Saturday, February 07, 2009

Fear of Flying

I have listened several times to the tapes which have been recently released of the conversation between "Cactus 1549" and Air Traffic Control in the moments before the former landed in the Hudson River. People use the word "calm" in what they hear, but I actually hear considerable tension in the pilot's voice, as would be completely expected. What I also hear is that he is completely, as my wife said, "on task" and in control, and his manner conveys a sense of utter capability.

What doesn't, I think, get enough credit in this tape is the air traffic controllers. They are aware of options and they calmly present those options to the pilot in logical sequence as each is rejected, and they are controlling other aircraft at the same time. When the pilot reports both engines lost the ATC guy acknowledges that and then calmly and immediately, without so much as drawing a breath, gives the pilot a rerouting direction.

Wow. Think about that for a moment. Faced with an astonishing event, the ATC person absorbs it, evaluates what the pilot needs to do, knows the correct course to steer him on and conveys that correct course to the pilot, all in less time than it takes to complete the acknowledgement of the event itself. That is amazing.

The people who fly airplanes, and the people on the ground who are in charge of directing that process seem to really know what they're doing.

I think the next time I get on an airplane I'll breathe a little easier.

1 comment:

  1. Re the ATC controller: having been there and done that, I can verify that he is really good. It takes special qualities to do that. I also agree about the pilot.