Tagged: Patrick Smith

Some perspective on the Asiana crash

Patrick Smith’s Ask the Pilot blog adds an astounding data point to the accident, which killed at least two people and injured many more, some very seriously.

[T]his was the first multiple-fatality crash involving a major airline in North America since November, 2001. The streak has ended, but it lasted nearly twelve years, with some 20,000 commercial jetliners taking off and landing safely in this country every single day — an astonishing run. Is it perverse to suggest that Saturday’s accident, awful as it was, serves to underscore just how safe commercial flying has become? [Emphasis added]

20,000 x 365 days x 12 years = 87.6 million major airline flights, a jaw-dropping safety achievement.

Smith’s blog and that of James Fallows offer fascinating analysis of the crash, pitched mainly to lay readers. Another takeaway: That initial media and “aviation expert” speculation about the causes of a crash almost always proves to be wide of the mark.

Hudson heroism hype

Patrick Smith, pilot-columnist at Salon, chides the media for cheapening the currency of heroism in the US Airways Hudson River ditching:


This is tough for the networks to work with, I know, but Capt. “Sully” Sullenberger and his first officer, for all their guts and talent, weren’t heroes so much as the luckiest pilots in the world. If fate decrees that your engines are to become choked with geese with no chance of reaching an airport, by all means let it happen in daylight, in reasonably good weather, overhead a smoothly flowing river alongside a major city. Change even one of those variables and the result will be disaster, regardless of skill.

And again, it’s about expectations: The splashdown landing itself was a difficult maneuver, but there was little reason to expect a crash. They should have pulled it off. And they did.

Snow globe plot – foiled


The US Transportation Safety Administration now keeps airspace safe from attack by snow globes, as well as toothpaste, mouthwash, and hair gel.

A blog post by Patrick Smith, the airline pilot who posted this photo to his Flickr account, bores into the core irrationality of the phoney security restrictions citizens have acquiesced to since 9/11. Money quote:

Conventional wisdom says the [9/11] terrorists exploited a weakness in airport security by smuggling aboard boxcutters. But conventional wisdom is wrong. What they actually exploited was a weakness in our mindset — a set of presumptions based on the decades-long track record of hijackings. In years past, a takeover meant hostage negotiations and standoffs; crews were trained in the concept of “passive resistance.” What weapons the 19 men possessed mattered little; had boxcutters been on the contraband list, the men would have smuggled something else or fashioned their weapons from items on board. It didn’t matter. The success of their plan relied not on weaponry but on the element of surprise. And in this respect, their scheme was all but guaranteed not to fail.

For a number of reasons, most notably the awareness of passengers and crew, just the opposite is now true. Before the first of the Twin Towers had fallen to the ground, that element of surprise, and the boxcutters that went with it, were no longer a useful tool. Paradigm over. Hijackers today would face a planeload of frightened people ready to fight back, and thus an unaffordable probability of failure. The September 11th scheme is kaput.

Surprise has vanished by the time hijackers took over the fourth plane. Its passengers understood they had to take action, and did so, foiling the plot to use their plane as a weapon, albeit at the cost of their own lives.

Hat tip: Andrew Douglas

Security theatre: an asylum for authoritarian nuttiness

Last Saturday, 57-year-old Jules Paul Bouloute, got off a flight from Haiti to New York. While attempting to find his way out of  Kennedy Airport’s American Airlines Terminal, he accidentally opened an emergency exit door and set off an alarm.

Jules Paul Bouloute

Jules Paul Bouloute

This has happened to most of  us. In confusion, inattention, or an ill-considered attempt to find a shortcut, we open a restricted door and set off an alarm. Sometimes it leads to an embarrassed chat with the on-duty Commissionaire; sometimes there are no consequences at all.

In Bouloute’s case, however, security officials evacuated Terminal 8 for more than two hours. Police scoured the building with dogs and SWAT teams, and required hapless passengers to go through security theatre screening a second time. Arrivals were stuck on the tarmac; departures delayed for hours.

As for Bouloute, he was charged with first-degree criminal tampering and third-degree criminal trespass, and he faces up to seven years in prison.

Salon columnist Patrick Smith, an airline pilot, analyzes the consequences:

[W]hat shocks me the most is that throughout all the coverage of the incident, including numerous interviews with ticked-off passengers and somber-voiced officials, not once has anybody raised the point that maybe — just maybe — we overreacted. Everyone, instead, is eager to blame Bouloute.

“As a result of the defendant’s actions, thousands of people were required to evacuate and to be rescreened by TSA, causing substantial delays in the airlines’ schedules,” District Attorney Richard Browne said in a statement.

No, I’m sorry, Mr. District Attorney, but that’s not it. What caused the delays and what hassled so many travelers was not the defendant’s actions, but our mindless and hysterical response to them.

Smith goes on to recite the interesting history of air terrorism, and details how a country that once took real terrorist attacks in stride became a “nation of scaredy-cats.” He cites other recent examples of ludicrous overreaction, and urges us all to calm down.

Calming down will not make us “less safe,” as security zealots are wont to argue. Quite the opposite, it would free up time and resources, allowing us to focus on more credible and potent problems.

The whole piece is well worth a read.