Pilots on the Germanwings Murder/Suicide

After the Germanwings crash I argued that no single safety device or security protocol could protect the flying public against a pilot determined to do harm. A number of veteran pilots write in to agree, but also to suggest that this episode illustrates some structural problems within the modern cost-cutting air-travel industry.

1) “Low-cost pilots, low-cost lives.” Adam Shaw, who has had a varied and interesting career as a writer and flyer and now leads an aerobatics team in Europe, writes as follows. I’ve added interstitial explanations in brackets [like this]:

No one can disagree with your: “ no new regulation… can offer perfect protection against calculated malice.”

But eliminating P2F is the first step. [JF note: P2F, or “Pay to Fly,” is a scheme in which pilots-in-training, while still paying tuition to a flight school, simultaneously serve as flight-crew members on real airlines carrying real passengers. That is, rather than earning pay for their work, they are the ones paying. Without getting into all the details this is now widely considered a scam.]

A good second step is the FAA’s reinstatement of  the very old  (your piece leads folks to believe it is new…) rule  requiring 1500 hrs of flight time before taking the ATP written. [JF: The change that the FAA ordered two years ago, as explained here, was requiring first-officer or “co-pilot” candidates to have an Airline Transport Pilot certificate, which among other things requires 1500 hours of flying experience. Before that, people could apply for first-officer positions with only a Commercial certificate, with an experience minimum of only 250 hours.]

Asian and European authorities should instantly copy this.  Why? Because in the years it takes to get to 1500 hrs (flight instructing, crop dusting, banner towing, flying jumpers or whatever)  budding pilots get real experience with airplanes with that are often gritty, shitty and temperamental.

The years they put in to get those 1500 hrs also — and this is just a critical —   expose them to their peers, to repeated medical examinations…  to repeated scrutiny. [JF: Working with ATP privileges requires a First Class FAA medical certificate, with a full medical exam every six months. Working with Commercial privileges requires a Second Class medical, with an exam once a year. Private pilots like me can fly with a Third Class medical, which lasts either two or five years, depending on your age.]

These days, the 250-hr button twiddling geeks  can go from pounding the sidewalk to the right seat of a passenger jet in less than two years. That’s two medicals, and practically no peer-review, not time for quirks, or worse, to become apparent. I know the trend is for low cost airlines ( low cost training)  low cost clothes, low cost food, low cost… lives.

With most old-fashioned pilots retired or within minutes of retirement, we’re now faced with left-seaters who have come up the ab-initio or worse, the geek P2F, way.

Unless things change, and change fast, we’re going to see a lot more AF# 447, Asiana # 214, Transasia # 235  events in the coming years.

And when people start looking for whom to blame, the answer is simple: Joe-six-pack who wanted a $ 99 flight from New York to L.A, or Pierre Baguette who wanted a 65 Euro Paris-Casablanca…   and the cynical bean counters who make this possible

You can see a video of Adam Shaw’s formation-flying team here, and one of him flying through the mountains with his dog as first officer here.

On the point he makes about the value of sheer experience: Within the next year I should have reached 2000 hours of total flying time. That is not much from the perspective of someone who does this as a professional but reflects my trying to stay at it steadily year by year. The difference from when I had 250 hours of experience, or 500, is not any particular new skill. Indeed, many obligatory pass-the-test skills have certainly atrophied. (Like, an NDB approach or “turns around a point.”)

The difference is simply that I’ve seen more things happen, so there’s a smaller realm of situations I will encounter for the first time. It’s roughly similar to the difference between parents’ first few nervous weeks with a baby and what they learn as the months (and children) roll on. In the amateur-flying world this includes: what it’s like when the alternator fails; what it’s like when you have an oil problem; what it’s like when you have to tell a controller “unable”; which mountain passes you’re better off avoiding; which level of crosswinds and gusty winds you can handle on landings; which clouds mean trouble and which don’t; what cues let controllers think you know what you’re doing, and which signal the reverse; at what temperature range just above and below freezing you need to be alert to icing; what errors or lapses you’re most likely to make. This is known in the aviation world as “filling up the experience bucket before the luck bucket empties out,” and I agree with Adam Shaw, from his much more experienced perspective, that it’s an important part of developing qualified airline pilots.

