Some airline pilots say they're making midair mistakes because of a lack of practice during COVID-19. One called it a 'critical situation.'

·3-min read
Pilots runway
Pilots say they're out of practice thanks to the pandemic. Chris Sattlberger/Getty Images
  • Some pilots say they're making mistakes after returning to the air for the first time in months.

  • Examples include missing the correct altitude and switching off the wrong engine.

  • A Lufthansa pilot told Bloomberg it was a "critical situation."

Some airline pilots returning to the skies are making errors after months of not flying during the COVID-19 pandemic, with a vice president at a pilots' organization calling it a "critical situation" in an interview with Bloomberg.

Dozens of pilots, flight attendants, and other aviation staff have anonymously reported safety incidents related to flying during the pandemic via the Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS), a monitoring platform funded by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) funded.

Most of the errors have been minor, per Bloomberg - but the publication noted that small mistakes have led to some huge aviation disasters in the past.

In one incident reported via ASRS, a captain said that a first officer missed an altitude constraint by 800 feet on a flight. The captain said that the first offer was "freshly back from a year leave due COVID."

Another first officer said that during another flight, they accidentally switched off the wrong engine for cool down. "I believe not flying that much in the past year [due to] the pandemic played a factor into my error," the officer wrote.

On another flight, the first officer selected the wrong flap setting during a go-around maneuver. The captain said that the officer's lack of recent flying experience may have played a role, noting that the officer "hadn't flown a lot since returning from a six-month hiatus."

When the pandemic put a halt to global air travel, airlines cut down the number of pilots still in service. Consultancy company Oliver Wyman estimated in March that about 100,000 pilots still on payroll were flying less often than usual, or were on voluntary company leave.

Both tourism and business travel are now rebounding, and people are taking back to the skies.

Pilots have to undergo training before returning in a classroom or online and in flight simulators, per Bloomberg.

Uwe Harter, a Lufthansa pilot and executive vice president for technical and safety standards at the International Federation of Air Line Pilots' Associations, told Bloomberg that it had become a "critical situation." Some airlines had provided returning officers with enough retraining, but others gave "the bare minimum," he said.

"The regulations that we have aren't sufficient," he added.

The UN's International Civil Aviation Organization has relaxed training rules during the pandemic, Bloomberg reported.

One senior pilot at Qantas told Bloomberg that pilots who haven't flown for six months typically make one or two minor procedural errors when they return, such as forgetting to enter data into the flight computer at the right time or landing the plane harder than normal.

At the start of the pandemic, pilots said it was difficult adjusting to flying planes that were lighter because they had fewer passengers, too.

Some airlines are focused on addressing the training issue. Qantas has dedicated an entire team to getting pilots back in the air, and told Bloomberg that its Boeing 737 pilots have to attend a six-day course before flying again. A senior training captain sits in on their initial flights, it said. The airline's A380 pilots also have to train on the ground and in the simulator for two days every 90 days, it said.

The FAA told Bloomberg that its "comprehensive data-driven safety oversight system enables the agency to detect risks and address problems early, including any that may result from pilots returning to work after Covid-related furloughs."

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency told the publication that it had identified "a small number" of incidents potentially linked to pilot proficiency, but said it saw no need for further action.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting