Editorials

Human Factors

Eddie sez:

We have a lot of experience around here, considering the lifetime of learning behind Wally, Larry, and "The Beav" added to my own. You might imagine we have some opinions to go with that experience and you would be right. You will find most of mine throughout the many tales given in the Stories section. Here then are some from the other guys, the most recent on top.

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Photo: Dan Akryod and Jane Curtain at the editorial desk, Saturday Night Live, circa 1976
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Last revision:

2020-04-26

Wally:

A new aviation threat in the age of social media

April, 2020

Social media connects people all over the world and allows them to share as much information about their private lives as they want to share. Some people actively use social media platforms to influence the purchasing choices of consumers. For others, it provides the means to connect and share information with colleagues and other professionals in their respective fields. Then there are the vast majority of users who simply post and/or view pictures for purely entertainment purposes. Even senior citizens have embraced social media as a way to connect with family members and friends dispersed all over the world. Overall it can be said social media provides us an array of communication platforms to help us connect with anyone and everyone in order to share anything and everything. We are, without a doubt, living in the era of social media. Whether we believe that is a good thing or not, one thing seems certain, it is here to stay.

Personally, I have fully embraced social media as platforms from which to connect with people worldwide in order to: 1) inspire and motivate future generations of aviators, 2) rekindle the passion among some of my fellow aviators, 3) provide aviation enthusiasts a behind the scenes view of the world of business aviation, and 4) promote professionalism in corporate aviation. For me it is a humble effort to pay back an industry that has given me so much since I took that first flying lesson some 38 years ago.

Regardless of how and why we use social media one thing stands out – it has dramatically expanded our reach, and, in all fairness, that is not necessarily a bad thing. But there is also a dark side in its algorithm. After all, it is a system that is driven, to a very large degree, on the number of LIKES received as well as the number of followers accumulated. LIKES result in a sudden release of dopamine which makes us feel good momentarily and leave us hungry for more. For a lot of people that relentless pursuit of LIKES becomes an addiction and, therefore, potentially destructive. We corporate pilots are certainly not exempted to social media’s dark side. Regrettably, this is evidenced by the proliferation of troubling social media videos in which pilots are seen proudly performing unsafe maneuvers. Some of these troubling videos are choreographed with ground personnel for maximum effect.

We have already become accustomed to seeing posts of hard-core risk-taking Instagramers posing at the edge of a high cliff, hanging from a tall bridge or standing at the very top of a building or tower. All of them seeking the ultimate selfie. All of them seeking that viral post that will generate sufficient LIKES to set them apart from other hard-core Instagramers. This is reckless and foolish behavior. It then comes as no surprise that many of them have actually paid the ultimate price in their misguided pursuit of the ultimate selfie. Unfortunately, falling from that cliff, bridge or building has not served as deterrence to others. More of them will continue to die in search of that perfect Instagram shot. Why? The lure of more LIKES, the accumulation of thousands of followers as well as the constant adulation and encouragement of their fans are simply too much to resist.

With the above in mind it is disheartening to see social media’s dark side slowly creeping up in the world of corporate aviation. Seeing fellow corporate pilots flying their aircraft in a reckless manner for that ultimate shot or video is a huge concern. Granted, it is a very small minority but their actions can permanently damage the effort of the majority. What follows are brief descriptions of some of the posts I have seen:

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Photo: A reckless Learjet pilot
Click photo for the video

A video of a Learjet 25 taking off and leveling off a few feet from the runway. Immediately retracting the landing gear and nearly hitting the ground after experiencing a momentary loss of altitude. Having accelerated and reached the end of the runway, it aggressively pitched up. This was followed by a turn at a 90-degree bank angle.

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Photo: A reckless Falcon pilot
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A video of a Falcon 900 taking off and leveling off at what appeared to be less than 100 feet; then, it aggressively turns at a steep bank angle as it flies by a hangar. This particular video also showed a view from within the cockpit in which the EGPWS aural alerts “Too Low Terrain” followed by “Bank angle, Bank angle” were heard. Then the pilot proudly looked at the camera, smiled, and gave a “right on” Shaka hand gesture.