2) “An incentive to cheat.” A pilot writes about the perverse incentives that encourage pilots not to seek treatment for illnesses, including mental illness:

The current interpretation of the cockpit voice recordings from Germanwings 4U9525 provides clear evidence of a problem with the certification of pilots for flight duty.

While the aviation industry has an enviable safety record, that safety record comes from a willingness to examine the information garnered from failure and to improve. We now have evidence of two major air disasters in the span of a decade and a half [JF: the other being the EgyptAir crash in 1999], caused by similar failures: mass murder by a pilot. I believe that should lead to a reconsideration of pilot medical certification. Certainly, I suggest that if any other type of component failed so disastrously in two separate flights in the span of a decade and a half, those failures would trigger an examination of the certification process.

Your colleagues have already made the point that news accounts have stigmatized people with mental illnesses over this event. I observe that the process of medical certification for flight has virtually no treatment component at all: it is virtually entirely adversarial. Even where aviation medical authorities make no claim to having effectively evaluated a condition, their public statements on the topic frequently suggest they plan to find a way to keep people who have it out of the cockpit. The default attitude seems to be that only neuro-typical individuals belong in the cockpit, and if we don’t have an actual reason to keep others out, we should do more researchers.

I have no doubt you know well how pilots react. A small minority simply lie on their medical forms. Many more of us manage our lives so as to avoid diagnoses or medications we would not want to report on an aeromedical exam. I believe that only a few fortunate pilots have not at some time in our lives asked how we could manage an issue: stress, grief, a physical accident without resorting to medications we would have to explain on a medical. If you have never sat in on a conversation on how to choose a medical examiner, I suspect you may belong to an unusual pilot community. [JF: I have heard such conversations.]

The system gives pilots an incentive to cheat themselves out of the best quality of care. Any arrangement that promotes an adversarial relationship between doctor and patient compromises medicine.

Doctors who support policies that make them into police should ask themselves what practicing medicine will be like when all their patients lawyer up. The system does not need to operate from an adversarial perspective.

Other approaches are possible. The aeromedical system could start with the premise that their job is not to keep people out of the cockpit, but to put them in one safely, then structure their research around finding best treatment practices to allow pilots to fly safely with as many medical issues as possible. Under legal pressure, particularly from the AOPA [Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association], the FAA already follows this policy in practice. I believe this change would lead to safer skies, and possibly healthier pilots.

3) Getting What We Pay For. Another veteran professional pilot on the themes Adam Shaw raised in letter #1. I’ve added the emphasis to the other messages; in this one they’re in the original.

The reality is that this pilot would never have been hired by a major US airline without more flight experience. In recent past, the U.S. law was changed so that any US carrier would require 1,500 flight hours to apply for an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) rating, a required certification before getting hired….

Foreign airlines recognize an MPL (Multi-engine Pilot License) with only 200 hours of flight instruction before climbing in the right seat of your commercial airplane. With 18 months as an employee of this airline, this particular copilot had only accumulated 630 hours…

Foreign captains are often flying basically alone, with a very inexperienced new copilot. The doomed captain’s thousands of hours of flight time did him little good, while foolishly locked out of the cockpit. As a check pilot in several fleets (B727, B757, B767, B777) for two decades before I retired, even a new copilot had thousands of hours in complex commercial aircraft before transitioning to a new fleet and was never alone in the cockpit.

There is a national and international shortage of commercial pilots resulting in the lowering of standards in employment and certification, particularly among foreign carriers. It is also why there is increasing reliance on automation in aircraft design, particularly in the Airbus philosophy of restricting pilots from overriding the autopilot to enhance sales. Watch the video on the Airbus’ own chief test pilot fly a new a-320 into the woods at the Paris Air Show a decade ago as a demonstration of the potential evils of automation.

China, for example, doesn’t yet have the highway systems that North America or Europe benefit from, making China more dependent on air travel as their economy grows. [JF: On this point, consider China Airborne!]  Foreign-born pilots are the main source of new crew members there just as it is in most Gulf airlines where there is no population base or education system for replacement or expansion of services.

Airline managements too often demote pilot managers authority within corporate hierarchy and select inexperienced pilots from their ranks who have limited influence or incentive to effect change. Finance, sales and marketing, legal, and technology managers do however make sure your smart phone airline app works, the disclaimers on your ticket are unintelligible, cheaper labor is found, and administrative costs are minimized. That’s where the industry is headed.

