A Pilot's Perspective.

By Barry Meek.

September 2007

Too Much Information

A young woman went to her doctor complaining of abdominal pain. “I think it’s your gall bladder,” said the doc. “That sounds pretty serious,” she replied. “I would like to get a second opinion”. The doctor became frustrated and said, “That IS  a second opinion. At first I thought it was your appendix”.

That particular doctor was probably over 50, a first-liner of the Boomer generation.  In his growing up years, the advice of an expert was taken at it’s face value.  It was the final word, gospel, to be believed without question.  But that’s changed.  The ‘post-boomers’ have evolved more educated and informed.  The fact is that back as late as 1960, only 15% of Canadians had completed high school.  Today that number is over 85%. Through the ‘60’s and 70”s, there was no internet, no cell phones, few televisions, and cable was non-existent.  Simply put, information was nowhere near as available to us as it is today.  On the other hand, people who are under 30 have grown up with almost unlimited access to information and knowledge.  Television, with cable and satellite connections, has been highly instrumental in the changes.  More recently,  the internet has evolved and compares with electricity as our most important invention in history.

We’re now able to go on-line and get a second, third, even sixth opinion, then rightly or wrongly, make a judgement on a diagnosis.  And not with just a medical decision, but when we have a legal, real-estate, plumbing, travel, vehicle or gardening problem.  No longer do we need to consult the ‘experts’.  Our exposure to all this information has taken the mystique from doctors, lawyers, plumbers, teachers, and mechanics.

Second guessing and individualism go out the window however, when we get onboard an airliner.  No one challenges the pilot.  The flight deck is still a place where the captains’ decisions and actions are clearly his, and his alone.   Flying the ‘heavy’ is a concept so mysterious in the minds of most people, that it would be inconceivable to question the pilot.  All the television viewing and internet surfing in the world wouldn’t change that fact. When was the last time a passenger approached the flight deck in an A-340 or a 747 and wanted to check the entries in the flight computer?

For some reason, most people seem to feel safe and secure flying the airlines, but have their doubts in a single engine Cessna, even in a light twin.  They have many questions, and in fact may be completely terrorized by what they’re seeing.   And, perhaps because they’re sitting so close to the pilot, they sometimes have no problem speaking up.  have been questioned when someone in the back seat observes me looking at a checklist in the operators manual, or re-setting radio frequencies, when we’re scud running, and when I have a screwdriver in my hand!   What’s with the tools you ask?  Actually, I’d been disconnecting the battery cable on my car prior to a flight one time, and being in a hurry, stuffed the screwdriver and some pliers into my pocket. 

The point is that airline passengers, even post-Boomers who may be doubtful of the outcome of their flight, don’t actually offer their opinion on how the captain ought to proceed with the operation of the aircraft.  These same individuals however, are not above suggesting to their lawyer or doctor or banker what they think he/she should be doing in their best interest.    

We’ve entered an age where the public, armed with this huge, easy access to information, demands input.  Companies, organizations, even governments are responding with websites and e-mail addresses where we can contact them with queries, demands and suggestions.   There aren’t many sanctuaries remaining where life and procedures go on unquestioned.  The flight deck of the airliner seems to be one domain however, that will survive unchanged, where responsibility rests with the one person charged with the job.  The flying public may have doubts, but the captains are rarely challenged.  And that’s the way it has to be.

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