When Crazy Ain’t Cool…
You probably have noticed that I haven’t been writing much in the last few weeks. There has been so much rich material like the Super Bowl or President Trump or the Grammys or personal things like going snow skiing for the second time ever or Bar-B-Que. But I am going to training for work in a couple of weeks so I have been focusing on the pre-training and tying up some loose ends before school starts.
Our good friend, Karlene has written a new book. It is her fifth overall and fourth in the series starring Darby Bradshaw who continues her quest to make the commercial airways safer. Karlene is an airline pilot with over 30 years of flight experience, she has been at eight airlines, she has seven type ratings, she has two Master’s degrees and is completing her PhD in aviation safety. It the axiom is true about writing about what you know, they you can bet she knows the commercial aviation system.
The newest adventure deals with pilots and mental health. Now before you go off and think that all pilots are stable, rational humans like I am; consider that there are at least two documented cases of pilots attempting to kill themselves by crashing an airliner.
In 1994 a FedEx pilot, Aubrey Callaway was jump seating on a MD-10 and tried to hijack it with a couple of hammers and a fishing spear gun. He attacked the crew as the airplane climbed to altitude and left all three pilots severely injured. They were able to subdue him and land the airplane.
In 2015, Germanwings co-pilot Andreas Lubitz was able to successfully commit suicide by crashing the Airbus airliner he was flying into a mountain in the French Alps. He was being treated for suicidal tendencies and was ordered not to fly by his doctor. He hid this from his aviation doctor and was able to continue to work.
I am sure there are more cases of death by pilot suicide and I am also sure that the missing Malaysian jet was one of those cases but since they haven’t found the jet yet, we will just have to speculate. But here is the deal with pilots and mental health. We are just like everyone else. Everyone has life events and everyone needs time to deal with those things. Pilots are no more fortunate or able to cope than the rest of the population. But unlike the rest of the population, if a pilot seeks professional help for their life issue, they could be in jeopardy of getting at least a year off work.
Maybe it would be justified like it was in the case of Mr. Lubitz and maybe it is too much. If a pilot takes medication to help them deal with a life issue, then they get a year off automatically before they have to prove to the FAA that they are healed. What kinds of life events am I talking about? You know the kind that happen every day. Marital issues, divorce, kids with health issues, death of a family member, debt, bankruptcy, criminal proceedings, substance abuse problems, and addiction problems just to name a few.
It isn’t uncommon to work with a 62-year-old pilot who is on spouse number four. Wife number one divorced him several years earlier and their three kids are all train wrecks with purple hair and nose rings because daddy was off in China every Christmas. Now he works a full month, sales back his vacation, goes on overtime trips to China and is pulling in 450,000 a year. But after taxes he really brings in 275,000 a year. That is great money until wife number one takes her 100,000 in alimony and child support. Wife number two gets 75,000, wife three also gets 75,000 a year. Now the gold digging, thirty-three-year-old baby mama to kid number ten thinks she is going to live on easy street with this guy. What is she going to do when she figures out every dime he makes goes to another woman? What is she going to do when she figures out that he doesn’t have any retirement and he is in debt up to his eyeballs? Do you think that guy has any stress in his life? He is a walking black cloud because of his life choices.
How else can you explain why a pilot would be in a normal, regularly scheduled bi-annual simulator when they snap. They take off their shoe and pull off a sock. They put the sweaty sock on their hand and start talking to it like it is a puppet.
“What should we do now?” The pilot asked the sock puppet.
“How about the one engine inoperative approach checklist?” The puppet said.
“That is a great idea, Mr. Puppet. First Officer, will you run the one engine inoperative approach checklist?” The pilot said.
As that conversation was taking place, the real First Officer and the real Instructor Pilot are watching this. It was the end of the simulator. That pilot is flying over your house at 35,000 feet today after winning a hearing to return to work with back pay because of being fired by their company because they got a really good lawyer.
But there are two sides to the mental health issue. What happens when the company decides to fire a pilot because they dared to bring up a safety violation to the FAA? What happens when the company gets a quack doctor to intensely interview/interrogate that pilot for two days like the CIA would do to a member of the Taliban? What happens when that quack, who is on the payroll of the company declares that the pilot is unfit to continue to fly because they have been too successful in life? They have too many advanced degrees, they have too many well-adjusted children, they have only one happy marriage, they are a follower of a God that died and was raised from the dead, and they still believe that the world can be a happy place. That pilot is obviously crazy and should never be allowed to get close to an airplane again so the company is justified to fire that pilot because they dared to speak up. This pilot is currently grounded because they chose to act with honor and integrity as opposed to the pilot in the above case because they immediately lawyered up.
That is what Karlene is writing about and the sad thing is that the truth is stranger than fiction because everything I just wrote about is as real as a heart attack and it all really happened. I can’t wait for my training to be over so I can find how Darby solves the mental health problem.
Until next time, keep on rockin.