The Challenge of Leadership

Motor racing has fascinated me since boyhood. (Many years ago I even raced an Alfa Romeo myself – albeit not very successfully!)

In particular I’ve followed Formula One – especially the longest lasting F1 team, Ferrari, which I’ve followed since the days of Chris Amon and Jacky Ickx.

Chris Amon(NZL) Ferrari 312. Dutch Grand Prix, Zandvoort, Holland, 23 June 1968.

Being one of the “Tifosi” meant that I’ve despaired about the team’s misfortunes over the last few years. Since the glory days of Michael Schumacher, with team bosses Jean Todt, Ross Brawn and the South African designer Rory Byrne, Ferrari was on a downward spiral, with their last World Championship more than a decade ago, in 2007 with Kimi Raikkonen.

Since the advent of the hybrid era, Ferrari seemed to be an also-ran. Until 2018, when all of a sudden they had a competitive car and looked like a winning team.

For a while.

Then the wheels came off and Sebastian Vettel looked startled and out-of-sorts, making all sorts of (for him) silly mistakes. The team’s strategists seemed to fumble from one blunder to the next and Ferrari eventually had to settle for second best.

How are Ferrari’s F1 woes relevant to aviation? The answer is: Leadership.

As we celebrate the 10th anniversary of the “Miracle on the Hudson” landing – where Captain Sully Sullenberger’s leadership skills were as much on display as were his flying skills – the captain’s duty to build a team around him is pertinent.

15 January 2009

On reading Will Buxton’s opinion piece about Mauritzio Arrivabene’s demise, one has to draw some parallels to the airline captain’s responsibility for ensuring a successful and safe team.

“Arrivabene’s rule by fear fractured his team and ultimately failed his employers” rings true to many failed leadership issues in aviation as well.

What is it that sets good leaders apart from the also-rans?

There are many academic definitions and as many popular quotes from people like Richard Branson, Alan Mulally (Boeing GM for the B777 project and later CEO of the Ford Company) among others.

On analysis, two words pop up repeatedly: Trust and Respect. Two attributes which Ferrari’s Arrivabene could not claim – and it cost him the prized position after four seasons.

Speaking about Just Culture Job Brüggen, safety officer at LVNL and co-chair of the Eurocontrol Safety Team put it this way:

Everyone wants to be good,
but if people feel the atmosphere could be tending to “blame and shame”,
they become less interested in being good –
they just want to look good.

When people simply cover their own backsides and avoid taking responsibility – look to the leader for the reason.

“The walls, both physical and metaphorical, were quick to go up around the team. But far from creating a safe environment in which the once mighty outfit could rebuild, it appeared that what was being built was a system built on the fear of failure”. This was what Arrivabene did to the once proud Prancing Horse.

The lesson here is simple. To lead implies a two-way agreement – someone leads and others follow. But if the “leader” fails to gain the followers’ trust and respect, he or she can lead all they want – no one will follow.

Is it any surprise that some “leaders” sooner or later find themselves out on their own, without any actual support? Arrivabene learnt this lesson the hard way.

Hopefully Mattia Binotto, the new Team Principal, will know that leadership demands much more than the position and the authority. It demands an attitude – something special, which allows people to follow the vision of their leader.

Hopefully the Scuderia will benefit and become winners again.







Jet Upset: Not a Good Tabloid Headline…


I think its time again to haul out this sad picture, which hangs in just about every flight school or ops office and which has served to warn generations of new pilots about the perils of flying with the wrong attitude.

The recent loss of an AirAsia Airbus A320 serves as an example: The accident investigation board cited a solder crack in a circuit board as a causal factor – it did indeed set off a number of events which clearly caught the pilots unaware, but the major cause was the pilots’ inability to recognise their aircraft’s departure from the intended flight path – and their “incapacity” to recover from that upset, potentially due to a mixture of “carelessness and neglect”.

Flight path management is the pilots’ primary task. There are obviously other tasks to be accomplished (navigation, weather avoidance, radio work and a myriad others) but controlling the aircraft’s current and projected trajectory by way of energy management remains the most important.

