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Thursday, March 26, 2015

Thoughts on the Germanwings Crash

While I realize training, per se, is not relevant to the Germanwings crash, as a pilot I find it odd (to say the least) that Lufthansa would hire someone to copilot an Airbus on the basis of 630 hours of flight experience. I keep reading that Andreas Lubitz had 630 hours. Was that his total time at the time of the crash, or at the time of his hiring in 2013? Most airline pilots fly 50 hours a month or more. If Lubitz was on the job for over a year, he should have accumulated 600 flight hours just in the past year. If most of his 630 hours were obtained since his hiring, it means he was hired with very little flight time.

Lufthansa trains many of its pilots in Arizona, in Beech Bonanza aircraft (a high-performance single-engine, piston-powered airplane). I suspect many of Lubitz's hours were in this kind of aircraft. I doubt he had more than 300 hours of jet time.

As a side note: I have a couple hundred hours of PIC time in an ex-Lufthansa Bonanza that my father bought years ago. It's a great plane. It's no Airbus, though.

A Lufthansa Bonanza in Arizona.
And again, no amount of flight experience is relevant if you are intent on killing people. But I think it's fair to ask why Lufthansa (Germanwings) would hire someone with so little experience and entrust him with an Airbus full of people.

In the U.S., an Airline Transport Rating requires 1500 hours of flight time. With a fresh ATP license, most pilots are unable to find work at a major carrier. If they do, it's in a commuter-airline cockpit. Many fresh ATPs (in the U.S.) are overjoyed to find work with a cargo carrier. No one expects to get a "front office" job with a major airline with less than 2500 hours.

I guess they do things differently in Europe.

The Germanwings "accident" would have been much less likely 30 years ago for the simple reason that back then, most cockpits had three-person crews. Since that time, cockpit ergonomics have improved to the point where it is feasible (not to mention economical) to have a two-person crew. But now the question is: Do we want that, really?

Many questions will come out of the Germanwings disaster. Let's hope many good answers will follow.


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