We all know that Hollywood isn’t even close to reality, but sometimes I kind of like to believe that we could make some of that magic happen in real like.
You know, like in the case of an emergency.
I know that air travel is safe and the kind of emergency where the plane would need to be landed by a total novice is not (thankfully) likely to happen at all, I feel like this should be an option in a worst worst worst case scenario.
But is it possible? Let’s find out!
First of all, we should point out that due to built-in redundancies like a co-pilot and, on longer flights, a full relief crew, this type of emergency has never actually happened. Pilots have become incapacitated and even died mid-flight, but co-pilots are fully trained pilots and those flights were never in danger of not being able to land.
Not only that, but pilots undergo rigorous and regular health checks to ensure they’ll remain capable for the duration of a flight.
But let’s just say, for argument’s sake… both pilots were incapacitated. What then?
Dan Binstead – a flight instructor with FTA Global – says ideally, the person who entered the cockpit would have some type of experience.
“…in the unlikely event…you’d want someone with flying experience if possible, even in small planes.”
There have been a few events in which a pilot or co-copilot became unable to fly, and passengers were polled to find out if anyone with flying experience could be a second in the cockpit. Each time, someone with experience happened to be on board.
But let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that they hadn’t been.
Patrick Smit, a pilot and author, says that would definitely be a reason to worry.
“A non-pilot wouldn’t have the slightest idea even how to work the communications radios, let alone fly and land the jet.
There is a zero-percent chance of a successful outcome in this scenario.”
If you’re sitting there thinking “ok, but can’t these planes basically fly themselves,” unfortunately that’s not exactly the case.
Although companies like Garmin have had some success implementing total automation – even in landing – with smaller, owner-operated planes, Smith says those systems are a long way from being able to successfully take a passenger jet from point A to point B with no human assistance.
“People’s presumptions about how modern planes are flown, and what airline pilots actually do, has long frustrated me.
People have a vastly exaggerated idea of what cockpit automation actually does, and how pilots interact with that automation, and assume this would be a lot easier than it actually would be.
I reckon it would be about as easy as dictating brain surgery over the telephone to somebody who has never held a scalpel.”
So the answer to the question that we posed in the title of this post is… no, it would not be possible. Because while it’s technically possible, it’s simply not feasible for somebody to actually land an aircraft as complicated as our modern planes seem to be.
Here’s the good news, though – we swear it’s just not likely to happen, well, ever.
Take the percentage of planes that actually get into trouble and then divide that by the number of times a pilot – never mind two – wouldn’t be able to function, then divide that by the chances that no one in 200 passengers had any flight experience at all, and you’ve got a very, very small opportunity for error.
So now you know.