The improvement in jetliner safety among U.S. commercial airliners since the 20th century is remarkable. Looking at this list of airliner fatalities, it appears that exactly one passenger has been killed in a big U.S.-owned Boeing or Airbus jetliner in the 20 years since the last catastrophic American passenger jetliner crash (in Queens in 2001).
But, you’ll be glad to know, some people are working on fixing that unbroken problem.
From the New York Times news section:
Airlines are struggling to find enough pilots and to diversify a profession that has been very resistant to change.
By Niraj Chokshi
April 23, 2022
It’s been a half-century since airlines started hiring women and people of color to fly passenger planes, allowing a handful of pioneering pilots into the flight deck.
In the decades since, commercial aviation has grown exponentially, democratizing travel and rewiring how Americans live, work and play. But one part of the industry has remained mostly the same. Piloting is stubbornly monolithic: About 95 percent of airline pilots in the U.S. today are male. Nearly as many are white.
Zakiya Percy is one of a small and growing number of people trying to change that.
Similarly, few black women used to write op-eds, and thus the crucial topic of hair-touching was criminally under-op-edisized. Obviously, we need more Zakiyas piloting jetliners in order to change the status quo. What was so bad about a few hundred, or a few thousand, passengers dying annually?
… Few women and people of color aspire to fly planes because they rarely see themselves in today’s flight decks. The cost of training and the toll of discrimination can be discouraging, too. Now there’s urgency for the industry to act. Pilots are in short supply, and if airlines want to make the most of the thriving recovery from the pandemic, they will have to learn to foster lasting change.
“The pilot shortage for the industry is real,” Scott Kirby, the chief executive of United Airlines, told analysts and reporters on Thursday. “Most airlines are simply not going to be able to realize their capacity plans because there simply aren’t enough pilots, at least not for the next five-plus years.”
In other words, the CEO at United wants to pay lower salaries to pilots, so he’s willing to increase your risk of dying.
People are flying a lot these days, and pilots are not enthusiastic about their current pay in this inflationary era. I’ve been on a trip (which is why blogging has been slow—more about my trip later) and the outbound flight was notably delayed by the flight crew not showing up on time. I’d presume this was due to a mechanical problem, except the gate crew did not mention that reason.
I was reminded of when I got stuck in Ireland an extra day in June 1994 because the night before was the first game of the World Cup soccer tournament and little Ireland beat mighty Italy, the defending champion, on a fluke kick. I can attest that there was much celebrating in Ireland that night, and two days later the newspaper implied that the Aer Lingus crew had been still too drunk to fly the next day.
But at least jetliners aren’t crashing.
Airlines have started to do more to diversify. …
As air travel became more popular in the 1970s and 1980s, airline advertisements almost exclusively depicted pilots as white men, with some exceptions in publications directed at Black consumers, said Alan Meyer, a history professor at Auburn University who is working on a book on the slow pace of racial integration in airline flight decks.
“It just continues to reinforce this image,” Dr. Meyer said. “This simultaneously plays into this often subconscious association between whiteness and maleness and technical competence.”
… Two years and about $100,000. That’s what it takes, in most cases, to gather the experience necessary to qualify to become a commercial airline pilot.
In the winter of 2009, a Bombardier turboprop crashed, probably due to flight crew errors, killing virtually all aboard. The co-pilot, a 24-year-old woman, was being paid $16k per year according to the National Transportation Safety Board.
Congressmen, who fly a lot, responded by raising the standards for passenger jet pilots. In the 13 years since, American passenger jetliner safety has been remarkably good.
But, higher safety standards have disparate impact.
After all, what have white American men ever accomplished in the field of aviation? I mean, besides the Wright Brothers, the DC-3, the Battle of Midway, the 707, and Apollo 11?
… Historically, the armed forces offered a less-expensive path into the field. But the military has long struggled with pilot diversity and shortages, too. Still, the Air Force has slowly improved diversity among active duty pilots: Today, about 8 percent of those pilots are women and about 13 percent are nonwhite. While nowhere near reflective of the American public, those figures are still better than the numbers for commercial airlines.
But the reason for racial inequality among pilots that is most commonly cited by experts and instructors is perhaps the most apparent: A lack of role models and exposure has played a central role in keeping many women and people of color out the field.
Similarly, there weren’t any blacks allowed in the NBA until 1950, so that’s why there are so few now.
Seriously, there are obvious tradeoffs with the airlines’ goal of not having to pay pilots as much, such as more planes crashing. But when the airline PR people frame the issue as discrimination against People of Intersectionality, such as Zakiya, the NYT goes brain-dead, even though NYT subscribers tend to fly a lot.
I bet Tucker Carlson flies a lot too.
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