Someone recently posted a question about flying in the US vs foreign airlines. Purely by coincidence I had a very interesting conversation on the subject with one of our union safety reps (at almost the same time) and feel it was a conversation worth sharing.
First a little background. As I’m sure most of you are aware ALL commercial planes are equipped with FDR’s (Flight Data Recorders aka “The Black Box”, which is usually orange). The FDR records EVERYTHING that every system on the plane does. From flushing a toilet and making coffee to how the plane is flown by the pilots, it’s all in there. Now you may think that info is only looked at when there’s a accident or incident but that’s not the case. The airline actually receives ALL that info from every plane, every flight, every day though a variety of monitoring systems on the airplane. Now obviously that’s ALOT of info and no one is going to go through or monitor all of it. However the system does allow the airline to set up “gates” that flag anything that’s out of the norm or exceeds normal parameters. This may sound like a good thing or a bad thing depending on your perspective. It’s good because the airline can see what their pilots are doing BUT they can also see what their pilots are doing wrong. Fortunately the fine folks at the FAA and ICAO said the data coming from the airplanes is only half the story, we need to speak with the pilots to get the other half (maybe there’s a good reason the pilots did what they did?). So in the name of safety they set up a number of programs to encourage pilots to talk about what happens on the line. Part of this is program is any of the data that’s gathered falls into FOQA (Flight Operating Quality Assurance) which de-identifies the data so the data cannot be used against the pilots. Now if there’s a flight that triggers a FOQA “event” the union has a rep (known as the “Gatekeeper”) who’s the only person with the names and they’re permitted to contact the crew and ask them questions to get the full story. The idea is that we as a pilot group can learn from the mistakes of others improving safety at the airline which is more important (and more beneficial) than penalizing the pilots. Cool? Ok so what’s my point?
This am I received a phone call from Hawaiian’s Gatekeeper asking about a go-around I performed last week. Short conversation but we started talking story and I asked what made him volunteer for this somewhat thankless position (not all pilots enjoy getting these calls)? He explained that he had worked for a Middle Eastern carrier who used the FOQA info as grounds for punishment against their pilots. He had seen pilots fired and downgraded (or blocked from upgrade) based on the info. He further explained he has friends flying in China and that those airlines used the data to deduct money from the pilot contracts (minus $10K for an overspeed, $20k for an altitude deviation or unstable approach, etc) and that caused him to want to work for the “good guys”.
I’m not telling you this to bash or discourage anyone from flying overseas. There are some great opportunities out there and some exciting flying. BUT there’s also a reason there’s a bigger shortage in those regions and why relatively new pilots who are getting paid some big figures chose to pack up and start fresh here. It’s not just about the hourly wage or shiny new airplanes.