Quite a few years ago I flew as an unaccompanied minor from Florida to Colorado. I was afraid of the mountains, and the flight attendant who was caring for me invited me to go up to the cockpit for a pre flight confidence booster. Everyone in the cockpit of the Boeing 727, a three person crew, had flown in the military and a couple had combat experience. They had big moustaches and greying hair and they looked like my definition of a pilot. I will never forget the feeling of going back to my seat with an almost gloating smile wishing to tell everyone: “don’t worry, these guys are pro’s”.
Aviation is the safest form of travel and yes, we are safe. In an emerging world, with emerging countries and an increased demand for aviation, there are however divides in just how experienced one must be to take control of an aircraft. Getting in your car is twelve times more dangerous than catching a flight. Imagine if every person on the road required 1,500 hours of training before they were allowed in the car, let alone the driver seat? In most countries, sitting in the pilot’s seat is no small feat. To become eligible for hire as a passenger carrying airline pilot in the United Kingdom and United States you must complete 1,500 hours of actual flight time. Once hired, an additional 1,000 hours of flight time on a specific aircraft is required before you may become a captain of that aircraft, not to mention countless additional certifications on aircraft type. Sadly, many other countries have not followed suit with this minimum training requirement and in some emerging countries which rely on budget airlines, they are attempting to fill cockpit seats at an alarming rate.
It’s commonplace for a co pilot to command an aircraft under the watchful eye of the more experienced captain. How else is the co-pilot supposed to gain the real world training that propels him to the next level? The question is, in countries with less rigorous certification rules, how experienced is that co pilot who is now in command? The answer is that without stringent minimum requirements, type ratings and regulations they may be too inexperienced for a role with such unforgiving implications.
Budget airlines can be wonderful, but the behind the scenes penny pinching that fuels them can be alarming. With exceptions, budget airlines pay less than legacy airlines and thus appeal more to younger pilots looking to get their foot in the door. When you couple younger, less experienced pilots with countries whose governing aviation bodies do not have rigorous minimum requirements, you begin to create a very dangerous mix.
To answer my own question, safety is about playing the numbers. Air travel is the safest form of travel regardless who you fly. Whether your crew is from the US with 10,000 hours experience or Indonesia with 3,000 hours, the numbers are in your favor. Flying legacy carriers, whose pilots certify and train in heavily regulated countries with stringent certification requirements, will only help with the numbers. Personally, even if it costs a few extra dollars, I always want to be flying with someone who has passed the hardest tests in the most scrutinous countries..