If you are about to fly off somewhere I strictly recommend that you do not read this post until you get back from your trip.
I want to discuss Kenyan pilots. There is no better time to discuss them than now. It is certainly better than trying to discuss them after a major air disaster.
Kenya Airways’ Captain Irene Koki Mutungi the first woman captain of a passenger jet aircraft in Africa (flies the Boeing 737-300 for KQ) is a trail blazer in many ways. I dare say that women have proved time and again to be more trustworthy when given grave responsibilities like regularly “holding the lives of passengers in their hands.” Read more about this amazing Kenyan woman.
I must admit that aviation is a subject that really fascinates me. Right from the amazing humble beginnings to the latest developments, I always love anything I can get my hands on that talks about the aviation industry then and now. Then there are countless episodes of Air crash investigations and Seconds from disaster that I have taken in on DSTV and elsewhere. And so as I have been digging around for information on Kenyan pilots, I am not totally ignorant of the subject.
But let’s start this post with a bizarre conclusion from a court of Inquiry probe into the Air India Express plane crash in May this year. The inquiry concluded that the disaster was caused by a “sleepy pilot” who had in fact been asleep for most of the flight from Dubai to the city of Mangalore. He was therefore disoriented as he approached the runaway at the wrong angle and even ignored several warning signs. The plane carrying low cadre Indian immigrant workers coming back home to for their annual holidays overshot the runway, plunging into a gorge and burst into flames. Eight people survived the inferno. Close to 350 people died in the crash. Experts at the inquiry said that because the pilot of the Indian aircraft was suffering "sleep inertia" he made the fatal mistake of trying to take off again when applying emergency brakes would have comfortably saved the situation. Read more about the accident report HERE.
Apparently the Air India Express pilot was a Serbian and everybody knows that pilots from that side of the world (mostly any country that was part of the former unified USSR) have a reputation for being reckless. But let us turn our attention to Kenyan pilots which is what this post is supposed to be about.
I was pleasantly surprised to be informed that Kenyan pilots are considered to be amongst the best in the world. How can I forget what this veteran pilot told me;
“I know a couple of Kenyan pilots who are way too comfortable landing a jet aircraft in freezing conditions where ice can be treacherous. It is as if they were born in those kinds of conditions. Splendid pilots I tell you.”
I have heard many other words of praise for particular Kenyan pilots from many quarters.
However digging deeper, there are some horrifying tales of what really goes on behind the scenes. It is one tyhing to be a talented pilot and quite another to be a disciplned one. Admittedly discipline in a pilot is a very personal thing and trying to supervise it in pilots can even be harder. The truth is that despite the clear rules many of our pilots take to the air when they are drunk or have not had enough sleep.
These days flying a modern jet aircraft is very much an automated kind of thing. So a pilot mostly plays a supervisory role. We have the autopilot mode and fly-by-wire technology that introduces computer precision that no human can match to functions like descending gradually for a landing. At first glance this may appear to be a good thing and it is. But the downside is that a pilot literally “goes to sleep” and staying alert becomes very difficult. So in many ways the old days of manual flying were better because they kept a pilot alert during the entire duration of the flight.
The thing about the sophisticated computers that are today’s jet aircrafts is that if anything goes wrong it will need a very quick-witted alert pilot to quickly take in and understand the situation and make a decision, sometimes with a deadline of split seconds or just a few minutes, which could make the difference between life and death. You don’t want a pilot who is drunk or sleepy in that kind of situation. Or one who is less than fully alert because they were having a good time with some young lasses in some exotic world capital night club most of the previous night.
What makes matters worse is that pilots get away with this kind of thing all the time. One could even be lucky enough to complete their entire career sleeping most of the time without any mishap or unfortunate incidents like the Air India Express crash happening. But what happens the day something goes wrong?
Could disaster have been averted and lives saved when things went wrong in the Kenya Airways aircraft in Abidjan in 2000 (mystery of cause still to be solved) and in Cameroon in 2007 (What the crash investigations report said about pilot error)
See also: Ugly wars in the sky between Kenya Airways and the South Africans
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