Federal Aviation Administration chief T. Allan McArtor was misquoted in yesterday's editions. His statement should have read, "I'm not picking on pilots." (Published 8/29/87)
KANSAS CITY, AUG. 27 -- Federal Aviation Administration chief T. Allan McArtor lectured the chief pilots of the airlines today on the need to keep vigilant at the boring and routine times when disaster can catch them unaware, but the pilots complained privately that it was futile to discuss such a sensitive subject under the glare of television lights.
"I'm worried about that fourth landing of the day. Sun setting. Clear skies. Routine," McArtor said at a meeting purported to be the first time in 30 years that the airlines' chief pilots have been called together by the FAA.
"How do you stay professional? How do you stay vigilant? How do you maintain that razor's edge?" McArtor asked. Some attendees complained about discussing such sensitive issues in public.
The meeting was hastily assembled after the Aug. 16 crash of Northwest Flight 255 in Detroit that killed 156. Early indications from the National Transportation Safety Board investigation are that the plane's wing flaps were not in the proper setting before the plane taxied down the runway to take off.
"I'm not sure this forum is the most constructive way to attack any problem," said Lloyd Berry, vice president of flight operations for United Airlines, referring to the 240 executives and aviation specialists in the meeting room and the 40 reporters who watched the meeting on closed-circuit television in the room next door.
At a news conference immediately afterward, McArtor said he called the meeting because "that's my style. I wanted to talk eyeball-to-eyeball, face-to-face."
McArtor said in the meeting that he was "picking on the pilots."
He cautioned that the meeting should not indicate he was "prejudging" the cause of the Northwest crash, but he added: "Our nation is watching and they're concerned. We must recapture the confidence in a system we in this room know is a safe system."
William Hoover, a vice president of the Air Transport Association, set a congenial tone for the meeting by praising the FAA and offering the airlines' support. But he pointed out the glacial pace at which the FAA develops new rules for pilot training.
Henry A. Duffy, president of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), noted that the FAA and the industry already developed a "human factors program" in 1985 with 23 recommendations for new programs and new research. Only a tenth of the $10 million estimated to be needed over three years has been funded so far.
"We do not need to reinvent the wheel," Duffy said. "This document has some marvelous things in it. We need to get at it."
McArtor, who has been on the job less than a month, has faced a string of near collisions involving commercial jetliners, a near collision between President Reagan's helicopter and a light plane and the second worst aviation disaster in U.S. history in Detroit.
McArtor turned his attention to pilot training the day he was sworn into office. He assigned a special team of FAA inspectors to review Delta Air Lines' pilot training program after Delta experienced a string of unrelated incidents in which pilots landed in the wrong city, on the wrong runway, almost collided with a jumbo jet over the Atlantic, and shut down both engines of a jet shortly after takeoff over the Pacific.
The FAA probe has yet to uncover any inconsistencies in Delta's training program, and Harry Alger, Delta's chief pilot, told the group today Delta has found nothing either.
Airline pilots have also been clamoring for the FAA to mandate a sophisticated training program used by some airlines in pilot refresher courses. In 1980, ALPA asked the FAA to make the program mandatory.
The training program takes pilots through an ordinary flight in a simulator, but presents them with a series of distractions and tasks to perform before takeoff, during the flight and after landing. The training requires a sophisticated and expensive computer program and was pioneered by Northwest Airlines in the late 1970s. The airline is still considered to be the leader in that field.
John O'Brien, an ALPA safety specialist, said that kind of training would have been the most applicable in the Northwest crash, but the pilots involved were from old Republic Airlines, which merged with Northwest last year. They had not yet taken the Northwest training program.