What the recent AirAsia crash and that of Air France 447 a while ago clearly illustrate, is that we need a different training approach to avoid pilots losing control in flight. LOCI (Loss of Control in Flight) has become the major cause of aircraft accidents. (Review the below graphic from Boeing’s latest annual Statistical Summary of Commercial Jet Aircraft):

CRM Acc Stats 15

It tells me that pilots would rather leave the flying to computers and autopilots, while they fiddle with circuit breakers and try to figure out “what this thing is doing now”.

It would appear that the captain of AirAsia 8501 was out of his seat to pull circuit breakers without consideration of the consequences and when the Airbus went into “alternate law” the FO could not accomplish the basic recovery from a stall event at altitude. (The same problem the pilots of AF447 had over the Atlantic Ocean).

High altitude flying comes with its own set of problems. I won’t bore you with the definitions of “coffin corner”, but at high altitude aircraft have three possible limitations: Certified altitude, Thrust Limit Altitude, and Buffet or Maneuvre Margin.

On the B738 I fly, thrust is usually the most limiting factor, as at altitude you may find that you have insufficient thrust for anything but relatively minor maneuvering. The Boeing FCTM (Flight Crew Training Manual) clearly states: “Flight crews intending to operate at or near the maximum operating altitude should be familiar with the performance characteristics of the airplane in these conditions.” 

The fancy FMC (Flight Management Computer) will provide you with a limited bank angle which won’t exceed the current available thrust limit, only if you’re operating in LNAV (Lateral Navigation) mode. In any other mode – and this is what many pilots miss – you need to maintain your own speed at least 10kts above the lower buffet limit and use a maximum of 10 degrees of bank. Should you run into the thrust limit, you can only reduce bank angle, increase thrust to max continuous, or descend (or all three).

Which all goes to show that at those altitudes the potential for control loss is very high.

In a recent blog, David Learmount ( ) stated that in 18 control loss accidents since the year 2000 almost 2000 people lost their lives. That is simply unacceptable. Crashing an aircraft which, despite some technical issues, is fully flyable, is an indictment of our pilots’ level of training and expertise.

It is not the jet that gets upset – it has no emotion in this regard. It is the pilots who should be the last barrier of redundancy, but who are failing by causing the jet upset.


Is there anyone on board who can Fly?

The recent death of a pilot while in flight has seen a flurry of reaction. An American Airlines A320, Flight 550 was en route from Phoenix to Boston, but diverted to Syracuse when the captain became ill. Media reaction ranged from declaring the co-pilot a hero to posing questions about the medical condition of pilots.

So what are the actual chances of a pilot becoming incapacitated? By all accounts the chances are reasonably good – after all, pilots are subject to the normal range of human afflictions, ranging from simple colds to food poisoning and heart attacks. However, while trying to find some stats on incapacitation I could not find any record of pilot incapacitation on a commercial airliner which resulted in an accident. Neither could I find any of a double or simultaneous incapacitation – the chances of which must be so remote as to be negligible.

So I’m afraid that all the Microsoft Sim pilots who are ready for the call to duty when they board a commercial flight may well never receive that call!

In fact, the remote possibility of pilot incapacitation should not be a concern to passengers at all.

Air crew are well trained for such events and either pilot would be able to continue or divert the flight and land safely. In fact, one of our final line checks for new command upgrades is a “solo” flight, where the instructor captain becomes “incapacitated”.

In a real life situation the cabin crew’s role as safety officers also becomes clear. They are well trained in providing emergency first aid. They would also assist in moving the incapacitated pilot’s seat far back and to restrain him/her from interfering with controls. If necessary and if time allows the pilot could even be removed from the cockpit. Cabin crew members are furthermore trained to assist pilots with checklists and radio selection, which would lighten the workload in a single pilot diversion, approach and landing.

However, this rather non-event scenario would obviously not suit Hollywood! In fact, a quick Google search reveals at least ten movies with pilots in distress and some rock-jawed passenger-hero saving the day. Let’s be honest, you have to be at least Charlton Heston or Harrison Ford (or Lauren Holly – remember “Turbulence”?) to pull off such an incredible feat!

Lauren Holly

Lauren Holly in Turbulence.

My particular worst scenes of impossible wishful thinking were in Airport ’77 with Jack Lemmon telling pax in the B747 on the seabed that they’d be OK, as the aircraft is pressurised!

Jack Lemmon

Jack Lemmon in Airport ’77.

