Of Aeroplanes and Stable Doors

wreckageA few weeks ago my wife flew back to Sydney after attending the funeral of her aunt, a much-loved schoolteacher who had died at the age of 103. At Brisbane airport she was subjected to a security check worthy of an 18 year old Muslim enroute to Syria. The (female) security guard first searched in her bun, demanding that her long hair be unravelled. “What are you looking for?” she was asked. “Drugs” was the answer.

Next, she was asked to take off her shoes. Not to inspect the footwear, but to check on the soles of her feet.

My wife carries a signed medical card authenticating that she has a knee replacement which is certain to set off the alarms, but this is routinely ignored. Indeed it seems to trigger a heightened suspicion that this prosthesis is a diversion to distract attention from other parts of her body probably loaded with prohibited substances.  Yes, drug mules come in all sizes and ages.

The over-exuberant nonsense of airport security started by the 9/11 attack is a perfect example of the modern tendency to create a wasteful cottage industry out of sensationalist emotionalism.

The murder-mission of GermanWings Flight 4U9525 started a new wave of demands.

“Here we go again”, I thought as letter-writers to the newspapers (who knew nothing about aircraft) started insisting that one of Reg Ansett’s ‘old broilers’ be inserted into the flight deck every time a pilot needed to relieve himself.  As if she could prevail against a suicidal maniac determined to end all their lives.

The armoured flight deck doors and electronic locks introduced after the 9/11 hijackings are now seen to have had their own unintended consequences.

As everyone who has now seen the helpful Airbus video of the door-locking system realises, it depends entirely on the good guys being on the flight deck and the baddies outside in the cabin area – not the other way around. (Flight deck doors were already well secured, as the passengers on United Flight 93 who overwhelmed the hijackers and failed to storm the cockpit found. Now the doors resist even hand grenades!)

Is every bolting horse event, however rare, to be followed automatically by a reflexive shutting of stable doors?

This rhetorical question has a relevance for society beyond the immediate issue of airline safety. Millions of airline route miles are flown every day in perfect safety. What happened to GermanWings 4U9525 was, as the company said on its website, “An extremely tragic isolated event.”

It seems the airline was not sufficiently vigilant in its supervision of the health of junior pilots in training. Andreas Lubitz was known to friends to have had a ‘burnout’, re-sitting his flying exams because of a break for an episode of depression.

And certainly 600 hours is insignificant experience to be left as PIC (pilot in command) when he might have had to deal with any type of emergency. (Which raises another question: why did the captain need to go to the toilet 27 minutes after take-off, on a two-hour flight?)

Three minutes later, at 10.30:54.083 CET, Lubitz began twisting the altitude knob on the autopilot panel (far right) anticlockwise.

control panel

The ADS-B record shows the first turn set the altitude to 13,008 feet, the second to 96 feet. It took barely two seconds to command the aircraft to begin its descent to oblivion in the French Alps nine minutes later at 10.40:35.545 CET.

Every airline in the world, not only GermanWings and Lufthansa now needs to consider mental health and cockpit discipline. Lufthansa has already appointed a senior captain as Group Safety Pilot to examine all these aspects.

Australia’s CASA and the airlines have wisely paused before rushing to mandate new flight deck rules. But in today’s atmosphere of expectation of instant fixes in response to public  demand, don’t be surprised if changes are made.

UPDATE: Qantas hosties to be issued with rulers

CASA announced today that following the Government’s decision on “double-crewing” of flight decks, all Qantas and Jetstar hostesses (flight attendants) are to be issued with school rulers.
A spokesman said this pre-emptive measure would enable a hostess who had to occupy the jump seat on the flight deck during the absence of one of the pilots to rap the knucklets of the remaining pilot, should she see him make any move to alter the autopilot.
The spokesman said if this provision had been in force on GermanWings 4U8525, that naughty Andreas Lubitz would have been smacked when he reached to turn the altitude knob and send them all into the mountain.
Ordinary wooden school rules have been specified, to avoid serious damage to pilot knuckles.

Geoffrey Luck, a veteran pilot, was an ABC journalist for 26 years. In January, 2014, he recalled how a combination of inexperience and power lines very nearly cost him his life






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    Yes the security checks at airports are absurd and achieve nothing except add to travel times and unnecessary aggro for older travellers. The screening process is nothing more than a job creation scheme (although the job must be amazingly boring). I travel frequently and generally get through quite quickly although I have had an old cutlery knife taken from me.

    My Mum has a false shoulder and two false hips. When travelling with her I go through the metal detector first – yes, bad manners – and explain to the person on the other side Mum’s false body parts and that she won’t under any circumstances take her shoes or jacket off. This does the trick as they call over a “female secondary” so a magic wand can be passed over Mum’s body. By the time that’s done I’ve gathered up her truck load of stuff as well as my own and we move on.

    But it’s all time you never get back …

    I understand that when you land at Abu Dhabi and Dubai you often get screened several times. I’ve had the same experience in Bangkok.

  • Jody

    In Hamburg my CPaP machine was commandeered and examined “for a bomb”. It was embarrassing, and losing my $40 L’Occitane hand cream into a bin at Sydney airport (a 3/4 empty tube!) because it had more than 150ml written on the outside as the last straw.

    Everybody is to be treated like a criminal in our western societies after a deliberate strategy of years of failure to seriously apprehend and punish offenders and deflecting the notion of personal responsibility. When you have a failure of law and order through the culture of victimhood the rest of the community pays by its assumed guilt. Same with taxation – the government cannot or will not round up and make pay the tax-avoiders so the rest of us are assumed to be criminals. We are the sitting ducks.

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