Another reason to enjoy retirement after 36 years.

4) “Not just meat in the seat.” Finally, on the term co-pilot:

Thank you for finally addressing the “pilot”/”co-pilot” monicker that has nearly driven me insane over the last two decades of my career.

Far too many people assume, incorrectly, that the co-pilot is merely along to read checklists and assist the “pilot” as he or she flies the aircraft. A perfect example of this comes to light when discussing the US Airways flight 1549 ditching in the Hudson River.

Most everyone knows Captain “Sully” Sullenberger but very few recall the name of first officer Jeffrey Skiles. Even Wikipedia gets involved by stating “….and captain Sullenberger was soon regarded as a hero by some accounts”. If I’m not mistaken first officer Skiles was actually at the controls for a good portion of the event. Regardless of who was flying at the time of touch down, they would both have been working incredibly hard to get the aircraft safely on the ground, or water in this case.

Perhaps someone should do a follow up to see what first officer Skiles is doing and how he is coping with having been “co-pilot” during “The Miracle on the Hudson”.

As a pilot with over 10,000 hours of flying time I would like to think that when I’m flying as first officer, aka co-pilot, I am considered more than just “meat in the seat”.

This article was originally published at

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Learn About Killer Instinct’s Japanese Horror Movie-Inspired Fighter Hisako And See Cinder Teased

cindertease 610A Learn About Killer Instincts Japanese Horror Movie Inspired Fighter Hisako And See Cinder Teased

A new trailer for Killer Instinct's new fighter Hisano explains why she's so mad (and a ghost), and also offers a quick tease for returning fighter Cinder.

You can check out the video below which shows what exactly happened to Hisano, as well as some of here atypical moves. You can learn more about her here.

The end of the trailer is where you will find a very brief clip of Cinder. You won't see him perform any moves, but we do get to see what he will look like.

cindertease 610 Learn About Killer Instincts Japanese Horror Movie Inspired Fighter Hisako And See Cinder Teased

Season 2 Ultra Edition owners can access Hisano on Friday, March 27. Combo Breaker Edition owners will get Hisano on April 2. No word yet on when players will get a chance to try out the new Cinder.

[Via: Polygon]

 Learn About Killer Instincts Japanese Horror Movie Inspired Fighter Hisako And See Cinder Teased

Depressed Doesn’t Mean Dangerous

The story of Tuesday’s Germanwings plane crash, which killed all 150 people onboard, has only gotten more tragic as more details emerge. On Thursday, audio from the plane’s black box showed that co-pilot Andreas Lubitz apparently locked the commanding pilot out of the cockpit, and seems to have intentionally crashed the plane. On Friday, news coverage turned to speculating about Lubitz’s mental state, in an attempt to answer the haunting question that floats above the wreckage of every man-made tragedy: “How could someone have done this?”

“Everything is pointing towards an act that we can’t describe: criminal, crazy, suicidal,” said French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, according to Agence France-Presse.

Criminal. Crazy. Suicidal. That Valls would group those three words together says a lot. It hints at a dangerous equivalence. Suicidal doesn’t equal homicidal. Criminal doesn’t equal crazy. And crazy is an unkind thing to call someone who’s suffering.

What evidence we have of Lubitz’s mental health or lack thereof is still scant. The New York Times reports that he “had a medical condition that he hid from his employer.” Investigators found a doctor’s note at his home that would have excused him from work on the day of the crash, as well as another, ripped-up, note. The BBC says German media are reporting that Lubitz’s training was interrupted in 2009 so he could receive treatment for depression. While his employers at Lufthansa airlines have confirmed he took time off, they have not said why.

Yet Friday morning’s headlines were frantic about the possibility that Lubitz could have been depressed. The Daily Mail, ever over-the-top, went with: “Mass-killer co-pilot who deliberately crashed Germanwings plane had to STOP training because he was suffering depression and ‘burn-out.’” CNN’s homepage blared “Unfit to Work” in all-caps.

“It’s kind of natural to say ‘This just has to be deeply crazy,’” says Jeffrey Swanson, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University who studies violence and mental illness. But people who commit mass murder “are really atypical of people with mental illness,” he says. “The vast majority of people with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depression are not likely to do anything violent and never will.”

