What You Really Need To Be Afraid of When You Get in an Airplane

I have a friend who is fearful of commercial airlines.

At the gate, before boarding, he asks the agent the following question: “What is the captain’s name?”  If the answer indicates the pilot is female, he will not board that flight.  Any criticism of my friend’s lack of confidence in any qualified aviatrix is answered along these lines: “She can’t drive a stick shift. I should trust her with a Jumbo Jet?”

My friend is right to be cautious about flying, but for different reasons.  Like most air travelers, he doesn’t know what he doesn’t know.

After a career of being closely associated with the air traffic control system, I can confidently opine that female pilots should be near the bottom on anyone’s list of safety concerns.  Closer to the top of that list?  Affirmative action.

Affirmative action has eroded the efficacy of the air traffic control system to an alarming degree.  The air traffic controllers’ strike in the summer of 1981 was a crisis that the social engineers did not let go to waste.  They replaced the PATCO workforce with many of the liberal left’s favorites.  Let’s just say their favorites do not include straight, white, competent, experienced males.  However, some level of competence still must be added to the mix; the nature of air traffic control demands it.  When flying tubes of flesh and jet fuel are hurtling hither and yon at breakneck speeds, someone has to break the ties.  We can’t have controllers doing a “bang-up” job.

Now, you shouldn’t be blamed for thinking that incompetence would easily be outed and vanquished in an age of black boxes, videotapes, and other gotcha devices.  Unfortunately, the responsible are not always fingered, and mostly they are coddled and protected by the same bureaucrats who appointed them to the positions they can’t handle.  An illustration follows:

January 25, 1990.  Avianca 052, a Boeing 707 en route from Columbia to JFK Airport in Queens, N.Y.  After two missed approaches in bad weather, the pilot told the approach controller that he was “running out of fuel” and that he “needed priority.”  The flight received neither sympathy nor priority.  All four engines flamed out, and the 707 crash-landed in a wooded area of Long Island.  Seventy-five dead.  The FAA pointed to poor communication by the pilot and a language barrier.  At the time, when asked about this by a New York–area journalist, I informed the scribe that the ATC tapes were transcribed fully in English and that no foreign language was heard on the tapes.

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