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Photo: A reckless Gulfstream pilot
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A video of a Gulfstream G550 on approach with a passenger standing behind the pilot while the two engage in conversation. Then, as the EGPWS aural advisory “Minimums” comes on, the smiling pilot reaches out for the camera, placed on the copilot’s side, to aim it away from him and towards the runway in order to record the landing.

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Photo: A reckless Hawker pilot
Click photo for an article about this, and other stupid pilot tricks

Pictures of a Hawker 800 that appeared to have taken off with the landing gear handle intentionally placed in the retracted position so that, as the aircraft rotated and lifted off, the gear immediately retracted into the wheel well. This was followed by an aggressive pitch up and then a steep bank angle.

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Photo: Another reckless Falcon pilot
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A video of a Falcon 900 taking off and leveling off at approximately 20 feet over the runway with the gear already retracted. As it accelerates it flies within feet of people standing at the beach on the opposite end of the runway.

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Photo: A reckless Citation pilot
Click photo for the video

A video of a Cessna Citation in which the pilot is performing an aileron roll. The last few seconds of the video clearly show a great deal of confusion as the stick shaker is activated and the pilot tries to regain control.

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Photo: A reckless Astra Jet pilot
Click photo for the video

A video of an Astra Jet taking off and accelerating in level flight very close to the ground. The flap overspeed aural warning sounding in the background. Eventually the pilot monitoring (PM) noticed it and called it out. We can then hear the pilot flying (PF) use an expletive asking for the flaps to be retracted. The video ends when the PF aggressively pitches the nose up, follows it with a 90-degree bank angle as the nose drops to the horizon. The same pilot posted another video in which he is seen performing an aileron roll. At the end of the maneuver the two pilots, plus the person recording the video, can be heard laughing.

Some of these unsafe maneuvers were performed intentionally in plain view of spectators. The posts received hundreds of LIKES and, except for a few harsh critiques, most of the messages praised the pilots’ flying skills and abilities. These pilots showed, not only a complete disregard for rules and common sense but also, a willingness to proudly share their actions with anyone, including the regulators. The “evidence” is available for all to see (the Astra Jet pilot’s license has since been revoked). Troubling as this situation already is, the comments these posts receive do nothing but encourage that kind of behavior, not just on the part of the pilot performing the unsafe maneuvers but from others. Most of these videos and pictures were shared on Instagram, YouTube, WhatsApp and Facebook but even a professional social network platform like LinkedIn is not exempt; in fact, it was via LinkedIn that I came across the G550 video. In that particular post I left the following comment:

"Extremely unprofessional and reckless behavior. Individuals like these, with an open disregard for the rules and common sense, have no business in corporate aviation or any other part of our industry."

But it was the Astra Jet videos that finally led me to write this article. It seems we have a new and very different kind of problem in corporate aviation. Every one of these pilots had to undergo extensive training and testing to obtain their licenses and type ratings. Every one of these pilots interviewed for their jobs and managed to be selected. What happened to them? How did they go from being professional pilots, entrusted with the lives of their passengers and fellow crew members, to unprofessional pilots willing to disregard their responsibilities with these unsafe maneuvers? I do not profess to have the answers to these questions nor the solution to the problem. I do, however, encourage you to join me in rejecting this type of behavior wherever and whenever we encounter it. I am certainly not suggesting social media is the problem. Not at all. There is the possibility it may have just exacerbated a hidden problem that existed long before social media came out. It can also be attributed with shining a light on this problem so that we can do something about it. Again, social media is not the problem here. These pilots’ attitudes and behaviors are.

Aviation safety, defined as the optimum minimization of risk, depends on each and every one of us doing our part in minimizing risk. The vast majority of corporate pilots act with the utmost sense of professionalism. These individuals take enormous pride in what they do and how they do it. They represent what being a professional pilot is all about. Together with other aviation professionals, such as aviation maintenance technicians, aeronautical engineers, air traffic controllers, cabin crews, dispatchers and many others, we have managed to turn aviation into one of the safest methods of transportation. Let’s not allow the reckless behavior of a few bad apples damage the efforts of so many.

It’s really up to us to do something about it. Join me!

— Wally


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