Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence



Memorandum By Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (AT 01)

  By way of background, PACTS is an associate all-party group and registered charity. It brings together technical expertise from the public, private, academic and professional sectors to promote research based solutions to identified transport safety problems. Its objective is to promote transport safety legislation to protect human life. PACTS' Aviation Safety Working Party meets two or three times a year, and membership of the group comprises operators, safety regulators, researchers, professional bodies representing those involved in aviation, and individual members of PACTS.


  For some while concern has been expressed that the aviation industry was heading for a severe shortage of aviation personnel. In the "Future of Aviation" green paper, the forecast average growth rate from 1998 to 2020 was put at 4.25 per cent per year under mid-point forecasts, with slightly more rapid growth in the earlier years. This was set against a retirement bulge for staff in the aviation industry, expected to occur between 2009 and 2012. In our response to the Green Paper we expressed real concern regarding the shortage of safety-critical staff in the industry over the next decade. The difficulties of employment recruitment and retention apply to air traffic controllers, ground operations and maintenance engineers alike.

  The recent down-turn in the industry does not remove this concern. The cyclical nature of the aviation industry is well known, and this creates particular difficulties in relation to the retention and recruitment of employees. The industry is rightly criticised for its short-term outlook and the manner in which it over-reacts to down-turns in the cycle, by immediately seeking significant redundancies and cutting-back on training initiatives. This approach leads to long-term problems, since when the industry picks up once again, the provision of training and skills continually lags behind the drag curve. It is estimated that during the current down-turn, industry will have reduced training to such an extent that the "skills pool" will be 18 months behind the drag curve. Continued investment, throughout down-turns, for the education and training of safety-critical elements of the industry is vital.

  When we consider the time required for training the various personnel, the severity of the problem becomes clear. Long-term planning for the workforce must take into account the fact that it takes a minimum of three years to train air traffic controllers, and even longer to fully train aircraft maintenance engineers. This is more time than it takes to train pilots, and there is a significant drop-out rate among ATCO trainees. Across Europe the shortage of air traffic controllers is currently estimated at 800; the problem is a world-wide one. The aviation system is only as strong as its weakest link—air traffic control and aircraft maintenance engineering must be strengthened.


  The recent Labour Market Study (2001) made several recommendations for the training of aviation personnel. The Report identified the importance of adopting a strategic workforce plan, including the monitoring of current provisions of manpower and training as well as anticipated future levels. Planning and evaluation of this sort could help secure resources for training during periods of downturn.

  One development to come out of the study is the Skills Alliance Initiative, which hopes to serve as a focal point for aircraft maintenance engineering. The Aero Skills Alliance aims to make better provision for vocational education and training of persons employed or intending to be employed as aircraft maintenance engineers in the aviation industry, and will represent the interests of civil aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul organisations and related defence organisations. This initiative has received support from the industry through various affinity groups. It should also be supported by the Government.

  Even with improved training opportunities, however, the attitude of industry leaders towards periods of contraction must be changed. If employees and potential employees experience or observe mass redundancy in the sector, they are likely to conclude that jobs in the aviation industry are not secure. Consequently people will be unlikely to dedicate years of their life training for a profession where they consider the pay and status, along with the job security, to be low. Currently, a significant number of undergraduates are "lost" to the profession before they have even begun, moving into industry sectors other than aviation upon qualification. 20 per cent of engineering graduates never enter industry in an engineering role. Workers who are made redundant rarely return to the sector once the industry picks up again, and so experienced members of staff are lost to the industry for good.

  In times of industry contraction, if the aero-space manufacturing industry needs to be down-sized, it should be done more intelligently. The decision makers in companies are not always experienced in terms of aviation safety requirements and as a result redundancies and cut-backs in training budgets are done on a purely financial basis, rather than a skills basis. It is vital to maintain investment in moments of downturn, because expansion is only round the corner, and safety critical staff must be available.


  PACTS is concerned by proposals to introduce bullet-proof doors within passenger aircraft prior to appropriate research being undertaken to establish what safety and security benefit would result. Such a proposal should be supported by appropriate research in order that people are not lulled into a false sense of security when travelling by aeroplane. Passengers should be provided with accurate information about safety and security risks, and not be encouraged to return to air travel on the basis of such initiatives unless their benefit has been proven.


12 November 2001

Memorandum By Captain Neil Shaw (AT 02)


01  Strengthened cockpit/flight-deck doors:


    Public/media appeal.


    (a)  Bullet proofing—This defeatist proposal means that the industry is willing to accept a system which allows fire arms in the cabin.

    The hijackers of 11 September demonstrated their willingness to die for their cause and thus would have little or no compunction to have an airborne shoot-out with a "Sky Marshal", so possibly killing the passengers before the aircraft skin is punctured/damaged severely and destruction occurs by "bomb-less" explosion. "Armed" hijackers could thus cause catastrophe without even affecting the pilots.

