Archive for the security Category

Why NOT remotely piloted airliners?

Posted in air travel, airline, airline industry, airline passenger, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, airline safety, airliner, airliner take off, flight attendant, flight crew, German wings 9525, jet flight, passenger, Remotely piloted airliners, security with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 16, 2015 by Chris Manno


In the wake of several recent airliner losses, talk in the media once again turns to the futuristic concept of remotely piloted passenger jets.

A very bad idea, as I explain on Just click here to read, or use the link below.





Malaysia Flight 370: What Didn’t Happen.

Posted in airline, airline industry, airline pilot blog, cruise ship, fear of flying, flight crew, jet, Malaysian Air 370, security with tags , , on March 15, 2014 by Chris Manno

Speculation on what happened to Malaysia 370 now runs rampant across the world media, just as it always does after any airline disaster. But as usual, most of what the “informed sources” hypothesize is unfounded or at least, not based on fact. That’s because whether the “experts” popping up on broadcast media want to admit it or not, there are few facts; and for all the wrong reasons in this case, there are fewer than ever.

That in itself is significant and, in my judgment from the perspective of one who makes a living piloting Boeing jets, a major factor largely ignored in the media. Specifically, what didn’t happen to that Boeing 777 holds the key to what did.

First, let’s start with the most obvious clue, which basically is the common denominator in one major risk factor that affected everyone who boarded Malaysia flight 370: the two travelers with stolen passports. No, I’m not even suggesting that they were players in a terrorist plot, although that is possible. Rather, the common denominator risk factor is this: clearly, third world security once again and not surprisingly, failed.

The Interpol database listing those stolen passports would have been cross checked in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, and every country in Europe. Was the database available to Malaysia? To the airport in Kuala Lumpur? Of course it was–but the database was never crosschecked against the flight manifest. That’s the starting point of what didn’t happen, and that trail only gets worse.

Is there a good reason why the Interpol list wasn’t checked? Actually, the more important question, the answer to which bears heavily on the common denominator in play, is this: does any good reason for not checking even exist? Technological deficit? Budget constraint? Manpower? Mismanagement? Incompetence? Is there a “good” reason for this failure, which would imply there is a level of acceptance appropriate for the failure to secure the screening process?

If what the rest of the modern world considers essential–airline and airport security–is simply not maintained in Malaysia, what else is not done there?

“We don’t really know.” Seriously?

That brings me to the jet itself. I’ve had a printer message pop up at 40,000 feet that read, “Please check the vibration level on the right engine–it’s reading high down here.” Down here, in this case, is my airline’s technical operations center that is receiving, monitoring and screening the extensive data stream flowing from my Boeing 737-800, including detailed telemetry from the two CFM-56 high-bypass jet engines.


Malaysia Air says there was no data stream from flight 370, while Rolls Royce, the manufacturer of the engines on that 777 who monitors that data stream says there was. Which raises the larger question of why the two disagree? Why would the airline–and the authorities governing airlines in Malaysia–not have the data, or say that they didn’t? Again, is there even a good reason? Lost data? Technical shortcoming? Incompetence? Insufficient budget or manpower resources?

Which brings worse to worst: untruth. In an incident I witnessed from the left seat, the key piece of cause data that nearly led to hull loss with 150 fatalities (including me) was the radar plot and audio tape of the Mexico City Approach Control’s vectoring. Which, of course, went “missing” in the subsequent investigation.

Which lowers us to the worst of the worst factors at play in Malaysia and Mexico and other third world countries where, as Asiana Airlines proved last summer, a “competent and qualified” cockpit crew could fly a perfectly good 777 into a sea wall. That is, culture.

Asiana crew flies into seawall on landing..

Certainly, the Ethiopia Airlines copilot who recently commandeered his own 767 and nearly ran it out of fuel over Central Europe was, according to Ethiopia Air and their aeronautics regulators, “highly qualified” like the Asiana crew.

“Hijacked”–by the copilot.

In a country like Malaysia where no heads roll when passports are not checked against databases of security risks, stolen documents, and worldwide watch lists, when key flight data may or may not be recorded, monitored or maintained (all that data, by the way, is key to modern jet safety and maintenance), when convention and tradition–essentially culture–mandates that power relationships (and likely, money) transcend the first world strictures of duty, common sense and personal responsibility–what does anyone think could–and did, and will–happen?

The only reason this list of failures–which barely scratches the surfaces of things that didn’t happen, causing the disaster that did–is a surprise to the flying public is because of a twofold consumer bias: price, and marketing. A 777 in the paint job of Malaysia Air looks as impressive as a 777 in United Airlines paint, and they both have a $250 million dollar price tag. But that’s where the similarity ends–technical capability, maintenance standards, government regulatory oversight, budget, manpower and culture run the gamut–and there is a bottom end upon which the airline passenger who goes by appearances gambles everything.