Airport 77

Wishful thinking!

Or what about the rappelling between aircraft in “Air Force One” – only in Hollywood!


C-130 and B747 formo in” Air Force One”.

Now the question a number of people have asked me: Could a non-pilot land a commercial aircraft?

I think it is highly unlikely that it would result in a successful landing – with lots of patter and assistance (provided the radio frequencies are set up correctly) a non-pilot would probably manage to position the aircraft near an airport, using the various automated systems. He or she could possibly even configure it for an autoland, should conditions allow – unfortunately any out of limits situation may well disengage the autopilots. However, manually executing a landing would probably result in severe damage and possible loss of life. Let’s face it, unless you were trained for this, gently placing many of tons of metal onto a very narrow piece of tarmac at speeds of around 250 km/h will take some doing!

Fortunately we do not have to worry about such Hollywood scenarios. Rather enjoy the flight and trust that your pilots are well rested, well fed and healthy!

Featured Pic: Getty Images. Other Pics: Movie Promo Material

Don’t Disturb! (Please?)

I hate parties. Particularly if I’m not one of the revelers and desperately trying to sleep.

This is the dilemma of the line pilot (and their long-suffering families). Non flyers find it hard to understand the anti-social behaviour that we tend to exhibit at times – aren’t aircrew supposed to be serious party animals? Trying to arrange a dinner with friends becomes a challenge; finding an evening where you’re free without an early sign-on or a late sign-off is the quest for the holy grail.

I do recall that many years ago we would have a reasonable amount of free time during night stops, which would allow for some socialising. But the nature of airline ops have completely changed, especially for short haul crews.

Captain Sully Sullenberger (Miracle on the Hudson) describes the new short haul crews as the “slam and click” generation – get to the hotel room, slam the door and click the lock. Believe me, the last thing I need when I finally get to my hotel room at 01h00 in the morning (we do have pairings which land after midnight), is not being able to sleep.

Tired Pilot

Unfortunately, life goes on and your body clock does not allow for the wild variations in airline rosters – so getting to sleep at 02H00 does not mean that you won’t wake up early. After all, normal people wake up around six or seven in the morning! And then we sign on early afternoon and fly to almost midnight again.

This is where the revelers come in: Lo and behold, just after your tired body finally succumbed to sleep, some drunken louts will come down the passage, yelling and singing, slamming doors and generally showing their ill breeding.

To add insult to injury, no-one seems to realise that “Do Not Disturb” does not only mean don’t enter.

Chris Manno

Capt. Chris Manno’s take on hotel staff – the same everywhere, I’m afraid!

A few years ago FlightGlobal magazine published the results of a survey of some 2000 aviation professionals. The question was: “List your perceived top threats to aviation safety”. Top of the results list? Fatigue among safety critical crew (pilots, FA’s, engineers, ATC’s, etc.)

Early in September I attended one day of the aviation safety conference in Cape Town, where Jonathan Davy presented a paper on fatigue. He is completing his PhD at Rhodes on fatigue in shift workers – obviously there is much that corresponds with the way air crews work.


Jonathan Davy at the African Symposium on Human Factors and Aviation Safety.

Bottom line is that we can recognise the symptoms of human fatigue very easily – but for a diurnal species, designed to be awake during daylight and asleep in the dark, finding a cure is proving extremely difficult. The new buzzword for airline unions is FRMS (Fatigue Risk Management System). Whether it will simply remain a buzzword, or whether it will actually result in some tangible results remain to be seen – I must say that I’m rather sceptical.

The challenge is to arrive at a system where the poor human element will be able to keep up with the increasing workload demands of a work-intensive, high-tech, high cost industry with low yields. The bottom line counts and humans are expected to cope.

An airline captain’s priority is the safety of passengers and crew – it will be a sad day when that is compromised by the biggest current threat to aviation safety. Pilots are can-do people and they find it very difficult to call in sick, never mind calling in “fatigued”. So we get on with it and do the job required of us – as safely and efficiently as possible. The surreal early sunrises and expansive city vistas at night make up for the drudgery of 3 o’clock starts and 1 o’clock finishes.

So I do apologise, but please bear with me when I appear somewhat grumpy while you are having a ball at your late night party? And, for the record, I don’t really hate parties!