By one measure, only 5 percent of violent crime is actually attributable to mental illness. For depression specifically, a study of more than 47,000 people in Sweden found that 3.7 percent of men and 0.5 percent of women diagnosed with depression committed a violent crime, The Guardian reported. In the general population, those numbers were 1.2 percent for men, and 0.2 percent for women. Depression is a risk factor, then, but a very small one.

“There’s this disconnect, but that becomes a prism through which we see these problems,” Swanson says.

People are understandably upset by this portrayal of Lubitz, which makes the leap to equating mental illness and violence, using only the very limited evidence of this one situation. Masuma Rahim, in an op-ed for The Guardian, worries that news reports blaming depression could “further [demonize] those with mental illness.”

To conclude that his role in the crash was the automatic consequence of any history of mental illness would be irresponsible and damaging. There has been no suggestion that males should be prohibited from becoming pilots, that Germans are unfit to fly, or that 27-year-olds should not be let loose in the cockpit. Only one factor has been picked over: Lubitz’s mental health.

This is an all-too-familiar progression. Within the past few years alone, the Newtown shooting, the Aurora shooting, and the Navy Yard shooting all come to mind, for how quickly the conversation turned from the killers’ actions to their minds. The impulse is understandable. Mental illness can be treated, and in the face of horror, people want action. What can we do to prevent this from ever happening again?

“A horrifying act like this, on the face of it, is deeply irrational, it’s terrifying and it seems unpredictable,” Swanson says. “It’s everything that we don’t want our everyday life to be. We want everyday life to make sense. We want to be able to predict what’s going to happen when we get on a plane, get in a car or go to a shopping mall.”

Now, in the wake of the Germanwings crash, people are calling for better mental health screenings for pilots. Better screenings, earlier intervention, improvement of the mental health system all-around—these are noble goals. But unfortunately, the impact they could have on preventing future violence is probably small.

“If we were to take schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depression…if I could wave a wand and magically cure those three illnesses, the overall amount of violence in society—any minor or serious violent act, pushing and shoving or using a weapon—would go down by about 4 percent,” Swanson says. “Ninety-six percent of it would still be there.”

Though the link between violence and mental illness is slight at best, the public tends to believe otherwise. One report found that “between 1950 and 1996, the proportion of Americans who describe mental illness in terms consistent with violent or dangerous behavior nearly doubled.” This attitude persists today. A 2013 Gallup poll conducted shortly after the Navy Yard shooting found that 48 percent of people blamed the mental health system “a great deal” for mass shootings. Thirty-two percent blamed it “a fair amount.”

And it paints an incomplete picture to look at mental illness alone, without all the other factors at play. For example, studies by Seena Fazel at the University of Oxford have found that people with substance abuse problems in combination with mental illness are more likely to be convicted of violent crime than people with mental illness alone. And Swanson says he’s done research on three big risk factors, one of which is substance abuse. The others are being a victim of violence while young, and witnessing violence in your surroundings.

“It’s important not to use this direct causal language,” he says. “When there is a terrible incident and it turns out the perpetrator has a mental illness, what you find is that the general public and media seize upon this as the master explanation—‘That’s what it was! Now we know. Of course.’ Maybe that’s a contributing factor but violent behavior is a very complicated human behavior that is almost always caused by a whole lot of factors interacting in complex ways.”

And “violent behavior” is a vague term, that can encompass anything from punching someone in the face, to purposefully crashing a plane full of people. The two things are more different than they are alike. The world is now faced with the latter. Wanting an explanation, something to blame, is a human reaction to atrocity. “Something was wrong with this man” is an answer to hold onto. It can soothe the pain of not-understanding, if not the pain of loss.

“But if you generalize that kind of view toward all the people diagnosed with and struggling to recover from serious mental illness, we end up treating people with scorn and seeking distance from them,” Swanson says. Something people do too much already.

This article was originally published at

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Wear Yellow for Seth Movement Goes Viral: What Is It?

Perhaps you’ve seen the hashtag alongside mentions of Zayn Malik or Justin Bieber.

Perhaps you’ve been confused by it: What the heck is #WearYellowforSeth and why is it trending, you may have wondered?

Grab your tissues and scroll down to find out why…

seth lane photo Wear Yellow for Seth Movement Goes Viral: What Is It?

Seth Lane is a five-year old who was diagnosed with severe combined immunodeficiency disorder at five months old. This basically means he was born without an immune system.

