Commercial airline pilots have done so little flying during the past 21 months that we may be about to witness a fatal plane crash. That is the message of air accident investigators after a “serious incident” in which a Boeing 737 hurtled towards the ground at Aberdeen Airport on the 20th anniversary of 9/11. The Telegraph has more.
The Air Accidents Investigations Branch (AAIB) issued an alert following the incident on the afternoon of the 20th anniversary of 9/11, in which a Tui flight from Spain with 67 passengers and six crew on board unexpectedly gained speed and descended rapidly after pilots were told to abort a landing.
Although they managed to stabilise the aircraft and later landed it normally, the AAIB said there was “clearly a possibility” that a lack of flying time had contributed to a situation that could have resulted in one of Britain’s worst air disasters.
Pilots did not initially notice the “significant deviation from the expected flight path” and a dangerous increase in speed was “not corrected in a timely manner”, an AAIB bulletin issued on Thursday morning said.
While pilots are required to conduct regular take offs and landings to ensure they can fly safely, many airlines have been forced to meet the requirement using simulators as COVID-19 travel restrictions have meant many flights have been grounded.
While the reasons for the incident are still being investigated, the AAIB raised the prospect that pilot error, due to a lack of recent flying experience, could have been to blame.
The co-pilot in the Aberdeen incident was on only his fourth flight in 11 months, while the 56 year-old commander had just 67 hours of flying time over the previous 90 days.
While both pilots had conducted several sessions on a simulator over the previous 18 months, the AAIB said these could fail to replicate the “real world environment” and unexpected situations, such as being told to abandon a landing.
“The real-world environment creates different demands on crews, and it is possible that this event illustrates that lack of recent exposure to the real-world environment can erode crews’ capacity to deal effectively with those challenges,” the AAIB said.
“Regulators have been concerned that pilots returning to the flight deck following extended periods without flying could be at risk of performing below their normal standard during their first few flights.
“Although this investigation has not established a link between this event and a lack of line flying, this Special Bulletin is published for awareness and because a link is clearly one possibility.”
Worth reading in full.