An American Eagle ERJ-135

An American Eagle ERJ-135

First off, let me say that being an airline pilot is not an easy job. It is very complex, a lot can go wrong and regional pilots are not paid to the level of their talent. However, a few bad apples can make pilots seem unprofessional, which is far from the truth.

That said, none of them should be making such a careless mistake. They go through a lot of training to prepare to handle a difficult situation and more importantly, make sure things don’t go wrong. Each time they fly they hold many lives in their hands.

The Wall Street Journal highlighted two recent incidents of pilots on commuter airlines forgetting to start their second engine during take off. No one was hurt and the takeoffs were successfully aborted, but forgetting to have your engines turned on it is a huge oversight.

Airlines usually use one engine during taxi to conserve on fuel. However, written and verbal checklists (not to mention common sense) ensures that pilots are prepared for takeoff (ie using both engines).

In one case, a pilot for an American Eagle regional jet was flying from Los Angeles to San Diego. He got distracted talking to the control tower and assumed he started the second engine. When trying to take off, he received an automated warning showing the second engine wasn’t to speed and they headed back to the gate. They thought the engine was malfunctioning until mechanics found it was never started (now that’s embarrassing).

American Eagle states the pilots went though additional training and updated their takeoff checklist. Really? I am not quite sure how the updated checklist would help. “Before take off, be sure both engines are running. We REALLY mean it, double check. Did you check? For both? Ready for takeoff? Actually just check one more time to be sure.”

The second incident happened with another regional jet flying for Trans States Airlines (which flies for United and US Airways) at Dulles International Airport. Again the pilot didn’t realize his second engine wasn’t started until they were lined up for takeoff and at full throttle.

Wanting an inside perspective I spoke with a regional jet pilot (who wanted to remain anonymous). She told me, “It’s sad that airlines, in general, are still experiencing a lack of safety issues. We should be more paranoid now than ever before about checklists and procedures. To miss something so crucial is unacceptable. Not all pilots are like this but without a serious change in the industry (ie supporting pilots) stupid mistakes will continue to occur. For the most part, pilots are very safety conscious and overly cautious of everything.”

These recent incidents have raised questions (once again) about commuter carriers. Many people say they are over worked and under paid. But regional jets provide airlines a lower overhead and provide you, the customer, a cheaper ticket.

I don’t know about you, but I am more than willing to pay a few bucks more to make sure airlines hire and keep highly trained and motivated pilots that do not need to be abused to earn their seniority.

Image: caribb

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EDITOR-IN-CHIEF & FOUNDER - SEATTLE, WA. David has written, consulted, and presented on multiple topics relating to airlines and travel since 2008. He has been quoted and written for a number of news organizations, including BBC, CNN, NBC News, Bloomberg, and others. He is passionate about sharing the complexities, the benefits, and the fun stuff of the airline business. Email me: david@airlinereporter.com

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8 Comments

Hi David,

Believe it or not, ensuring the second engine is operating prior to takeoff is NOT a standard checklist item!

Let me explain. At my former airline, yes, we would often taxi out on one engine to conserve fuel. Nowhere on any of our checklists is there an item that says “START SECOND ENGINE” or “CHECK TO MAKE SURE BOTH ENGINES ARE OPERATING BEFORE TAKEOFF” or anything of the sort.

Instead, we operated under company guidelines, which merely specify that the second engine must be started at least two minutes before takeoff in order for operating temperatures to stabilize. But it is otherwise completely up to the discretion of the flight crew when to start the second engine.

So….it’s highly conceivable that crews could get distracted and start their take off roll with only one engine operating. Is that highly unprofessional? Is that a really dumb mistake? Yes and yes.

So, to say that “written and verbal checklists (not to mention common sense) ensures that pilots are prepared for takeoff (ie using both engines)” is not entirely accurate. At my airline and many others, ensuring both engines are operating for takeoff is not a checklist item. Pilots are just expected to do it.

Guess that doesn’t always work….

Crazy Airline Fee Lenny

No excuses for poor oversight and attention to detail.
There but by the grace of God go I!
May I point out that in the EMB 135/140/145 series it is entirely possible to go through the entire checklist and never hear an alert that the second motor is not started. Pretty counter intuitive!
IN FACT, when the take off configuration check button is pressed during the “before take off checklist”, it will not sound off a bad configuration with the second shut down!
Brazilian engineering!
These type of issues not “only” happened in regional cockpits as could be derived from the article above, it happens every day in all cockpits of trunk, major and international airlines.
Luckily at some point in the decision making process, the pilots notice the error and corrected. It is only “too late” when you realize the mistake and do nothing causing an accident.
Although these guys appear weak, we do not know or understand the dynamics of their day or the operating considerations.
Either way 2 guys that almost missed the point of no return do not make an airline and poor systems do not make a bad airplane.
What is more critical is that we all learning from the incident through the ASAP type programs so this does not happen again!

HotelCoffee

On the EMB-170, we have the same button. I’ve often laughed about how it should check if the motors are running. Yes, it’s a huge oversight, but as stated above… the airlines have made adherence to checklists more important than common sense. They are training pilots to be robots and creating robotic airplanes to be pilots.

Jim Blocker

I fly a simular Canadair Product and to forget to start your second engine should be grounds for dismisal. There are many good qualified pilots out there that are not that stupid. I am one of them. What about the landing gear? If you can’t remember to start the second engine you will forget to put the wheels down. Fired !

Hey Jim!

Thank you for your comments. I agree with you. In most jobs you can make a mistake and it is not a huge deal, but in aviation, lives are at stake! Don’t know if you saw my updated blog: http://www.airlinereporter.com/2010/06/trans-states-pilot-who-didnt-turn-on-second-engine-is-director-of-flight-operations/ that shows one of the pilots is the Director of Operations for Trans States and looks like he and the airline might be trying to cover things up…

David

dino9401

First of all, forgetting to start an engine is grounds for dismissal. Don’t try to justify it with excuses like, “the dynamics of their day, or cockpit distractions”. I am a captain and I am thorough with my checklists and if I feel I am unable to do that then I will not do the flight. We, as pilots, owe that to our passengers. Those passengers could be your family, kids, friends, parents etc…
Second, unfortunately this happens at all levels.
Third, although the checklist may not specifically say to make sure the engines are running, I’m sure there are portions which include checking engine indications such as thrust settings, oil pressure, vibrations etc. Again I am a line pilot and I am tired of all you whiney pilots who do a half ass job because your entitlement requires that you should get paid for nothing or should be somewhere else. If you hate it so much then quit. I don’t want you flying my family around.

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