Thursday, August 01, 2013

Airline captain: God or airplane driver?

By Guwan Seeya
Usually there are two external pressures that all captains and crew are subjected to, by those peripheral decision-makers. The first is ‘pilot pushing’ which, simply put, is ‘go and don’t stop for any reason’. The other is ‘penny pinching’. That means, save money at all costs (pun intended) whatever the result. It must be remembered that once the captain sits in his/her seat to operate a flight, his/her priorities are quite different to that at the planning stage. Safety is the number one priority. Comfort of passengers is number two. Schedule is number three; and economy is the last factor. The Buck stops with the Captain.

In almost all airlines there is a ‘punctuality improvement committee’ that goes into the reason for a flight delay. It constitutes of representatives from all frontline departments, and ideally should rely on the captain, the ‘team leader, to apportion the reason for the delay, as he/she and his/her passengers see it. Unfortunately this results in a protracted ‘blame game’, and the committee members are distracted from their primary task of improving the on-time performance, as they may focus only on who should take the blame for a delay! As employees, do they know their ‘on-time’ performance as against the same day last year? The committee should really concentrate on those lines and educate all, so that all employees work toward the same goal.

Many years ago, this writer was pleasantly surprised when on the first flight he operated for a high-profile Southeast Asian carrier, he was told by his flight instructor that he could rest assured that all doors will close on time as there was a collective motivation, by all concerned, to do so. That was the prevalent ‘company culture’, which is unfortunately not usually observed or experienced in the airline we know so well, which is unable to even give a stable flight schedule to its employees.

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