Sunday, February 15, 2015

Taiwan pilot union slams post-crash tests for missing the point

An evaluation of TransAsia Airways pilots by Taiwan's aviation regulator following the crash of a TransAsia plane in Taipei last week missed the point and shed no light on the cause behind the crash, Taiwan's pilots union said Friday.

"The tests did nothing to identify the real problem," said a union spokesperson, who asked to be identified by his surname Chen, after 20% of the TransAsia pilots examined failed the test.

Taiwan's Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) ordered TransAsia's 68 pilots of ATR72 turbo-prop planes to undergo a competency test after a TransAsia ATR72-600 crashed in Taipei on Feb. 4, resulting in the deaths of 43 of the 58 people on board.

Preliminary flight data recorder readings pointed to possible human error behind the crash, prompting the re-evaluation of the pilots.

In the first part of the two-part test, consisting of an oral exam on basic knowledge such as dealing with emergencies, 10 of 49 pilots failed. The other 19 pilots were either in training overseas or on sick leave.

Chen saw the seemingly high failure rate as nothing more than the CAA trying to find a scapegoat for the crash.

"The CAA had to present some flaws to show the public it was doing its job," Chen said.

The spokesperson complained that oral tests are not objective by their nature, including marking pilots down for hesitating when giving an answer.

"How do you determine that an examinee is hesitant?" he asked.

TransAsia president Fred Wu admitted, however, that the test results were "unacceptable" and said the carrier will re-train its pilots.

CAA director general Lin Tyh-ming also said that pilots who did not pass the test or did not take it would not be allowed to fly.

The testing and the high rate of pilot failure have resulted in massive flight disruptions, forcing the airline to cancel 44 domestic flights Friday due to a manpower shortage.

But according to the union, its members on the front lines feel that the emphasis of aviation authorities and the airline on pilot testing has diverted attention from other major problems, namely the carrier's poor management and poor treatment of its workers.

Chen said that while the TransAsia pilots did not perform well on the tests, conducted from Feb. 7 to 10, the high personnel turnover due to low salaries was mainly to blame.

TransAsia's domestic pilots, who fly the ATR72, are said to make about half of the typical salary in other countries, and many of them have been poached by Chinese airlines.

"The speed with which TransAsia pilots come and go is so high that even the pilots themselves do not know how many people are on the team," he said.

Since the problem was systematic, Chen suggested that if such tests had to be conducted, they should be replaced by a two-way peer evaluation.

"The tests were only aimed at fixing the tip of the iceberg and holding someone responsible," Chen said. "What's needed is an overhaul of the system."

The union spokesperson said he had no objections to the second part of the tests mandated by the CAA, which will have pilots tested in simulators overseas by third-party flight instructors.

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