Woke Hiring by Airlines is A Scary Business

The “woke” culture has infected large areas of our lives over the last few years. Much of it has just been annoying, but a new example could actually be dangerous.

That is the push to hire and staff our airline cockpits with pilots chosen primarily for their gender or race, which I believe to be a very dangerous concept.

Before I comment further, I should explain my background and credentials to speak on the matter. I flew for nearly thirty-seven years, the majority of that time as a Captain, for Trans World Airlines on domestic and international routes. During that time I served as an instructor and line check pilot on several types of jet aircraft, training co-pilots and captains new to the equipment.

In this capacity, I worked with females and members of various minority groups, including African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, and Asian Americans. All these pilots, as well as their Caucasian counterparts, were consummate professionals. That was because TWA hired new crew members only on essential criteria—flight experience, intelligence, and demonstrated competence. More importantly, the hiring process was conducted by pilots, not non-flying HR types or managers from other departments of the airline.

Recently, United Airlines announced a plan to establish a flight school to train new pilot candidates. These pilots will replace pilots reaching mandatory retirement age and allow for the airline’s planned expansion. There is nothing wrong with this concept, which in fact has been used by some foreign airlines for many years.

In the past, airline-established schools of this type were never deemed necessary in this country due to the fact that our nation produced military-trained pilots in large numbers, many of whom joined the airlines when their military commitments expired. In addition, there were substantial numbers of civilian-trained pilots from corporate aviation who could be hired as well if needed.

All that has changed in recent years due to a scaling back of military pilot training and an emphasis on the use of unmanned “drones” which are manipulated by individuals at computer terminals thousands of miles away. In addition, the cost of obtaining the necessary pilot certificates has skyrocketed due to the cost of aviation fuel and the cutback in the production of suitable light planes to be used primarily as trainers. This situation, combined with the steady takeover of the hiring and firing of all corporate employees by human resources departments, has created what may become a perfect storm of circumstances that could make the skies above our nation a very dangerous place to be indeed.

I think it is safe to say that most HR managers are not qualified pilots. Not a one is trained to the level required of pilots needed to safely operate a modern airliner. So how will HR intervention affect the hiring process as time goes on, and where does woke culture come into play? To examine that situation, let’s go back to United’s new “Aviate Academy,” located in a suburb of Phoenix, Arizona. United has proudly announced that its first class at the flight school is comprised of eighty percent females or “people of color.” That, folks, is about as woke as you can get, and indeed as wrongheaded as well.

Anytime you introduce quotas into any selection process, whether it be for employment opportunities, entrance into educational institutions, or indeed for acceptance into a volunteer military service, you invite a possible lowering of standards into the process. A perfect example of this is allowing females to perform at lower physical standards when training for combat status positions in our armed services or allowing a lowering of educational, physical, or testing standards when it comes to hiring new police or firefighters.

Now, consider what will happen if we allow this concept to be implemented in the training and hiring of our future airline pilots? How might that affect safety? One need only to examine third-world airline safety records.

Because of the relatively low level of flying experience of the new co-pilots on many foreign airlines, particularly third world carriers, Airbus Industries came up with the concept of Pilot Proofing” the airliners they produce. The level of sophistication of the auto-flight” systems on Airbus airliners is astounding.

In fact, pilots rarely hand fly” their planes, but rather operate them almost solely on auto-pilot, from shortly after they become airborne to after the airplane has auto-landed and is about to exit the runway on landing. However, as we are all aware, computers can and do fail on occasion. When that happens on an aircraft, the Stick and Rudder” skills of the pilots become critical. As two recent fatal crashes proved, the lack of them can have catastrophic consequences.

On Oct. 1, 2018, Lion Air Flight 610, a Boeing 737-Max, crashed into the Java Sea shortly after takeoff from Jakarta, Indonesia. All 189 people on board were killed.

On March 10, 2019, another 737-Max, operated by Ethiopian Airlines as Flight 302, crashed shortly after takeoff from Addis Ababa. All 157 people on that flight died as well.

Initially, the blame was placed on the aircraft, causing all that series of B-737s to be grounded.

However, on closer examination, it became clear that if the flight crews of those doomed aircraft had simply turned off the auto-pilot and other electrically controlled systems like the electric stabilizer trim and the auto-throttles, the aircraft could have been safely manually re-trimmed and landed without incident. Unfortunately, the captains, who on paper had many thousands of hours of flight time, had logged most of that utilizing the auto-flight systems. They simply weren’t proficient in hand-flying the airplane. The co-pilots even less so.

All this brings us back to the coming pilot shortage in the airline industry. If the airlines are going to have flight academies like United's, they should make sure the trainees first understand the basics of flying, which can be summed up in the phrase: Aviate, Navigate, Communicate!” What does that mean in layman's language?

First: FLY THE AIRPLANE! Keep it in a stable attitude and a safe speed.

Second: Maintain situational awareness of where you are, where you are going, the height of the terrain around you, and any obstructions which might threaten the safety of the flight.

Lastly: Communicate your position and situation to other aircraft and air traffic control.

As to the selection of pilot trainees, it should have nothing whatsoever to do with race, sex, or any other criteria except intelligence, competence, and a willingness to master a skill that requires a degree of manual dexterity, as well as an ability to maintain a clear head when faced with unusual, and possibly life threatening-situations. A training manual for pilots in the original Army Air Corps stated:

Although aviation itself is not inherently dangerous, like the sea, it is totally unforgiving of error.”

We don’t need to hire and train a new generation of individuals who are nothing more than computer operators, incapable of saving the day when the computer fails to perform its proper functions. We need, as we always have, to train PILOTS, who are willing to devote a career to keeping themselves, as well as all the passengers and cabin crew in the main cabin, safe and alive, to fly another day.

Captain D.A. Francis is a retired TWA -commercial airline pilot. He can be reached at 2022captal@gmail.com and www.captain-al-speaking.com

Image: PXHere // CC0 public domain

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