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Fear of rusty pilot error joins commercial aviation worries

THE Covid crisis has made it harder to maintain pilot proficiency, was one of the key findings of Indonesia's National Transportation Safety Committee investigation of an accident involving at Airbus SE A330

03 December 2020 - 19:00

THE Covid crisis has made it harder to maintain pilot proficiency, was one of the key findings of Indonesia's National Transportation Safety Committee investigation of an accident involving at Airbus SE A330.

Investigators found the pilot had flown less than three hours in the previous 90 days. The first officer hadn't flown at all since January, reports Bloomberg.



Because Lion Air doesn't have a simulator for the A330, its pilots are trained at third-party facilities in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. Covid travel restrictions have made those harder to access.



'Regular flying keeps your mind in the cockpit,' said Mohan Ranganathan, an aviation safety consultant who was an adviser to India's Directorate General of Civil Aviation.



'Being away from flying for such a long time brings in some complacency. Add loss of income, uncertainty about jobs or the future of the airline that brings in additional stress. With an increase in stress levels, proficiency drops,' said Mr Ranganathan.



Analytics company Cirium says almost a third of the world's passenger jets remain in storage - parked in the centre of Australia and the California-Nevada Mojave Desert.



Thousands of pilots have been laid off or furloughed, and those still in work are flying a lot less because there's so little demand.



The return to the skies of Boeing's Max 737 could add another layer of complexity. The jet was grounded worldwide in March 2019 after two fatal crashes but was last month cleared by the US Federal Aviation Administration (F) with an extensive package of fixes.



'For some operators of the Max, depending on where they are and their operational status, the grounding may cause additional challenges,' said Shukor Yusof, founder of aviation consulting firm Endau Analytics in Malaysia.



'However this is something that Boeing has already been working on and they have teams to help their customers throughout this process,' he said.



Pilot rustiness was also cited by Europe's top aviation-safety official as a possible factor in the crash of a Pakistan International Airlines plane in Karachi in May that killed all but two of the 99 people on board.



'The pilots did not seem to be as fluent in the way they were conducting their flights as they should have,' European Union Aviation Safety Agency Executive Director Patrick Ky said in September regarding the PIA flight.



'If you haven't flown for three months, six months, you need to be retrained in some way in order to come back,' Mr Ky said.


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