As an airline pilot, I take pride in my job and doing it to the best of my ability. When we fail at doing our job, there are consequences. Sometimes it might only mean a bruised ego, or worse, a bent airplane. In exceedingly rare instances, it means people die. Pilots make mistakes, and accidents do happen. But nothing justifies the act of deliberately crashing an airliner full of people into the ground. Let me be clear: nothing.
So what angers me most about what Germanwings first officer Andreas Lubitz did? By selfishly murdering 149 other people onboard the Airbus with the push of a few buttons, he defiled my profession in an act of unspeakable evil. He was a coward, a traitor among our pilot ranks, hiding out in the cockpit while dragging a plane-full of innocent passengers to their deaths.
Because lives were lost in a situation that maybe could have been prevented, the Germanwings crash is an utter tragedy and especially angering to a pilot. We’re given positions of trust, and, as the saying goes, it only takes one to ruin it for everyone else. Tens of thousands of pilots go to work every day, and get there safely, but you don’t hear about that save for the occasional angry tweet or Facebook rant from a distressed passenger, because we simply do our jobs.
As if the media needed any more ammunition against pilots, or the industry in general. Talking heads are happy to portray us as lazy, computer programming villains whenever and wherever possible, and Lubitz fed the wolves a feast. And being the easy targets we are, we’re guilty by association because he was one of us.
The Germanwings crash will stain our uniforms for a while. People cast a suspicious eye towards us, and sometimes I feel the burning holes as passengers stare at me when I show up to the gate.
What are they thinking? What do they want to ask me, or what accusations are they making in their minds? Do they want to know if I’m qualified to be taking them from A to B ? Whether I’m going to get them there safely?
What also doesn’t help our case as pilots is that the mainstream media is constantly getting things wrong about the airline industry, and pilots, to be specific. The networks do their best to portray us as glorified bus drivers, and my position as a first officer as nothing more than a warm body filling the seat up front while the pilot runs the show.
“So when are you going to become an actual, you know, pilot?”
It’s a question that comes up every so often, and I hope that the lame chuckle and grimace that surfaces is sufficient enough to hide the blood starting to boil under my skin.
The fact is, I am a pilot. Both of us are. There’s a captain and a first officer, but both of us are fully qualified and trained in the operation of our particular aircraft. As a first officer, I’m not there to just be a (landing) gear monkey, radio operator, or fallback guy in case the captain over there is incapacitated, as some networks suggest. I fly the airplane fifty percent of the time, while the captain flies the other half. Usually we switch off, alternating as pilot flying (PF) every other flight. We hold each other accountable, as we are both responsible for ensuring the safety of our passengers.
Our profession is all about trust. It’s both an honor and privilege to hold that trust, and we work hard to continuously build it. If nobody trusted us, we’d be out of a job in a heartbeat. No matter if tens of thousands of commercial flights each day make it to their destinations safely, the fact that the industry now is safer than it’s ever been – that doesn’t make worldwide headlines.
A well-respected instructor at my company would sometimes pose the question, “Do you want to be a safe pilot?” “Uh, yes?” was the typical response, as if it was a rhetorical question. “Wrong,” he would say. “Safety is your baseline. It’s what you are, what you’re paid to do. So are you baseline, or better?”
Being responsible for people’s lives on a daily basis is not something that I take lightly. There’s a lot riding on my performance as a pilot – we are a direct reflection on the airline and anything we do wrong (i.e. Germanwings 9525) tarnishes our reputation, as well as that of our employer. The important thing to remember is that we value that trust, and it is our duty to live up to the standards of a professional pilot, but it’s also much more than that.
My life is the balance too, and since I’m going to make sure I get there safely, then you will. So will my colleagues. Every time, because that’s what we do.