February 28, 2015
Four recent safety incidents force United to warn its pilots
There is no question that safety is paramount in any airline – anything akin to an accident can have a dramatic effect on an airline. You only need to look at what has happened to a carrier such as AirAsia after three major crashes in such close relative proximity involving Southeast Asian planes. After such events airlines across the globe tend to re-examine their own safety procedures and records, and after a series of what United called four “safety events and near-misses”, they have issued a warning to its pilots about what is seen as unacceptable safety standards. While on the one hand the incidents may unsettle the travelling public, the fact United are adopting such a strong stance over what were not accidents, but incidents, is reassuring.
Among these incidents was the requirements of pilots to pull a plane up rapidly to avoid it crashing into the ground, and a plane landing with fuel reserves that were lower than safety regulations allows. A United spokesman stated that: “We are open and direct with our pilots, as we are with all of our employees. The language that we used is strong, and that’s because safety is our top priority. This enables us to recognise potential issues and adjust our actions to ensure the safety of customers.” He also added that United freely participates in all voluntary US FAA safety programmes.
The last major incident involving a full-size passenger plane was back on 13th March 2014 involving a US Airways’ Airbus 320 with 154 passengers and crew on board. Its tail hit the runway and it then broke its nose gear before skidding 600m down the runway after an aborted take-off. Prior to take off the pilot had noted that the wrong runway 27R, instead of 27L, had been put into the Multifunctional Control Display (MFCD). In turn the co-pilot changed the setting, but then forgot to re-enter the take-off V-speeds or a “flex temperature” subsequent to correcting the runway details. This created a thrust shortage on take-off as the flight computer needs the V speeds to calculate take-off power required. No passengers were hurt on board, but two passengers were injured during the rapid evacuation of the plane.