Consider the billion dollar cruise industry, where it’s common to register a half-billion dollar ocean liner in the country with the least competent (read: least costly/interfering) regulatory capability, like Liberia, the Bahamas, or Panama. And when a mega-ship’s engines fail in cruise, or the steering quits, or a fire disables the electrical system, or the incompetent captain runs the ship aground showing off, we get a thousand personal anecdotes, cell phone pics, YouTube videos and talk show interviews from those who survived the incompetence, decrying what didn’t happen that should have prevented what atrocity actually did.

“Experienced,” certified Costa cruise ship captain Francesco Schettino runs ship aground–then abandons the ship and 2,000 passengers.

How does that regulatory, cultural and operating failure play out at 35,000 feet and 500mph? Ask the passengers of Malaysia 370 about the end result–if you can find them. Because in their case, all of the above things that should have protected them did not.

The bigger mystery in the Malaysia 370 disappearance isn’t what happened, or even what failed to happen which caused the loss of 200+ lives. Rather, it’s that people are actually surprised that it did.

. . . a week later: still nothing.

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September 11th: Where Were You, Where Are You?

Posted in 9/11, air travel, airliner, airlines, airport, airport security, blind faith, faith, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, jet, passenger, pilot, security, travel with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 11, 2010 by Chris Manno

It’s difficult to remember, but hard to forget: where were you when the World Trade Center fell? And as importantly, where are you now?

The first question takes you back to a time that’s growing dimmer, but no less painful. The shared stunned looks where there were seldom looks exchanged: at a stoplight, from one car to another, the look of incredulity between drivers as if to say, “what just happened to us?” There was, for that moment, an “us” between random strangers struck at the same time by the horrific events as they unfolded.

Then the common denominator that mattered was both the pain of reality and our citizenship in a nation under attack. For me at that moment, sitting in a flight simulator giving flight training to a new copilot who would in short order be furloughed as a direct result of the 9-11 attacks that ravaged my airline and ultimately, the entire industry, the reality was ugly: jets commandeered, fellow crewmembers murdered at their duty stations. Our sleek, beautiful, powerful jets which we always used for good turned into missiles by dark forces intent on bad.

I’ve always liked the fact that our jets carry the flag on every tail, that our name says “American” in bold letters. And even though that’s probably why our jets were selected by the terrorists for maximum psychological impact, that very fact was also their downfall.

The flag and all things American were reinvigorated from the east coast of this nation to the west. More than just a glance between stunned drivers at a stoplight, the entire nation seemed to rise in dedicated opposition to the terrorism and extremism that cost thousands of innocent American lives.

Several flight crewmembers I know decided to be done with flying as a result of the infamous attacks, and I don’t fault them for that. It’s not like when we were in the military, where it was accepted as a fact that yes, you could get killed flying a mission. Our 9-11 colleagues weren’t on a military mission–they were just doing their jobs when they were murdered.

But there was never any question, at least for me, about getting back into the cockpit and flying again, even knowing that the terrorist threat still existed. It’s a different world now in flight, with security being a constant challenge to a degree unheard of before 9-11. Maybe that’s one positive change, although working under such a threat has changed the profession in ways I don’t always like.

But I believe my part in the opposition of terrorism is to refuse to let the dark forces win. We will fly coast to coast because we can, we want to, we have to. We don’t bow to threats and violence, as a nation or as a flight crew. We fight back for what’s right–which brings us to where we are today.

The fight goes on, and with it comes a huge pricetag in lives and loss. That’s the part of where we are today in the post-9/11 world that worries me.

Because except for on the anniversary of that awful day, there’s little day-to-day remembrance of the important people: not only the thousands whose lives were taken on that day, but also those given since then to keep the rest of the nation safe. That, in my mind, should not be something to “remember” periodically. Rather, that should never be forgotten–ever.

We see the remains of fallen fighting men and women passing from one coast to a hometown on our jets every week. We honor them the best we can. And like most flight crewmembers, we keep alive the memory of colleagues who were killed in the first battle of the war against terrorism.

Never mind the partisan politics of the war on terrorism; the squabbles over the mosque near ground zero, or opposition to the war on terrorism.

Today is about remembrance and appreciation for those fighting the war, those who have lost their lives to the enemy and those carrying on the fight today. That’s what’s most important to me and to many others on this day of remembrance . . .

. . . and every single day of the year, in every single moment in the air.

