Accidents are an inevitable element of the air carriage industry; however, a good number of these could have been avoided given proper human resource management efforts. The task of these specialists is to recruit, to train, and to evaluate industry employees like pilots. Instead, they often overlook health issues and psychological disorders leaving the wellbeing and lives of passengers exposed to mortal threat. Owing to HR specialists’ miscalculations, pilots with insufficient qualification, those willing to ignore the guidelines of dispatchers and act carelessly received their coveted positions. The liberalization of workplace regulations did the industry an ill favor allowing individuals with minor psychological disorder and those on pills to execute their duties. Questionable HRM decisions enabled more pilots suffering from severe mental breakdowns to commit suicide-murders costing the lives of thousands of passengers and crewmembers.
Keywords: aircraft, crash, pilot, regulation, HRM, air, carriage
Although air carriage is dangerous, per se, numerous accidents happening due to appliance malfunctioning or the mechanical separation of the parts of aircraft assembly, there is always the notorious human factor. The reality of the air carriage industry is that human resources managers tasked with selecting, training, monitoring, and appraising the workforce often fail to get the job done enabling individuals with psychological or medical conditions to fill in the positions of pilots. HR regulation grew more liberal than they formerly were, pilots allowed operating aircrafts with mild psychological disorders or on medications. What such failures or loosened rules lead to are numerous accidents claiming the lives of hundreds of passengers aboard. Most recently, Andreas Lubitz, a co-pilot had medical and psychiatric problems hiding his conditions from the employer, which led to him steering the plane into the Alps for a fatal collision. Suicide-murders involving pilots are far from rare. Beyond that, there are ignorance, carelessness or inattentiveness, poor qualification, and rules violation all caused by unsatisfactory HRM. The point is that poor human resource management places the wellbeing and health of hundreds of passengers into the hands of poorly qualified and psychologically unsound pilots and other industry workers, which often results in the massive loss of lives.
Multiple Flaws in HRM. Crashes as a Litmus Paper of Failure
As it stands these days, the system of aviation human resources management leaves much to be desired, as it overlooks pilots and other industry employees with psychological and abuse issues thereby leaving the wellbeing and lives of passengers exposed to mortal danger. The performance appraisal as a practice central to HRM turns out to fail miserably at times. Dr. John Patton (2015) noted that the evaluation system was reliant on pilot self-declaring. Thus understood, the system relies on pilots to report their psychological state. A problem may not be detected until after a pilot decides on admitting to having a psychiatric disorder or a history of alcohol dependence. According to Kaiser (2015), in spite of aircraft pilots’ not being cleared to proceed to the execution of their duties, without them undergoing a psychological testing first, depression or suicidal sentiments are difficult states to detect, from a diagnostic viewpoint (as cited in Patton, 2015).
Captain Mike Vivian, a former head of Flight Operations at the CAA noted that British pilots underwent a medical prior to being given the permission to flight, with psychological screening an important part of the process. Position candidates need to give answers to questions related to background, inclusive of family relationships, interests, and a history of suicidal feeling and depression. The screening remains reliant on answers and judgments examiners make based on what candidates reveal. The element of trust is central to the system, which means HR managers need to trust. In the wake of the Germanwings accident, the UK was requested to review its selection procedures (De Castella, 2015). In the service industry, where human lives are in the hands of the airlines, there should be no room for subjective evaluation built on trust. Manipulative candidates can keep some biography facts hidden. If revealed, they could shed some light on the potential trajectory of the psychological conduct of pilots predicting mental breakdown or psychological meltdown that are preventive.
Kaiser (2015) and Scarp (2014) stated that there were reported to be obstacles influencing a candid discussion of mental health problems between a pilot and an aeromedical examiner. Pilots may refrain from a frank confession for fear of forfeiting their medical certificate. The whole matter is that employees risk having their commercial pilot license revoked or suspended upon disclosing their symptoms, which is why they have nothing else left to do except keep their state confidential. Such conduct is particularly true of pilots with mental disorders (as cited in Patton, 2015). According to Wharton (2015), now that self-reporting has proven defected, the task of airlines should be to monitor mental problems among pilots with great precision (as cited in Patton, 2015). It is not uncommon when pilots successfully avoid reporting their state. In what was a heinous suicide mass-murder, with no human error involved, Andreas Lubitz, a pilot working for German airlines caused serious death toll by sending the aircraft crashing on the Alps because of reported health-related fears. Eddy, Kulish, Clark, and Ewing (2015) revealed that the German pilot to have caused the crash sought treatment for his bad eyesight months before the accident. Experts draw analogy with the psychological conditions. A word is that Lubitz could have had a psychosomatic vision issue getting him unhappy and worried, with no physical symptoms observed. The bottom line is that, according to Robson (2015), the pilot worried lest his pilot license be taken away, which is why he hid eye issue and psychological problems.
