The risk of “deliberates”

In the five fatal airline accidents in the first six months of this year 65 people died, while another 150 were killed in the Germanwings aircraft, which was not an accident.

This bears comparison with the first six months of 2014, where there were five fatal accidents causing 28 deaths, plus the enigmatic disappearance of MH370 in which 239 people were lost. Although it cannot be proven, most industry experts believe MH370’s disappearance was a the result of a deliberate act by someone on board.

In terms of fatal accident numbers for the same period each year in the last decade, 2015’s accident figures equal the best. But the “deliberates” are beginning to pose new questions about airline safety, because there was one in 2013 as well – that’s three “deliberates” in three years.

The 2013 “deliberate” involved Mozambique airline LAM which lost an Embraer 190 twinjet and all 33 people on board under the same circumstances as the loss of Germanwings flight 4U9525. That is, one pilot left the cockpit, the other locked him out and deliberately flew the aircraft to impact.

The question is: do three such “deliberates” in three years constitute a trend or a coincidence?

Statistically there’s not a strong case for calling it a trend, but neither can it be ignored.

Look at similar cases before the LAM loss: Egyptair 767 in 1999, Silk Air 737 in 1997, and a Royal Air Maroc ATR42 in 1994. So, in that period 1994-1999 there was one loss every two years. Then there was a long gap – 13 years – with no deliberates. Then between 2013 and 2015 there were three: LAM, MH370 and Germanwings.

Hijacks are also “deliberates”, but since the adoption of the post-9/11 fortress cockpit, plus anti-hijack cabin crew drills, hijacks have been eliminated.

Sabotage is a deliberate act, but security is now so extensive that even those who have smuggled small quantities of explosives on board have failed to detonate them effectively.

So the only “deliberates” against which the industry has no effective defence are those that can be carried out by people in the cockpit or with authorised access to it.

The nearest the industry has come to a defence against this risk is never to leave a pilot alone in the cockpit, so if one of them leaves it, a member of the cabin crew has to replace him or her. This is a useful psychological technique for making it less likely that a pilot in a suicidal frame of mind would initiate a plan when there is a witness to it. Less likely yes, but not impossible.

What is needed is some careful study, probably across other industries also, of people – and their life circumstances – who use their workplace either to end their own life, or for a revenge motive resulting from resentment so embedded that their own survival becomes irrelevant.

If this three-in-a-row set of deliberates is a trend, is it generated by societal changes, including working cultures, or is it just a matter of chance associated with the power and opportunity that control of an aeroplane confers?

Such a study would be complex and may not be conclusive, but that is no excuse for failing to carry it out.

5 thoughts on “The risk of “deliberates”

  1. People seem to forget that there were two pilots in the cockpit during the Silk-Air crash too, so, as you said, having two crew in the cockpit isn’t a guarantee of anything.


  2. I always felt the fact that American pilots are allowed to carry firearms on domestic flights rather rendered the ‘two in the cockpit’ rule redundant


  3. Psychologically speaking, I suppose it’s possible that one “deliberate”, specially one with broad media coverage, could influence another pilot – under certain unfavourable life circumstances – to commit a similar act, or at least make him more prone to considering it. If the 2013-2015 cases are in fact a trend, it would be interesting to know to if MH370, or even LAM470, contributed to the ocurrence of the Germanwings crash.


  4. Yesterday is history, tomorrow a mystery. Today is a gift, which is why it is called the present. Well, do an- y’aaawwwlll know the way to San Jose from Memphis to deliver a life insurance -or assurance- present ?.

    Well. jump-seating DC-10 FedEx F/E Auburn Calloway did, on FedEx 705, on April 7 1994, conspicuous by its absence of consideration from this timely and timeless human debate of the infinite frame of the human mind. Being Boeing Orthodox, I thank Boeing from PFD’s FMA VNAV PTH on the magenta LNAV highway of sanity.

    FedEx 705 was all of the aforementioned in all but catastrophic radial outcome. Lest we forget, even though it has been, apart from the honest crew victims of the callous Calloway. They-the victims-exhibited extraordinary airmanship and CRM too. It would be called heroic, had they had a choice. Calloway liberated them from choice into a do or die, aerobatic maneuver. Therefore, they were thoroughly professional to their end.

    It is indeed apt to conjecture on this apt -“Deliberates”- debate as whether the aforementioned deliberates were a trend or coincidence. It is also apt to note that this was at the faint dawning of the Interweb as we now know it. And indeed, when Facewank/Twatter was on a planet, far, far, far away from the FedEx “World on Time” of April 7 1994. A quieter, reflective and more thoughtful NADP1/2 planet it was too then. Far from the madding Facewank/Twatter crowd of today. Time and tide waits for no man. Alas, in the Facewank/Twatter IT world, the time gets ahead of itself to conclusion of conspiracy and the tide becomes an all-engulfing Tsunami.
    In short, instant 24/7 rolling news cycles between CNN and Fox Noise can make any coincidence seem a trend. Indeed, to be cynical, it is a binary symbiosis of osmosis in self-fulfilling prophecy.
    Therefore, my PF vote is for coincidence in the real world and for a trend in the Interweb Moronosphere.
    For the broader world, as living, breathing, intellectual ,tactile and loving human beings, I’ll always assume the best of my neighbor and colleague. As in an instant world, one is always the worst first and best last and least after the presses have cooled down.
    Look no further than the UK Labour Party’s Lord Sewell revealed on July 26 2015. I do not know if Lord Sewell holds a pilot’s licence, private or public, fixed wing or rotary. But, assuming he holds a pilot’s licence, I assume it to be a rotary and private certificate with a tether limitation for pax.


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