    (b)  Dead bolting—My first drawback is basic anatomical needs. eg food, liquid, toilet facilities. Perhaps OK if the flight is less than 20 minutes but even then bodily functions can require sudden attention. The 747-400 is the only aircraft I have flown with a toilet inside the flight deck. On all others the flight-deck door had to be opened to reach the toilet. The implications of not being able to return would be immense. One purpose of supplying sustenance to flight crew on longer flights is to ensure that they are alive, well or even still awake!

    My second drawback relates to pilot incapacitation. If there is no way cabin crew can enter the flight-deck then there is no way that pilot incapacitation can be addressed. After a long process and many incidents, this eventuality is recognised by all major air registration authorities as needing emergency drill and regular meaningful practice.

    My third drawback reflects inaccessibility to the flight deck. No commercial pilot, whose job is to cherish and save life, would be able to shelter behind a locked door while a hijacker systematically murders the other victims outside that door especially if some are members of his/her own family. Once the hijackers then cause the flight-deck door to be opened allowing them to enter, they are provided with a custom built secure cockpit to perpetrate their crime. The dead bolted strengthened door would then be to their great advantage.

02  City "No-fly" zones and shooting down of "rogue" aircraft:


    Public/media appeal.


    (a)  The geographical location of many major airports make this suggestion totally impractical, although probably desirable for future builds away from any conurbation. (Maplin Sands was once desired for the new major London Airport....but dropped.)

    (b)  It takes several seconds, if not minutes, to determine whether an aircraft, either over flying or on intermediate approach is off track, either accidentally or deliberately, by which time the chances of intercepting a "rogue" aircraft before it strikes its urban target is non-existent. Indeed, the Empire State building ["Empire"] was actually a major holding/stacking point for aircraft landing at New York's KJFK and the "Needle" was/is a major visual approach fix/sighting for landing at Washington National!

    (c)  There also seems to be some ignorance about what would happen to the tons of airborne and high speed wreckage if a rogue aircraft were to be shot down before it reached its intended target. Computer games and movies have attributed to a lay misconception that wreckage is vaporised when an aircraft is destroyed. "Collateral" damage to an unplanned "target" would be the real result.

    (d)  Also, who, in that split second, is going to be available to authorise (or willing to accept the authority) to shoot down a fully laden 747-400 flying low over a major city. (On easterly takeoff [towards the city] from Heathrow to Singapore for example, a 747-400 contains some 400 people, 140 tonnes of fuel and several hundred tons of metal.)

    (e)  As I have explained to many acquaintances, it might take me a fair time to teach someone to fly planes, but I can teach anyone to crash them in ten minutes. Once a plane is started and airborne it is by definition a guided missile. If the guide/pilot is intent on crashing the plane, unsafe application is relatively easy especially on modern fly-by-wire aircraft where manual flying skill is far less required than it was. The difficulty in modern aviation is mental visualisation and conducting the flight safely.

03  Plastic Cutlery:


    Public/media appeal.


    (a)  Plastic knives can still stab and cut flesh. Apart from that there are weapons available from broken glasses, trays, bottles, umbrellas, stiletto heels etc (all readily available on aircraft) as well as the danger of non-metallic weapons (including knives and guns) being able to pass through present security screens without detection. Indeed I have seen bamboo knives and plastic guns using plastic ammunition on sale at airports! Airlines themselves openly carry truncheons, fire axes, plastic restraint equipment etc.

    (b)  Passenger planes carry passengers and cabin staff. They are all vulnerable to bodily harm even with the knee jerk replacement of metal cutlery by plastic. It is not beyond criminals to know the arts of unarmed combat but if we are truly serious about this then all glass and combustible material (like alcohol) should be removed as a starter.

04  Air/Sky-Marshals:


    Public/media appeal.


    (a)  The aircraft Captain would no longer be in charge of the aeroplane (as UK law sensibly dictates) unless the Sky-Marshal is going to ask his assailants to delay their attack while he obtains the Captain's permission to fire off a few bullets and potentially damage the systems and integrity of the aircraft, as well as possibly kill the odd passenger. At altitude, subsonic, moderately pressurised aircraft may survive a holed fuselage but a supersonic, highly pressurised aircraft would most probably not.

    (b)  It provides another link in the chain (possibly via family on the ground) to be interfered with and an impotent Sky-Marshal could offer a greater danger to air safety than a zealous one. (A less important member of the crew is not as vulnerable and an airline pilot is hopefully aware that his/her job is to save lives.)

    (c)  How many Sky-Marshals would be required on an aircraft? One, even two, could easily be overpowered by several, even unarmed, hijackers who would then acquire the aircraft's legitimate gun.

    (d)  "The Air Marshal would only have stun guns". Hijackers would soon discover a further weakness in the sop, but the same principle would still apply as in (C).

    (e)  Are psychological assessments to be made on every Sky-Marshal before every flight? (His potential to inflict damage in a confined and highly vulnerable space in the air would be far greater than that of any gun-carrier based on the ground.)

