Thursday, January 15, 2009

Still a career to admire

When I was a young boy, I was enthralled by airplanes. Absolutely loved them. The sight, the sound, the feel of flying - it was awesome. (If you ask Mrs. Spit, she'd tell you nothing has changed.) Airshows are still like crack for me. Especially when there's a Mustang or a Spitfire involved.

As you've no doubt heard by now, the residents of New York City were once again the unsuspecting spectators for another airshow involving an airliner landing somewhere other than an airport. I'll link the BBC just in case this is news to you.

We live in a modern age of transportation. Who really thinks about how hazardous it is to go flying anymore? You step up, buy the ticket, trundle down the jetway, strap yourself into the pressurized aluminum tube, and the bus of the air takes you where you want to go. The steward/ess giving you the safety briefing? Who needs to know that stuff, really? Nothing ever happens, right? We're told that airliners are the safest form of transportation around. You're more liable to have a car accident than be in an airliner accident.

Stats lie.

Seriously, you've got more chance of the car accident because, proportionatly, you spend far more time in the car traveling somewhere than any other form of transportation. The only way to be safe traveling is this - don't travel anywhere. You've heard that 95% of all accidents happen within 25 miles of home. This is true, but as with most stats, the number isn't the whole story. Most people do 95% of their driving... where? Right, within 25 miles of home. Except people like me, but I'm an outlier that way.

We've come to think and believe that airlines provide us the big bus in the air. With today's airliners, all the pilot does - so goes the fallacy - is turn it on, tell it where to go, and sit around drinking coffee from the best seat in the house.

If you asked me when I was growing up "What do you want to be?" I'd have told you - a pilot. There is a lot more to it than just sitting around for the ride. If it were really that easy, we would have gotten rid of them years ago.

The blog In From the Cold has an excellent post about this, which I can not hope to duplicate. Read it, seriously, it's well written and you'll learn a bit about airline pilots from it. While I'm not a pilot, I'm seriously glad that there are men and women out there, working hard at a job that people think not too highly about, most of the time. I say this not just because I have friends from my days in Air Cadets who fly for Wesjet and Cathay Pacific in 737s and 747s. My hat is off to Captain Sullenberger for making a dead-stick water landing in which not a single person died. Some reports say that the last time that happened was 45 years ago.

The next time you go for a flight, do as I have always done. Keep an ear and eye on the pre-flight safety briefing. Read the safety pamflet. Take the couple of minutes needed so that, if something happens, you've got that information fresh in your mind. Besides the seatbelt - seriously, how hard is THAT to figure out?

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