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Like many people, my coworker is afraid of flying. We encourage him to take sleeping pills and try to distract him with entertaining stories during takeoff, but despite our best efforts, he usually remains anxious throughout the flight.
Because of his fear, my coworker is drawn to news stories about plane crashes and equipment malfunctions, and shares them with us as proof that his fear is legitimate. And there have been many headlines about pilot error leading to tragedy; in early 2009, a commuter plane crashed into a New York house after the pilots were mindlessly chatting and then panicked when they realized the aircraft was in trouble. More recently, a Russian passenger airplane missed the runway and crashed because the navigator was drunk.
Given all of the doom and gloom in the headlines, it’s refreshing to hear about pilots who do things right. For example, in 2009, US Airways flight 1549 famously crash-landed into the Hudson River after striking a flock of geese during takeoff. The pilot, Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, was described as “cool, calm and collected” as he maneuvered the plane into a safe landing position. Because of Sully’s focus and composure, a tragic accident was averted and all 155 people onboard survived.
Earlier this month, pilot Tadeusz Wrona safely crash-landed a passenger plane in Warsaw’s main airport after the landing gear failed to deploy. Luckily, all 230 passengers and crew members survived the belly-landing. Wrona and his crew remained vigilant and focused during the flight, immediately taking notice when the landing gear failed to open on the second attempt. After identifying the problem, the crew began to review belly-landing training guidelines while flight attendants explained emergency landing procedures to passengers. The flight crew remained calm and steady during the perilous situation, preventing hysteria from breaking out in the cabin.
When reading news stories like these, you realize the importance of the pilot’s training, skills, and personality when you board any airplane. From unsuccessful crash-landings to heroic ones, pilots’ behavior greatly affects passengers, crew members, the airline industry, and the general public (not to mention my co-worker). As such, organizations must take great care when hiring for jobs like pilots where the consequences of an unsafe decision can mean life or death.