|Flight 345 on the runway NTSB photo|
Brandy King, a spokeswoman for the airline explained as part of its labor contract with pilots, first officers can "express a preference not to fly with up to three captains without the necessity of providing any reason for such preference." She told me, "the program is not intended to address safety concerns."
The National Transportation Safety Board is still investigating what happened on Flight 345 to make the plane go crashing nose wheel landing gear-first, onto runway 4 on a grey day in July 2013.
|Damage to Runway 4 NTSB photo|
It is not hard to imagine this accident being tagged with the dreaded "pilot error", but the way this particular captain presumably made other subordinate pilots feel on the flight deck, should not be discounted as unique. Every airline has the kind of pilot, best described in Skygods, Robert Gandt's book on the collapse of aviation giant, Pan Am. Call them arrogant, call them as----s as my friend did, whatever you call them, they are pilots for whom communication and collaboration better known as crew resource management, did not take root and flourish.
"There are certain people who should not be flying airplanes," an airline pilot told me. "They're qualified but not adaptable," to create and execute a shared view of a successful flight.
I've harangued before on the fallacy of using pilot error as a probable cause in accidents but that doesn't mean sometimes the pilots aren't a contributing factor. Even more reason then that when an airline has information about difficult captains it should use it to provide said captains with more training, counseling or if necessary, to show them the door, before a difficult situation becomes a catastrophe.
There is "lots of stuff here that no one wants to talk about," an airline captain recently told me. And indeed, the Air Line Pilots Association declined to speak to me when I put questions about this policy to the union on Tuesday. The opt-out practice at Southwest is part of the pilot labor agreement.
"These avoidance bid things, they are a clear indication of CRM failures," my friend at Southwest told me of Flight 345, which cost the pilot her job, destroyed the 13-year old airplane, injured nine, but took no lives. "It doesn’t get handed to you on a silver platter better than this."