. And there is a process that will uncover this from the Transportation Safety Review Board right through to the Private Operator’s Certificate from the CBAA.

One other negative that will affect all in the industry from an event like this is the possible insurance cost to everyone. It has already been suggested by some underwriters that all corporate policies may increase as a result of this one incident. So here is a case where the actions and incidents from one operator may have a financial impact on all. And that is simply not fair or just! But it clearly illustrates how the actions of one can affect the whole.

RS