Goode and Mouawad (2015) noted that the Germanwings suicide pilot never made his psychiatric or psychological condition known to the employer, still less updated on treatment he received while employed. The pilot license of Lubitz had a designation revealing one of his medical conditions. He received a doctor’s note excusing him from work on the day of the tragedy. The timeline of the psychological disorder, the severity of the eyesight issue, antidepressant dosage, the issue awareness of relatives and friends, the reasons for training interruption all remain undiscovered (Goode and Mouawad, 2015). What remains to be understood is why a pilot with well documented medical conditions was cleared for the job in the high-risk capacity and why a wealth of cues for disorder went unreported and undetected. Strange is that the medical tests of blood and urine common in the industry never found antidepressant mediations in his system or bloodstream. It must be that the industry has no one to blame but itself breeding the culture of mental disorder acceptance.
According to Goode and Mouawad (2015), aviation agencies in the USA and Europe alike used to prohibit pilots from flying should they detect mental illness. However, progress in scientific understanding coupled with an increasing public awareness of depression-like mental disorders being curable led regulators to liberalize restrictions in a move that render it acceptable for pilots to stay on the job though diagnosed with a mild disorder. From then on, antidepressant intake was believed normal. The plan was for pilots to be encouraged to step to light with their issues and seek treatment. The crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 claiming the lives of 149 people raised legitimate questions as to the legitimacy of the HRM regulatory policies (Goode and Mouawad, 2015). Liberalization or no liberalization, the German suicide pilot’ case in point reveals the fundamental flaws in the system beyond loosened regulation standards. It was after the tragedy had happened that investigation into pilot’s state exposed numerous counts of German human resource management faults.
Patton (2015) suggested that EU functionaries expressed their agitation for German airline oversight that remained wanting, which was years away from the catastrophe earlier this March. The long-standing issue is chronic workforce deficit that had the potential of disrupting the crew medical checks and noncompliance with oversight requirements issued by the European Aviation Safety Agency. Germany reportedly has the scanty number of qualified staff that would ensure the oversight of approved examiner and medical centers continues uninterrupted and guarantee access to medical data and records (Patton, 2015). There is more HRM flaws than the shortage of qualified personnel and poor medical and performance appraisal practices.
Sometimes it so happens that HRM allows poorly qualified pilots to take over their positions, which has lethal outcomes. While it does sound nonsensical, airlines often have poorly qualified pilots operating their aircraft. They seem willing to play Russian roulette with the health and lives of passengers, which may cost millions in legal compensation. Pasztor (2009) reported a pilot responsible for the crash of an aircraft, with 50 individuals aboard, to have not managed to complete multiple flight tests in the course of his professional career. Neither did he receive adequate training in terms of response to or an emergency, which was what resulted in the tragedy. He had insufficient knowledge in the application of a warning system that keeps an aircraft from going into a stall. The pilot did what was the opposite of the appropriate procedure after speed falling to a threatening rate setting off the stall-prevention system. Not only did 49 passenger die, but also one civilian perished in the accident as a result of being buried beneath a heap of debris of what was left of the house. In the days following the crash, regulators and investigators launched an investigation into the employment and training practices of the Colgan Air Incorporated (Pasztor, 2009).
Thomas J. Henry Injury Attorneys (2015) reported about crewmembers attempting a takeoff from a runway in 2006. Not having considered the fact that it was too small for the plane to take off, they allowed it to crash and kill 2 crewmembers and all 47 passengers reported to be onboard. In 2002, pilots made a fatal mistake by using the wrong piloting technique. What they did was employ a reverse-thrust technique in contravention of aircraft policy, which led to a malfunction, with 19 passengers out of 22 killed in the process. In 1991, an aircraft was caught touching down on the runway by another plane. The lethal collision left no chance for 12 and 22 crewmembers passengers on both boards. Officially, Air Traffic Control led to the crash (Thomas J. Henry Injury Attorneys, 2015). It is always more sound to blame an electronic system prone to malfunctions than accept the possibility of the human factor like the mistake of dispatchers. Even though alive, if not exactly well, passenger in the above-quoted examples could have sustained serious damage, which could render them incapacitated or disabled.
Poor qualification overlooked by HR specialists may possibly result in pilots breaking the rules and making unreasonable decisions. Never a day passes but the Polish nation remembers its great late President Lech Kaczynski who lost his life in a car crash alongside other members of the Polish Establishment. CBC News (2010) argued that there was the possibility of pilot’s having ignored warnings while steering the Smolensk-bound presidential aircraft. The pilot allegedly ignored the warning of poor visibility and recommendations to divert to an alternate airport. According to Mail Foreign Service (2010), a Polish MP suspects Russia of having stage-managed the crash. While this is version to consider, the point is that poor qualification resulting in noncompliance might have led to the disaster. Given employment because of poor recruitment HR practices, plenty of arrogant and self-assured pilots indulge in rules or safety ignorance.