He had a bone marrow transplant at seven months, but it did not take and the Northamptonshire, England must now spend most of his time inside a sterile room to be protected from germs and bacteria.

On March 11, Seth’s mom, Leanne, posted a video of her son asking the world to wear his favorite color March 27 to raise awareness of this illness.

“Yellow is Seth’s absolute favorite color,” Lane says. “He loves anything yellow… It perks him up when he’s feeling rubbish, really.”

Leanne hopes to post photos of strangers wearing yellow in support of her child around her room, and she also hopes the movement simply spreads awareness about severe combined immunodeficiency disorder.

“If more children can get more matches because of this, even if one child can get a match, then that’s fantastic,” Lane tells ABC.

Lane family members are not seeking any donations. They just want people to share pictures of themselves wearing yellow for Seth.

“He is the most loving, happy child,” Leanne says of the toddler, who must have his gallbladder removed next week and who is then due for another bone marrow transplant.

“When we went to the hospital, he said to me, ‘I’m not going home for a long time Mummy, am I?’ I said, ‘No, you’ve got a lot to do here’ and he comes to the conclusion that he’s just accepted it.”

[via thehollywoodgossip]

Inaugural Massy U-15 football competition…Four exhilarating matches on today in semi-final action

Weeks of keen competitive action is gradually climaxing to an interesting finish when action in the semi-finals of the inaugural Massy U-15 football competition gets underway at the Tucville playfield this afternoon.  When the curtains go up at 14:00hrs Renaissance FC will play Western Tigers while GFC will take on Santos starting at 15:00hrs.
Meanwhile, Renaissance occupy the first place in Group A on 13 points, while Western Tigers are second on 12 points. Santos are in the third place with 8 points. The other points standing in this group are GFC (7) and Riddim Squad (3), while Houston Stars are yet to score a point.
Black Pearl have amassed the most points so far in Group B (12), while Fruta Conquerors are just one point adrift. Order and Discipline FC and Beacon FC are on 10 and 7 points respectively. Camptown and Pele are jointly in the cellar on 1 point apiece.

[via kaieteurnewsonline]

New Music: Jennifer Lopez, Feel The Light

[via fashionablyfly]

The Germanwings Investigation Presses On

After the shock of a disaster, the world looks for answers. As such, more information has emerged over the last 24 hours about the identities of the victims—and the pilots—of the Germanwings plane crash on Tuesday in the French Alps.

The co-pilot’s mental-health history

Investigators are probing the motives and mental health of Andreas Lubitz, the co-pilot whom they believe deliberately crashed the jet after locking his colleague out of the cabin. A torn-up doctor’s note excusing the 28-year-old from work the day of the crash was found in Lubitz’s Düsseldorf home. Investigators believe that “the deceased hid his illness from his employer and his professional circles.”

However at this point, news about Lubitz’s mental health is largely speculation. The chief executive of Germanwing’s parent company, Lufthansa, said Lubitz “was 100 percent flightworthy without any limitations.” And the aviation psychiatrist Robert Bor told the BBC that pilot suicide was “incredibly rare.”

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(Eric Gaillard/Reuters)

Who were the American victims?

The three Americans on board the crashed Germanwings flight have also been identified. All are presumed dead.

Yvonne Selke and her daughter Emily Selke from Nokesville, Virginia, were both on the flight. Yvonne was a longtime employee of Booz Allen Hamilton Inc., and Emily was a recent graduate of Drexel University in Philadelphia. Friends and family of the mother and daughter shared their memories of the pair in The Washington Post.

The State Department announced that Robert Oliver Calvo, who was working for a clothing company in Barcelona, was the third American on board.

Avoiding the next crash

Several European airlines have already responded to the crash by establishing a rule requiring two people to be present in the cockpit at all times. The two-person rule is required by law in the United States, but as my colleague James Fallows notes, not even that precaution can always stop a pilot intent on destroying the plane.

On top of that, the steps taken after 9/11 to fortify cockpit doors may have had unintended consequences. Making cockpit doors more secure helps keep potential terrorists from reaching the controls and turning the plane into a weapon. But in this case, the other pilot was unable to use the override system quickly enough to get through the reinforced cockpit door. This video from Airbus shows how an override system works.

This article was originally published at

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