Sunday, June 16, 2013

Acne in the Cockpit

You've heard of Ryan Air. It's a super-low cost airline based in Ireland led by a guy named Michael O'Leary, a quirky character who gets lots of free advertising by coming up with gimmicks. You may remember his proposal a few years back to make passengers stand up while flying so that more bodies could be packed into its planes. He got even more attention when he proposed charging his passengers a fee to use the plane's toilets. Still, lots of people fly his line, so I guess his ignominious methods work. His latest stunt? Hire a teenage pilot.

This he has actually done. Click here for the link. “This is what I have wanted to do ever since I can remember,” said 19 year old Ryan Irwin who just graduated from Oxford Air Academy.

I don't see how his full repertoire of memories can possibly go back more than 9 or 10 years. That's hardly any memories. None-the-less, I too had aspirations to become a jet pilot when I was 19, so I won't be too hard on him. I actually became one at 22, but even after a year of intensive training in supersonic jets I was in no conceivable way ready to have passengers trusted to my care.

The young Ryan (appropriate name, eh?) is now going directly into the first officer's seat on jet aircraft passenger service. He apparently will not be required to pay his dues via a “seasoning” period, as other airline pilots must do. Seasoning jobs are those such as flying single pilot night cargo, corporate, air taxi, flight instructing or military flying. Adult pilots are required to do those things in order to be competitive for for an airline job.

Although Ryan will, with the right training—supposing he gets it—be able to takeoff and land a jet aircraft, the question is, what good is he other than as a captain's “assistant”? Suppose, for example he gets paired with a weak captain. (They exist.) Will he have the means, knowledge and skills to mitigate the captain's mistakes? Or suppose he gets paired with an egotistical captain—one who espouses the time-tested suicidal cockpit management technique called, “my way or the highway”? (There are many.) Will he have the fortitude to speak out against the boss' ill-advised decisions? Not likely. More likely he will silently let the captain fly him all the way into the crater, assuming he even sees it coming.

And this, my friends, is what becoming an airline pilot is all about. It's not about Chuck Yeager type skills and it's not about acing the tests and simulator rides. It's about having some real world experience at seeing how things can go in seconds to hell in the proverbial hand basket.

It's about realizing that not everything that rises up to smite you is in covered in the handbook. It's about knowing how to make good decisions in bad situations. It's about having the maturity to complement the captain, not compliment him. A 19 year-old ain't likely got any of that.

So, let O'Leary have his latest gimmick. I have already read some comments from passengers who think the idea is cool. But young Ryan will soon realize that on Ryan pay he will be able to pay off his Oxford Aviation Academy debt in a about three decades and the glitter of his not-so-long awaited-for dream-come-true will fade. Let's just hope he gets seasoned before then.

Do you remember the post I wrote a coupleof years ago about Keavy Ninninger? Look at this arrival chart.

Keavy has been memorialized on the Benele One Arrival
into Atlanta. Delta Airlines, with whom Keavy interned,
petitioned the FAA to name a fix in her honor. Click on the
image above to read what I wrote about Keavy.