Hopkins (2012) cited an example of pilot ignorance, deviation from the rules, and distraction. In the January of 2007, a copilot had his attention distracted by a bystander talking to him, which caused the former to leave the door open. It came unlocked in midair following the liftoff, with debris ending up in the right engine. An incident in the June of 2010 saw a private plane operated in dangerous proximity to the surface, which resulted in it crashing into a canyon. Osborne (2015) reported about a captain whose aircraft was as near as a toucher crashing thanks to the use of a digital camera by the pilot in the cockpit. All 198 passengers and crewmembers onboard are lucky to have survived the incident due to well-functioning flight envelope protection system (Osborne, 2015). What is it if not breaking the rules, pilot’s toying with the camera while in the cockpit? HR managers should have monitored carefully who seats behind the steering wheel revoking the licenses of such captains, no matter how decorated, if only to keep human health and lives safe.
Rohrer and De Castella (2014) stated that Eastern Airlines flight 401 is one of extremely blatant examples of an avoidable pilot error. In 1972, an aircraft hit the Florida Everglades. What happened was that three crewmembers had an “idée fixe” or a mind-dominating desire of finding the reason a single indicator light had failed to come on at a time when the landing gear was in a low position. Obsessed, they would not notice autopilot switch to a setting enabling a stable descent until the point of no return was crossed. In 1978, a crashing destiny awaited United Airlines flight 173 whose pilots let fuel to run short while making circles over Portland, Oregon. The inquisitiveness of pilots cost 10 human lives and expedited changes introduced into the way pilots were trained as well as the creation of Crew Resource Management designed to improve communication among crewmembers (Rohrer and De Castella, 2014). The accident showed HR flaws were recognized, with changes becoming a priority.
Notable Suicide-Murders and Near-Tragedies Facilitated by Poor Human Resource Management
Many a time have aircraft-assisted suicide-murder occurred worldwide as a result of unstable pilots being hired or tests failing to identify the problem. Patton (2015) noted that a murder-suicide occurred in 1982 involving a Japan Air aircraft, which cost 24 lives crashing in Tokyo Bay. In 1994, a pilot working for Morocco Air committed a suicide-murder leaving 44 individuals dead in Morocco. In 1997, a pilot from Silkair destroyed the plane in Indonesia, with 104 passengers aboard. In 1999, a pilot from Egyptair initiated plane destruction while flying over the Atlantic Ocean, which killed 219 passengers. In 2013, a Mozambique pilot committed the crime while in the air over Namibia, which led to 33 fatalities (Patton, 2015). However, there are instances when psychological issues all but led to suicide that could have happened if crew had not isolated pilots.
Scarpa (2014) cited an incident in the Jet blue flight, in which a captain of the Airbus 320-200 experienced a sharp psychotic breakdown, which left the co-pilot no other choice but to lock the captain out of the cockpit and divert the flight only to allow the captain aged 47 to leave the board for further evaluation and treatment. In a similarly shocking twist of events, a co-pilot from the Air Canada went through a mental breakdown keeping him confused and disoriented. All 146 and 9 crewmembers landed unharmed after the flight being diverted (Patton, 2015). USA Today (2015) reported about a flight engineer having attempted to kill three pilots on the flight deck of the FedEx DC-10 plane (as cited in Patton, 2015). Since there would have been no one to steer the aircraft if the would-be murderer had been successful, the incident falls under the category of an attempted suicide-murder.
Aircraft crashes are the inevitable reality of the air carriage industry. While there are mechanical issues, a human factor is a very widespread cause behind deadly crashes. Human resources manager whose tasks are to hire, train, evaluate, and monitor the workforce often fail to do so unintentionally allowing unfit pilots to fill their positions leaving the wellbeing and lives of passengers vulnerable to their incompetence or poor psychological state. The crash of the German plane this past March demonstrates HR managers failed miserably at evaluating the pilot who managed to hid depression and the eyesight issue. The liberalization of regulations has enabled pilots with mild psychological states on those on pills to perform their duties.
Apart from the health state, pilots are often found poorly qualified and unable to use emergency systems as necessary. Some intentionally ignore dispatchers’ guidelines, others fail to comply with rules or act irresponsibly by allowing distraction to get the best of them. Whatever they do, the possibility of making such mistakes or committing premeditated crimes is the result of poor human resource management. If efficient, it would rarely overlook psychologically unstable pilots let in due to loosened HR regulations. The examples of pilots’ suicide-murders are aplenty. Far from keeping poor pilots out of the industry, poor HRM puts the lives of passengers in great peril. While it is as good as impossible to avert every single accident, bar none, more people would be alive these days if HR managers had done a better job selecting and evaluating pilots and other employees like dispatchers.
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Patton, J. (2015, April). Human resource management (HRM) in the aviation industry. The Journal of Global Business Management, 11(1), 1-12. Retrieved from: http://www.jgbm.org/page/1%20John%20Patton.pdf
Pasztor, A. (2009, May 11). Captain’s training faulted in air crash that killed 50. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from: http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB124200193256505099
Robson, S. (March 27). Did Andreas Lubitz crash plane over fears he would lose pilot's license because of hidden medical condition? Mirror. Retrieved from: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/andreas-lubitz-crash-plane-over-5412068
Rohrer, F., and De Castella, T. (2014, March 14). Mechanical vs. human: Why do planes crash? BBC News. Retrieved from: http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-26563806
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