Comparing drivers with airline pilots is interesting

Although most all of us are drivers, very few of us are airline pilots, but a little knowledge of the “rules of the road” for airline pilots caught my attention.

I really wasn’t aware of there being strict rules of the road for pilots, but there are, and the rules and regulations are far more numerous and complicated. Here are just a few, as written in a book entitled “From the Flight Deck” by Doug Morris, an airline pilot with Air Canada.

Morris explains that there are strict noise regulations, just as there are on city streets, although for vehicles they are seldom enforced. I’ll probably get in trouble with motorcycle riders for this, but some riders seem to relish in making as much noise as possible, having illegally modified the exhaust systems of their bikes.

To lessen the impact of noise on local residents, more and more airports are setting curfews for takeoffs and landings and establishing mandatory altitude levels. Morris states Toronto’s Pearson International Airport requires that airplanes climb to 3,600 feet above sea level before proceeding on course.

Comparing this requirement with 18-wheelers entering residential areas with reduced speed limits during hours when most people are sleeping, it would be respectful if these large trucks refrained from using loud engine brakes, but they seldom do.

Once on course, commercial airlines follow air routes that are like highways in the sky. Separate lanes are created at different altitudes, according to the direction the airplane is traveling. Pilots must stay strictly on these routes. Commercial aircraft send signals to the air traffic control (ATC) radar, and a deviation of more than 100 feet will automatically be queried.

Speed limits even apply to airline pilots. Airplanes flying below 10,000 feet must slow to 250 knots (288 mph); they must slow even more as they near the airport. Even at cruising altitude, airspeed can change by only 5%; otherwise, ATC must be advised. Pilots don’t receive speeding tickets, but they do receive a letter for any infraction. Their license to fly can also be revoked for repeated offenses.

Sound a bit similar to drivers and following the rules of the road? Being a good pilot, like being a good driver, is more than just mastering the controls; it also means abiding by the rules. The next time you board a commercial airline flight, would you want a pilot that didn’t follow the rules for flying your aircraft to your next destination? Of course not. Then why do we, as drivers, disobey so many vehicle and traffic laws, putting ourselves and others in danger. And why would we ever ride with such drivers?

Airlines fly roughly 1.5 trillion passenger miles (a passenger mile is one passenger for one mile) per year in the U.S. Meanwhile, there are about 5.3 trillion passenger miles in cars and small trucks per year in the U.S. From 2009 until this year, 51 passengers were killed in the United States flying on a commercial airliner, and 50 of those were killed in one crash near Buffalo in 2009. U.S. fatalities in motor vehicle crashes over the same period killed nearly 350,000 people. If we all drove our vehicles with the same attention to rules and regulations as do airline pilots, maybe we wouldn’t kill some 35,000 people per year.


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