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Tuesday, 18 June, 2002, 10:51 GMT 11:51 UK
Q&A: Are no-frills pilots risking safety?
A leaked report by an air traffic controller suggested pilots on some budget airlines have been ignoring instructions because of pressure to cut flight times.

BBC News Online asked David Learmount, safety editor of Flight International magazine, about the significance of the report.

Has safety been compromised?

The report made it very clear that this has not created any safety-related incident so far.

It also made it clear that it doesn't happen often. But not long ago it didn't happen at all.

What kind of things have the pilots been doing?

The report gave examples of a few of the instances that were worrying.

They have been, for instance, trying to approach airports too fast.

They are sometimes forced to abandon a landing because they come too close to the aircraft in front.

Why are pilots coming under so much pressure?

The way budget airlines get really low fares to us - and they are staggeringly low fares - is by turning aeroplanes around terribly fast, by getting off on time and by getting back on time.

They like to keep the aeroplanes and the pilots airborne and working. This transfers through to pressure.

Pilots, like all of us, want to do their jobs well.

Although the airlines scrupulously tell them 'you're the final arbiter, don't do anything you consider to be unsafe', it does transfer through to a pressure which will make them feel that they might have to cut corners sometimes - or try to.

Is an accident waiting to happen?

If this is a sign that the pilot's feeling under a lot of pressure, then this could be dangerous in the medium or long term.

This is why the controller concerned made the report that he or she did - they said 'look, this could be an accident waiting to happen if people don't know about it now'.

Hopefully, the report will have done its job, just because it's being aired.

The controller complained pilots were reacting "aggressively" and getting snappy. Does that matter?

It may well be that the airlines were not aware the pressure the pilots were under was expressing itself in what sounds like stroppiness.

Normally pilots and controllers are very, very measured with each other - you need to have a calm environment.

The report said pilots may have been becoming surly because they did not feel they had time, for example, to abort a landing they did not feel was safe.

Hopefully this report will instead make the pilots feel more confident in their prerogative - indeed their obligation - to take safety-orientated measures even if they waste some time.

See also:

Links to more UK stories are at the foot of the page.


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