BALPA: Steer Clear of British Pilots

Bryan D

Registered User
May 30, 2004
Total Time
45 yrs
Airline pilots 'lack basic skills'

[font=Geneva,Arial,sans-serif]Mark Townsend
Sunday August 21, 2005
The Observer


[font=Geneva,Arial,sans-serif]Airline pilots increasingly lack 'basic flying skills' and may be unable to cope with an in-flight emergency such as sudden machine failure, internal documents from Britain's major pilots' union claim.

The British Airline Pilots' Association (Balpa) has raised concern that passenger safety could be at risk because pilots are not being encouraged or trained to fly manually. The union warns that pilots, under pressure from airlines, are becoming too reliant on 'automated' systems and this means the 'safe operation of a modern commercial aircraft is compromised'.

The draft document, drawn up for officials at the Department for Transport, claims that the motive behind the increasing move from manual training to the use of automated systems is cost-driven. It is alleged that one European carrier does not even practise manual landings, choosing instead to rely on computerised flying simulators.

'There is great pressure from certain quarters to reduce the content, mainly the practical airborne flying element, and perhaps hence the cost of pilot training,' states the document.

Martin Alder, a serving pilot and Balpa safety expert who helped compile the findings, said: 'The style of flying and training means that people will be less able or less likely to cope, which has obvious safety concerns.

'The ultimate scenario is to go to Aberdeen in really bad weather and a short runway and suddenly you have to start learning basic flying skills.'

Aircraft manufacturers, along with air traffic control staff, share their concerns, according to Balpa. 'We have seen a change in the profile of accidents which is tending to show a lack of technical skills and knowledge as a growing concern,' said Alder.

He pointed to the case of a 747 cargo plane that crashed near Stansted airport six years ago. Investigators found that a crucial air navigation instrument had failed during the incident, in which the aircraft lost control, killing its four crew.

Balpa concerns come in the wake of last Sunday's crash in which 121 passengers and crew died when a Helios plane crashed outside Athens. Although there is no suggestion that pilot error was to blame, investigators will continue to explore the crash site. At this stage, the most likely theory remains a failure of the air pressure system, oxygen supply, or both.

Balpa's claims have been dismissed by airlines, who say that the trend towards automation has increased passenger safety. Vincent Devroey, spokesman for the Association of European Airlines, whose members include British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, said: 'I don't share these concerns. Airlines are tying to make training more efficient but are not compromising on safety. It is true that we have moved towards a more simulator-based system, but that is more like a real aeroplane and is not a saving on safety.'


Student Dork
May 30, 2004
Total Time
Well damn, I am confused here.

I want to blame Airbus for this, but I have this confusing urge to blame Bush...


NoPax NoMore
May 25, 2005
Total Time
Having flown with a great number of British 'wannabes' in my past life as a flight instructor, I can whole heartedly agree with the article, in terms of handling ability, overall very poor compared to the US trained pilot.

However, I would say that I admire anyone that puts themselves through six months of groundschool to pass the ATPL writtens. This process usually produces very knowledgable student pilots (in a mountain of debt).

Unfortunately, there are very few ways to gain operating experience, for example single pilot IFR, other than signing on with an airline, and being put in the right seat with little over 250 hours.

I personally think that a hybrid of the FAA and JAA system would produce the best overall pilots - ample operating experience, and great knowledge also.

Just to clarify - I'm a Brit, with FAA licenses, green card, and with over 600 hours hand flying a Twin Commander in the past 6 months...
Last edited:


Well-known member
Aug 10, 2002
Total Time
NoPax said:
I personally think that a hybrid of the FAA and JAA system would produce the best overall pilots - ample operating experience, and great knowledge also.

Oh G-d, the worst of both worlds. That is all we need.

RP 04

Well-known member
Apr 2, 2005
Total Time
What does that article have to with british pilots, besides BALPA raised some concerns?


Well-known member
Apr 4, 2004
Total Time
The issue of hand flying vs automation goes back as far as I can remember with similar concerns expressed. Someone much wiser than I will have to come up with an "official" solution.

I have to admit that one must wonder where this matter is headed when most of the F/O's can't wait for min altitude to throw on the AP and VNAV and leave it all plugged in until about 1000' agl on final in the landing configuration and on speed and power set. A few would hand fly, but not very many, in my tenure as El Magnifico. Maybe captains do it these days, too; don't know/wasn't there. Reliance on automation is understandable as it does such a good job for most things and there are certainly times when you'd better be using it to help manage the overall situation.

This isn't to slam the F/Os in any way; they were/are very sharp and just doing what was encouraged by the people at the Steepturn Academy. But, should the FMS, FD, or AP be inop there would be a bit of an effort to do the basic things as they didn't have much time hand flying without the automation. This showed up even in making a crossing restriction without the FMS ( never trust the FMS to make a crossing restriction, in an MD80 at least ).

My "guess" is that plently of non-judgemental discussion about this will raise awareness and perhaps motivate people who've grown accustomed to reliance on automation to make regular hand flying a part of each day at work. It's worth talking about as any "problems" resulting from this creep in insidiously.

When we first got the MD-82s and we all transitioned from the DC9, one old captain I flew with would declare that "today will be stick and rudder day" and the autothrottles and FDs ( and AP for approaches ) were turned off unless something came up to require their use.

It's an idea at least.


Well-known member
Jul 16, 2004
Total Time
During my last recurrent in Widget World, I really got the impression they wanted us to hand fly as little as possible.

Bafanguy, I know where you're coming from. As an F/O who hand flys a lot, I can really tell the Captains who don't. It seems as if it's got to be up to the individual pilot to maintain his/her manual flying skills, 'cause the company doesn't seem to care if we do.


Remember this one?
Nov 27, 2001
Total Time
Here we go again.

I think this thread has a lot of potential and so far the only response (in my opinion) that made any sense was from Bafanguy.

Look, just because the original article was written (ostensibly) by a Brit and quotes BALPA, that's not a direct reflection on British pilots.

I happen to fly quite often with the Brits and I'll tell you what: They can drive.

From what I read, the article was trying to point out that this latest generation of pilots just might happen to lack some basic skills; basic airmanship.

It cites a Korean crash at Stansted.
The Greek crash outside of Athens.
And difficult flying conditions in Scotland.

I think it's a fair article.

And I'll echo what Bafanguy said about FOs throwing on the automation at min alt and sitting there with their hands in their lap....but in my experience I've been flying lately with new Capts in the -200 that were -400 FOs.

These guys do exactly the same thing with complicated DPs out of Amsterdam or Frankfurt but the problem is the -200 autopilot ain't that good.

I think they're just asking for a track violation but I suppose that may be the least of their worries...

Good luck.