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When is Private Public?

The recent illness of an Air Canada crew member, suffered while in-flight, has once again ignited the news services.


February 8, 2008
By Rob Seaman

The recent illness of an Air Canada crew member, suffered while in-flight, has once again ignited the news services. The consumer media’s apparent passion for digging into the private and personal world of flight crew has this time taken what should have been a private issue and made it a public concern. It is a sad comment when someone cannot get ill without the entire nation being brought into the picture. True he is a pilot and true he was performing his pilot duties at that time. However, you have to stop and think about how often someone working in an office or even while driving a car might just happen to suffer a similar illness. Does that make it to the headlines in this manner?

With regard to the Air Canada incident, the facts are that a member of the flight crew became ill in transit. The remaining crew was able to properly handle the flight and land without incident at an appropriate field to get proper medical attention for the poor soul. The SOPs worked and everything was fine – except that some passengers had their travel day slightly messed up.

That should be the story – beginning and end. Instead we have to hear reports about a crazed pilot, passengers having to assist and restrain him, danger to all on board and so forth. It is the sort of thing that fiction novels and bad movies are made of. And while perhaps some sliver of this might be true, what purpose does it serve to make it public?

I do on occasion enjoy the opportunity to go on-air with the CBC and provide professional views and input to stories that make sense – at least in my opinion. I only reply to those where I have some proper knowledge or experience that may be applicable. I will not participate in speculative expeditions. So now that you know where I draw the line and how I feel in general about this story, you can imagine my reaction when I was called and asked to speak about it. They always call first to pre-qualify if I will be or should be replying to their need. In some cases I decline to articulate but provide an alternative who I feel is better equipped to handle the issue.

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On this occasion, the first question was what do you think about this situation? My answer – how unfortunate the poor man became ill. I hope he gets better. The next question – how do you predict this sort of behavior in flight crew? My reply – how do you predict it in anyone in any job? You just deal with it as it comes up. The next question was if we in aviation do special testing for mental competence with commercial pilots. My reply – All pilots are required to undergo a full physical by a Transport Canada appointed doctor and other testing as a company may require. However I also pointed out that to test for mental competency is somewhat out there. Also, I feel that if you tested everyone in society for the same sort of thing, you really would have a problem finding anyone that passed as totally sane most of the time.

I then simplified the whole thing for them by saying what I understood in this case was simply a matter of the man becoming ill and needing a hospital. So to suggest he was mentally unstable was putting forward unqualified opinions and conjecture. I also suggested that if they wanted to discuss aviation medical issues, they should contact a TC approved doctor and deal with facts. The call ended there. No joy from me and no spicy stuff for the story. And that is how it should be.

If you hang around aircraft long enough, you will be involved in some sort of incident that garners media attention. Experience has taught me that under these conditions the consumer media will try and find just about anyone they can to give a statement of some sort. That is when people need to be very careful and better yet, leave it to those who know and can make a proper statement with facts and substance. Such reporting tends not to sell papers well but it is the right thing to do for everyone involved. As for Air Canada – I hope the gentleman concerned is on the way to recovery.