AviationPilots returning to the air are making a few bloopers

Qantas sets the record straight: There’s no cockpit calamity

Qantas says safety is the top priority as pilots return to the ai
Qantas says safety is the top priority as pilots return to the ai Photo Credit: gettyimages/MatusDuda

A leading aviation expert and a major international airline have both agreed that pilots who have endured a Covid-enforced lay-off are in need of more intense refresher courses to avoid the potential of ‘rookie’ mistakes in the air.

Qantas has said it is finding that pilots who have not flown for long periods due to the pandemic are making errors and need more time for routine procedures.

The good news is that rusty pilots are not putting passengers in danger.

In a report by the Sydney Morning Herald, an internal memo sent to Qantas staff noted that mistakes to date have included “commencing take-off with [the] park brake set”, “misidentification of altitude as airspeed”, and “exterior inspection errors”.

Dr Brett Molesworth, from the University of New South Wales Science’s School of Aviation said it was “highly unlikely” a pilot would forget how to operate any of the flight controls. “But a pilot may forget an action or a procedure as part of a sequence,” he said. Dr Molesworth is an expert in Human Factors and Aviation Safety.

“For example, they might forget to release the park brake before push-back from the gate or forget to turn on the anti-icing mechanism at a particular altitude.

“It is also possible that proficiency of fine motor skills might be affected, such as the ability to make quick and accurate control column adjustments during a crosswind landing.”

Dr Molesworth said there had been examples of this reported in the US during the Covid pandemic. “Performance will also be slower than before being stood down,” he added.

“There are a number activities airlines can do to assist pilots, such as have a training captain sit in on the initial flight or series of flights; including an additional pilot on the first few flights; and additional simulator time to allow pilots to redevelop and consolidate skills.”

Qantas said in response it had anticipated the rustiness caused by long stand-downs and had proactively created a return-to-work programme to bring its pilots back up to speed.

“Safety is our number one priority, and all of the data shows that our pilots are coming back with the skills and confidence to do their job safely,” the airline said.

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