05  Baggage reconciliation/Passenger identification:


    Very important aspects to improve by virtue of the modern technology of bar codes, Smart cards and basic physical identification. (As demonstrated by previous notices to pilots, some airlines were/are against such measures because of time and cost.)


    (a)  Cost

    (b)  Too much faith in electronic systems. Manual back-up must be available and practised regularly.

06  Radio Loadsheets:

  This change remains contrary to a safe operation. As with many esoteric practices it introduces a further element for error at the best of times (as indicated by the "Flight Despatch" system widespread in the USA—cause of a major crash at KSFO) but is clearly open to criminal interference without the need to go near the aeroplane but simply by intruding into the isolated ground office of "Load Control" (LC).

  [In the older system the despatcher (or Redcap) presents the final correct loadsheet to the Captain for his signature. Eye contact is an essential safety factor to determine whether there are any unexpected additions or subtractions to a provisional loadsheet provided much earlier. In the newish "Radio Loadsheet" system a call for the final figures is initiated from the aircraft to LC (when the aircraft has often left the boarding gate, sometimes airborne already, and subject to the pilots' remembering) to record if there actually are any changes to the guestimated provisional. Obviously, there is no longer any personal contact with the despatcher responsible or perceived urgency to receive the true final figures and if LC is being coerced by criminals, pressure to pass false information has become all too easy.] Not only concerned pilots but many established despatchers themselves identified the obvious shortfalls in this illogical system; but purely for commercial efficiency the CAA allowed UK airlines to introduce it.

  (The RAF continued employing "Load Masters" who travel on the plane.)

07  Late Closure:

  Increased check-in time seems logical but Closure-time is often overlooked for commercial reasons. Closure-time (ie the latest time for a passenger to be accepted) should be increased appropriately (even for first class) to avoid rushed lapses by "behind the scenes" staff.

08  Smaller/Charter airlines etc:

  Often it is claimed that smaller/low cost/charter airlines or small provincial airports should receive dispensation from incurring the expense of anti-terrorist measures. Of course this is an illogical and spurious cop-out. If bigger outfits seem too protected then the terrorists will just find easier ways in the industry to achieve their ends. I am sure that the World Trade Centre would have collapsed even if hit by a chartered aircraft having taken off from a small provincial airport. The fact it was struck by scheduled aircraft had little bearing on the matter. Indeed, chartered aircraft could pose the greatest risk!

  The following two items are closely related and could be treated as one. To me they represent sensible complements to security.

09  Airport Security:

  All passengers and passenger bags need to check-in. Thus a simple solution is to isolate any passenger away from any non-passenger in a sterile area as soon as possible in the process. There should therefore be no other person in the Check-in area other than passengers and identified bona fide staff. (Indeed, Heathrow Central Area is ideal to be designated out of bounds to anyone other than travellers and staff.)

  No article should then be allowed into the "Security-search" area unless it has been weighed (along with the baggage) and tagged with the [same] bar code as the passenger's hold baggage at Check-in. This code can then be read by a bar-code reader (like supermarkets) at the gate and thus no loose article (however small and seemingly harmless) can be accepted on the aircraft without being authorised/tagged by the Check-in staff. As it is, carry-on baggage often increases suspiciously in size and quantity after check-in and security, immigration and gate staff are often falsely assured that the Check-in staff approved its carriage. For an easy life, most (not all) gate staff accept it and then so do cabin staff with a result that many sharp objects (eg umbrellas) and unidentifiable packages/bags are sneaked onto an aircraft.

  Staff/Crew ID cards need to be checked more religiously by security staff who in turn need to be scrutinised and monitored. I know of one crew member who clearly proves the farcical nature of the present pretence by having replaced his photo with that of his dog. To my knowledge he has displayed the ID card on his uniform for the last 15 plus years without once being stopped. Most aircrew are just waved through even though many have just met each other for the first time an hour before the flight. In fact, because of constraints of time and commercial/political changes to the rules (authorised by the CAA) I frequently never met some of my own crew ..... ever! (And I was diligent.) In the UK I was never stopped even though my identify card was out of date and rank at one time for several months. Security services make great play on checking and X-raying (Long Haul) crew bags but I emphasise it is individuals that cause trouble not the personal baggage of genuine flying staff.

10  Pre-board:

  Pre-board arguments are basically an extension of the similar Check-in ones.

  However with both the above, too much faith must not be placed in electronic systems alone. Manual back-up must be available, taught and practised regularly and these major requirements must not be allowed to take second place to commercial demands as so often has happened in the past when the heat dies down. Sadly, many subtle "commercial" relaxations are then rubber stamped by the CAA and so accepted by staff for want of an easy life. Actual experience proves the fallibility of promised fictitious theory.

  My reservations are based on either my own personal experience as a commercial pilot or by noting other incidents in published accident reports and safety journals.

  I do not contend that my opinions are conclusive. I accept there may be many other pros and cons but I hope to have raised awareness.

Neil Shaw

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