Our undercover captain reveals what it’s like to fly for a living.

Would you fly the Boeing 737 Max now it has returned to the skies?

The aircraft suffered two total losses with a significant number of deaths. For that reason, neither Boeing nor the Federal Aviation Administration would have allowed it to fly again until all of the issues had been resolved and it had undergone extensive simulator and flight testing without further incident.

If I think back over the years, this situation is not unique. In 1952, the De Havilland Comet entered service with BOAC. Within two years it had suffered three aircraft losses. It was found that the square-shaped passenger windows contributed to excess metal fatigue, resulting in an explosive decompression caused by structural failure. The aircraft was grounded and redesigned with oval windows. Thereafter, it operated successfully until its retirement in 1997.

I also remember when I was a first officer back in 1996 on the Boeing 747 Classic when a TWA aircraft of the same type I was flying crashed 12 minutes after take-off from New York, with a loss of 230 lives. It was discovered that an electrical short circuit had caused fuel vapour in one of its tanks to explode. From that moment on, we had special procedures implemented to avoid a further recurrence until the problem had been fixed.

The point I am making is that after any incident, particularly the loss of an aircraft, a thorough investigation always follows. Only when they are certain beyond all reasonable doubt that the situation is resolved will normal operations resume. So would I fly the B737 Max? Yes, without hesitation.

Do you ever worry about the computer systems on board aircraft?

The automatic/computer systems are placed on an aircraft essentially for three reasons. First, to make the management of the aircraft systems more effective. In the case of a system failure, rather than the pilot having to refer to paper checklists in an attempt to diagnose what has occurred, the computer will do it for him and automatically display the procedure to be followed on a screen. This avoids incorrect actions being taken owing to a wrong diagnosis and enhances the safety of the operation.

Second, computers assist the pilot, particularly during periods of high workload where important decisions may need to be made. Allowing the automatics to fly the aircraft creates thinking time for the pilots to formulate a plan of action, resulting in a more considered and safe outcome.

Third, the systems provide maintenance information to engineering to identify and rectify issues in a timely manner.

However, as we all know, computers do have limitations and at times don’t always behave as we might expect. In these cases, the pilots will use their judgment and, when considered necessary, will revert to manual flying and procedures.

I have flown a whole spectrum of commercial aircraft, from those with basic computer systems to the high-tech airliners of today. These computers, in my opinion, have greatly enhanced the safety and efficiency of airline operations. This is reflected in the statistics showing a steady decline in the number of fatal crashes.

Is it true that pilots have to eat different meals from each other on board?

For most of my career, that has been the case. In recent years, this rule has been relaxed and we are now able to eat the same. It was felt that it was highly improbable that both meals would be defective bearing in mind the stringent measures in place in relation to food preparation.

There are, however, guidelines for what we should avoid eating and drinking in certain countries before we fly, such as avoiding some types of seafood or drinking only bottled water, for example.

If you have a question you’d like to ask our pilot, email [email protected]