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Having the Right Licence: Two Recent Cases.

Within the last few months we have seen different scenarios where minor incidents and extremely painful tragedies have aroused concern in many of us about the high cost that poor training may have in the performance of pilots.

One of the most recent stories has to do with William Chandler, the pilot who was able to fly an aircraft for over 20 years with fraudulent paperwork. Being a senior first officer during his last years at South African Airways, he was discovered after an incident occurred over Swiss airspace where the plane moved erratically under his control. The fraud came to light when SAA procedures involving incidents reported during operations dictate that the crew be grounded and subject to an intensive and comprehensive assessment and re-evaluation.

The way in which the pilot could avoid or pass critical controls is still under investigation. All the pilots must bi-annually take medical exams and proficiency tests to validate their capacities and maintain their licences. Fortunately, this minor incident did not cause fatalities, but it was the tip of the iceberg that highlighted a significant and serious problem of pilots flying with incorrect or at worse forged documentation.

William Chandler

The case was different in the accident that involved footballer Emiliano Sala and British pilot David Ibbotson, holder of a Private Pilot Licence. The story became extremely important and gained international support when Emiliano Salas was being transferred from his football team in Nantes, France to his new Premier League club, Cardiff City. The Malibu Piper aircraft which was carrying him crashed into the English Channel. Details about the crash started to be known after a search was funded to recover the body of Emiliano from the wreckage of the aircraft found at the bottom of the sea.

Emiliano Sala

The investigation after the tragedy leaves a few doubts. Was the pilot allowed and prepared to fly at night? What checks were made to allow the pilots to perform this flight without a commercial licence? How widespread is the practice of PPL holders illegally performing commercial flights?

A private licence is intended to be used under circumstances only when pilot and passenger are in a cost-sharing basis. This is one of the hypotheses the investigation is handling as the journey was primary allowed as a private flight. If this was not the case, the pilot required a commercial pilot license to be able to transport passengers and make a profit from journey like this one.

Although accidents and incidents cannot be eliminated 100%, industry continually seeks for the safest standards in its operations. To achieve that goal, technology has been developed to improve aircraft systems, reducing risk and imprecisions. However, pilots and aviation personnel need to be ready and in compliance with what is needed to perform in adverse situations.

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