Airline Pilot: Day 2 In The Life.

Posted in air travel, airline cartoon, airline ticket prices, airliner, airlines, airport, airport security, cartoon, elderly traveller, flight attendant, flight crew, food, hotels, jet, layover, passenger, pilot, security, travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 15, 2010 by Chris Manno

[Did you miss Day One of this saga? If so, here it is if you’d like to catch up.]

The phone blasts you awake at an ungodly hour. “Huh? What?”

“Crew Tracking. Your inbound aircraft is late, so your pick-up at the hotel will be an hour later.”

Damn–you realize you’re in a hotel. Not at home. “Uh, okay. You gonna call the first officer?” No sense letting him get any more sleep than you, right? Besides, he’d be down for crew van pick-up an hour early.

“Sure, Captain.” Click. Hate wake up calls–that’s why you never request one. Two alarms, plus the cell phone. And slowly, it dawns on you what’s just happened: Crew Tracking woke you up early to tell you to sleep later.

Of course, you can’t go back to sleep. Wrong time zone, too awake. Coffee? Foraging for coffee. Darn, it’s the one-cup jobber: won’t stay warm, but take it or leave it.

Strike One: now you’re going to have to risk the coffee bath in the crew van bumping to the airport. It can’t be helped–you need your morning medication. Meanwhile, time for your bloodbath: shave.

You know a widebody captain who just retired (initials Dan H.) but swore he always took not only the hotel free stuff like soap and shampoo, but also the extra roll of toilet paper and when he was running low at home, a couple light bulbs, too. Of course, you took a beer glass from the LaGarbage hotel bar every trip because they were charging $9 per draft. Ought to get something for that price, right? And you are probably the reason why now they allow carry-outs only in a plastic cup. Shrug . . . you have a complete set of their glasses anyway.

Stick your head in the shower, wash away the cobwebs. What the . . . okay, that’s Strike Two:

It’s like you’re in a submarine that’s been hit and is going down.

Anyway, blot that drain clog out of your mind’s eye–the submarine image is better. Grab your stuff, take the key, too, in case you need to come back up for something you’ve forgotten.

Get downstairs for pick up, if your time zone math is correct. If not, and you’re an hour or two early (don’t laugh–you’ve done it), then you’ll need your key to go back upstairs, acting nonchalant (yeah, I just came down to look around . . . uh, with my bags).

It’s quiet in the van because half of the crews are from the opposite coast and so are not yet quite awake; some from the early coast are already on their phones. You and your bunch are on Central time, midway between time zones and everyone, regardless, is heading to the four points of the compass.

It’s a funny career field, isn’t it? First thing everyone does after coming to work is scatter across the country. Maybe that’s why there’s a feeling of comraderie among crews, even from other airlines. We’re all in this nomadic drifting life together, passing each other along the way.

You hate the single point security, at least for the passengers. You’re at work, and you’ve done this so many times it’s pretty well a mindless annoyance. And there are crew lines. You hate the monolithic hassle of giant security operations like DEN and PIT for the families and the elderly who are almost overwhelmed. The special crew line? Well, should we get to the gate and preflight, then wait for the passengers, or vice versa?

There’s no time for anything after the security lines, just go to work. Not making eye contact with passengers, which will normally lead to questions you can’t answer anyway ( more details? click here). There’s an exception, though–there’s always time to help the very young, and the very old.

And of course, the families shepherding both through the airport. Their travel is most important, being their first or maybe even their last flight, and they need and deserve your help just as you would hope your family would get help in a similar situation. Find your way to the gate and  here’s the payoff for you.

The jet, fueled, waiting. That goes back to the core, to the Air Force days: pointy rockets lined up on a quiet ramp, waiting to split the morning sky with the sound of  jet engines. Let’s get to work.

Preflight done, boarding, pushback; take-off.

Do that again two more times. Food? No time–cram in a quick meal eaten out of your lap.

... and keep the cracker crumbs off the radar, okay?

Same sequence, step by methodical and disciplined step, two more times through three more time zones. By the last leg, you’re pretty well worn out. But there’s no slack, no easing up: the third leg has to be just as precise as the first.

Enjoy the desert moonrise, watch the fuel flow, and a constant eye on the route and the weather. The finish line’s only a couple hours away. Never mind the time changes and hotel sleep and missed meals, bring everyone home safely. Park the jet; captain’s the last one off. Now you can relax, the rest is just a sleepwalk to the hotel. And here’s why it’s all worthwhile.

Walk around them. Head for yet another hotel, try to get some rest. The whole thing starts over again tomorrow morning.


Stay tuned for Part 3: Going Home.

Coming soon . . .

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