Objects in Mirror

Pilots in the public eye

Posted at 7:56 AM on December 3, 2008 by Julia Schrenkler

Can pilots ever win? Sure, people applaud upon landing (sometimes... and sometimes out of relief) but the media doesn't really report success rates. We're right there when a pilot-was-caught-drinking-before-flying scandal comes out, because that can be news on so many levels.

Yesterday MPR's Bob Collins (a recreational pilot himself) wrote about why airplanes crash on News Cut. His blog entry is part report, part questioning, and all open to discussion. He challenged Malcolm Gladwell's assertion that culture shapes behavior to the point it can result in disasters. Gladwell uses an air crash to make his point, and Collins counters with a very alarming fact: there just might be a major language barrier between air traffic controllers and your pilot. What is interesting about this post is that other pilots responded. Patrick Smith, an airline pilot and author commented on News Cut:

"I do not, as Gladwell apparently does, believe that the ethnicity or cultural background of a cockpit crew has a serious bearing on global air safety in 2008. It's far less of an issue than it once was. Most of the things he talks about have been engineered out of the picture.

But even his dissection of Avianca 52, a crash that occurred almost 20 years ago, is, if anything, only partly right.

Other of his remarks, meanwhile, are outright reckless and untrue."

What is your take on Gladwell's theory? I'll be reading the your comments.

* Read and comment on News Cut: Why do airplanes crash?
* MPR's Midday: The ethnic theory of plane crashes

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