Posted by: Korry | March 29, 2012

One Flew Over the jetBlue Nest

So there I am, enjoying the last few remaining days of my “staycation” when all of a sudden I begin to get bombarded by friends asking what the heck happened at jetBlue? Perplexed, I turned to my trusty iPhone and soon found myself absolutely shocked and in disbelief over the amazing events surrounding the jetBlue captain who apparently lost it during a flight from New York to Las Vegas.

Clearly, my friends wanted to know my take on this spectacle. How could something like this happen? Well, you’re in luck because I’ll give you my two cents (and that’s truly about all my thoughts are worth!!) and what I have to say may well surprise you.

First, let me begin by saying that multiple investigations are undoubtedly underway and any speculation as to what happened or why it happened at all is premature. Frankly, I’m annoyed by the number of pilots who come out of the woodwork after an incident or accident and are all of a sudden “experts” on events they have no idea about…so I won’t try to be one of those people here.

In fact, I’ll even go so far as to say that I have great confidence in not just all jetBlue pilots but also all other commercial airline pilots flying the skies today. My colleagues are true professionals and I feel quite confident in saying that this event will likely prove to be one unbelievably rare anomaly. Pilots receive routine medicals. They are constantly evaluated by their crews and the passengers they fly. And I would hope that these and so many other systems that are in place will continue to protect the flying public as they have for years and years.

So what happened? Why did he crack? Who knows! That’s why investigations take place–to figure out exactly why this happened and then to make sure it never happens again. I find it incredibly doubtful that captain Clayton Osborn is some clandestine terrorist as some of the stories I’ve read suggest. I mean, anything’s possible, but even the CEO of the airline, Dave Barger, said he personally knew Osborn and was quoted calling him a “consummate professional.” If he was nuts, it’s hard to believe the CEO would want to spend his political capital or that of the airline defending the man.

So the questions abound. Was he facing issues at home? Was he have financial trouble? Many airline pilots have seen their salaries cut by 30 or 40% not to mention retirement’s frozen or even decimated. Was he having some sort of medical issue? The National Institute of Mental Health says that about 5% of the population suffers from a serious mental health problem. Again, who knows. Let the investigation play out and in due time we will all find out. Pilots are people (contrary to many of them believing they are a bit more…ummm…heavenly) so the same issues that affect the general population could easily affect a pilot, too.

So what do I think? Quite simply, the system works!

“Surely, you can’t be serious, Korry!” Oh yes I am. The First Officer was able to isolate himself inside the flight deck after making the determination that the captain was a hinderance to the flight’s safety. Let’s not underestimate the gravity of that decision. While the captain will have some serious questions to answer, if the first officer had done this willy-nilly, it would be the first officer in the hot-seat, probably wondering if he’d keep his job or not. Nonetheless, with the captain out of the cockpit and restrained by passengers, the FO and another pilot riding on the flight guided the plane to a safe landing. Sure, people got delayed a bit, but they all arrived alive, and that’s the goal of every single flight.

It sure makes me wonder why some aircraft manufacturers such as Embraer are even considering the idea of moving to single pilot cockpits for airliners (see article here). In recent years there have been several instances of pilots suffering major health problems or even passing away mid-flight. Without a second set of eyes that are ready and able to take over, how could a flight ever be truly safe?

This also reminds me that none of us are ever fully safe. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but it’s just the reality. Early this month, ABC News reported that the TSA confiscated 1,306 guns at airport checkpoints last year. They also confirmed the TSA confiscated a mortar bomb, stun guns and even grenades.

Scary, right? Makes you wonder if they actually caught them all. And if you think that’s scary, then I dare you to consider what may be on board your commuter train or city bus.

Look, airport security is incredibly valuable to ensuring the safety of the traveling public. They do a phenomenal job. But they have to be right 100% of the time and the evil-doer needs to be right just once, and unfortunately, they will probably always be a step ahead. As soon as we institute some new screening technology or security procedure such as checking shoes or liquids or the lovely pat-downs, the evil-doer will be learning about the technology and the procedures and will be trying to stay a step ahead.

Just look at the prison system in our country. Somehow, in a totally confined world, prisoners manage to kill other prisoners. In fact, in a Department of Justice report I found (a few years old, yes) the prison homicide rate in 2002 was 4 per 100,000. And from the shows I’ve seen on Netflix, these inmates aren’t using guns; they’re using creative weapons like plastic coffee lids that they’ve heated up by burning their toilet paper and then remolding the plastic into a sharp object.

We can’t live in a bubble. You can try, but even Harold Crick found that to be difficult in Stranger Than Fiction (which is a great flick if you haven’t seen it).

So if bubble living is out, then we have to accept that we may never be 100% safe…but we sure can strive for it! We can layer our security systems by investing in the best technology, adopting practical security measures that respect human dignity, teaching both flight crews and the general public to be aware of their surroundings and ensuring they have the tools necessary to handle an incident if it arises. And we can make sure programs like the Federal Flight Deck Officer program do not have their budget slashed by 50% as President Obama’s proposed budget calls for.

In short, we need to be smart about security.

It’s unfortunate the passengers aboard the jetBlue flight this week had to experience such a horrendous situation. It should never have happened, but then lots of things should never happen. The investigators will dig into this issue. They will find answers. And gaps in policy or procedure will be fixed.

As you read this, I will be flying the friendly skies with complete confidence that the pilot sitting next to me is absolutely fit for duty…and so should you.

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