What Makes a Good Pilot on Talk of the Nation

NPR’s Talk of the Nation raises questions on the quality of airline pilot training and support made available to newer pilots. Topics discussed in this thirty minute show include Captain Chesley Sullenberger’s handling of US Airways flight 1549, airline schedules, crew rest periods, and flight safety. Airline pilots call in and discuss the state of the airline industry, advancements in technology, and raise questions on the quality of airline training programs.

Guests include Matt Wald, aviation safety reporter for the New York Times and John Nance, a former captain for Alaska Airlines and prominent aviation author. 

“What Makes a Good Pilot” on Talk of the Nation (click the green arrow to play in-page).

Ferry Boats Rescue Passengers of US1549

Ferry Boats Rescue Passengers of US1549

Nance makes a great point about the importance of cockpit standardization and its effect on safety. He breaks it down into Star Trek terms to say that the airlines have “fired Captain Kirk and hired Captain Picard.” He also discusses the differences between the pre-standardization days and drops the bombshell that it was not uncommon for checklists to go unused in the past. Furthermore, Nance discusses the advancement of crew resource management and the importance that captains create an open environment and encourage feedback from the rest of the crew.

One Chicago based first officer (presumably from American Eagle), provides his insight on the importance of experience and its importance to aeronautical decision making by highlighting his ever changing perception of aviation as he accumulates more hours.

“Experience is excellent, but an experienced pilot can make a mistake too,” responded Nance. He cited the military’s ability to train pilots to land on carriers with only 400 to 500 hours of experience.

Nance focuses on airline training and cockpit procedures. Not wanting to take away from Sully Sullenberger’s deeds, Nance claims that well established procedures may have made the key difference in the Hudson River crash by unloading the flight crew’s mind and providing “a bubble of time … to make a decision.”

A corporate pilot called in and questioned the movement towards “heads down” flying and reliance on automation as opposed to stick and rudder skills.


Read the full story at NPR.org
Transcript of US Flight 1549

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About the author
Pat Flannigan is a professional pilot and aviation blogger. He has been flying for fifteen years and is currently working as an airline pilot in the United States.

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