United Airlines’ First Officer Jim Guibault has been a commercial pilot for more than 20 years. Before that, he trained fighter pilots at the U.S. Navy Strike Instructor Training School in Kingsville, Texas. He has trained to command seven models of commercial jet; each one more technically advanced than the last. Following the recovery of the AirAsia Indonesia recently, he agreed to share his thoughts about flight safety.
STEM-Trek: As our hearts go out to the families, crew and passengers of the AirAsia Indonesia flight, the amount of press could make people worry about flight safety, in general. Do the aviation events of 2014 concern you? What do you think happened in this case?
Guibault: It helps to look at the facts. First of all, planes don’t just fall from the sky. In 2013, 265 lost their lives in aviation accidents, but more than one million die in car crashes every year. In 2014 the number of plane crashes were at an all-time low, but media hysteria, knowing that fear and outrage sell, is at an all-time high.
STEM-Trek: According to Google, “Malaysia Airlines” was the fourth most popular trending search in 2014. Subsequent searches indicate people were more fascinated by the alleged mythical circumstances than they were horrified by the potential loss of life after the disappearance of flight 370 in March (popular theories include pilot suicide, meteor strike, conspiracy and terrorist plots).
Guibault: Again, mystery and intrigue are the stuff that make movies interesting, but the fact remains few are lost. When they are, it’s easier to find them with today’s technology. Depending on the region and weather, it can take time, however.
STEM-Trek: Apparently, bad weather was noted in the area, and the pilot had requested to deviate from their planned course, but no distress call was issued. Is that normal?
Guibault: There’s nothing suspicious about asking for a weather deviation–especially in an equatorial region where thunderstorms often appear unexpectedly along the route. However, even if they had flown into a big storm, it’s unlikely that it would have brought down the plane. Modern airliners are tough. But, if the crew mis-handled the storm, they could have had trouble. See Air France 447.
STEM-Trek: Sadly, the less people travel, the more ignorant they are about other cultures and geography. Some dwell on the fact that the last three events happened to planes from Asia.
Guibault: There are few similarities among flights that have gone missing in recent history. Malaysia 17 was lost over Ukraine, but it didn’t disappear. It was shot down by a bunch of idiots with more firepower than brains. Conclusions based on national affiliation are unfounded. Indonesia isn’t the same as Malaysia, any more than Canada is the same as Mexico. It’s a different country with an entirely different culture.
STEM-Trek: So, back to the first question. What do you worry about when you travel?
Guibault: I’ll be spending the next week and a half flying around South Asia, and I’m not worried about anything but packing enough socks and underwear, and choosing which great food to try on the exciting layovers. Don’t let the scare-mongers get you into a tizzy – it’s a wonderful (and pretty darn safe) world out there. Get out and enjoy it!