Purveyor of Bollocks to the Crowned Heads of Europe
Saturday, 31 March 2012
Fear of flying
I have always loved flying in jet airliners, or at least I have always loved the most dangerous parts - taking off and landing. The bit in between can be extremely tedious, especially on a long-haul. The bit I really hate is all the waiting and security scanning, and I suppose everyone else feels the same.
A statistician once gave advice that in order to minimise the risk of travelling on a plane which has a bomb planted on it, take your own bomb on board. The chances of one flight having two bombs on it were - at the time - so small as to be virtually negligible. If everyone had followed this advice it would either have made flying one of the safest ways to travel (which it already is, according to other statisticians), or one of the most dangerous, depending on how you crunch the numbers.
Alas, we will never know now because a security system which will not allow you to take a pair of nail-clippers on board would certainly pick up on a bomb - wouldn't it?
I would have thought that the chances of a member of the flight crew having a full-blown nervous-breakdown at 35,000 feet would have been fairly remote also, but changed my mind about that when reading the story about the JetBlue pilot having his. Apparently, only a week beforehand, an air stewardess got onto the plane's intercom and started telling all the passengers how she was terrified of flying ever since 9/11, and that the chances of a hi-jack which would kill everyone were very high indeed. She rambled on for quite a while evidently, until she was restrained by a fellow crew member and strapped into a chair just like last week's screaming pilot.
When I first heard about the pilot running into the main body of the plane (having been locked out of the cockpit by the co-pilot) and screaming at the passengers about them all going to die, etc. I wished I had been on that flight - it sounded like a welcome bit of entertainment on an otherwise boring trip.
Statistics cannot be relied upon anyway. I had a good friend (one less) who was killed in an air-crash in Thailand a few years ago, along with his fiance and the rest of the passengers and crew. After this happened, I was speaking to his brother who is also a good friend of mine, and he told me that he too had been in a serious passenger plane-crash only a couple of years beforehand, but he survived unscathed unlike his brother, who he was very close to.
Another friend of mine who is a light aircraft pilot for pleasure (yes, I know) once took a course to be an air traffic controller. I have been flying with him as a pilot on quite a few occasions, and a more calm and level-headed person you could not meet - when in the cockpit.
He only survived about one week of the course before he had to pull out through stress.
On these training courses, the trainee is seated before a bank of computer and radar screens which are all lit up and pre-programmed with flight scenarios, just like the real thing. Exactly like the real thing, in fact.
Once you have got the hang of how to read the blips and signals, the machines are set up to display a set of circumstances in a busy airport like Heathrow, whereby you as controller are placed in the situation of being responsible for about 5 incoming and outgoing aircraft over a fairly short period of time - just like the real thing - and you even get to talk to the individual pilots through a head-set as they approach or taxi up to holding positions waiting for permission to take off. Then they play a nasty trick on you.
Suddenly, it becomes clear that two aircraft are on a collision course which can only be averted by a correct decision and a clear set of instructions to all planes made by you and delivered within seconds of the impending disaster which would cost the lives of several hundred people.
There was a famous incident which happened for real in an unspecified airport once, when a team of A.T.C.s were seated at their screens, handling a series of incoming planes which had all arrived at once and were circling the airport in a several mile radius, all running out of fuel and desperate to land.
Apparently, as the planes approached, they would fly out of the jurisdiction of one controller and into the other who was seated next to him. A small piece of coloured paper representing the plane would be physically handed to the controller sitting beside the other, as a symbol of responsibility and to make it absolutely clear that the care of that aircraft was now in the hands of the one to hold it.
That night, one of the controllers had a full-blown, stress-related breakdown, and had to be carried away screaming from his computer screen, as someone else took over. When the other guy took the seat, he looked down into a waste-paper bin and found all the coloured pieces of paper had been screwed up and thrown into it by his predecessor, and the planes were still circling about up there, wondering what the hell to do for lack of instructions!
I do hope they give A.T.C.s regular medical check-ups as well as pilots.