Why is the co-pilot critical in landing a Boeing 767?

In this article, CNN says that an Air Canada flight was diverted when the First Officer became incapacitated during the trip. The First Officer had to be removed from the flight deck and restrained while the Toronto to London flight was diverted to Shannon.

Okay. Stuff happens and no one is immune to mental illness. I truly hope that the copilot has a full recovery. What I don’t understand is that the Captain of this flight had the cabin crew poll the passengers to find someone with flying experience to assist him at the controls.


As luck would have it, one of the flight attendants had an expired commercial pilot’s license and was able to assist the captain in a safe landing at Shannon. Why was assistance necessary at all? I thought that the point of having two members of the flight crew is so that, if one became unable to continue, the other pilot could safely handle the aircraft. Is the 767 so complicated that one person cannot safely effect a landing?

I can’t answer the question, unfortunately, but I have another one prompted by the article.

What the heck does that mean - a “license to read cockpit instruments”? Is that a clumsy way to say that she once held an instrument rating, but that having lapsed she’s now restricted to VFR flying? As worded, it sounds very strange - like she is fully licensed as a commercial pilot but is not qualified to interpret the airspeed indicator. :dubious:

I think that’s just your garden-variety inaccuracy that you’d see in just about any article about aviation.

As for the need for a co-pilot, I’m confident that the remaining pilot could have landed the plane just fine. But even a minimally trained assistant can be useful for reading through checklists, keeping an eye on critical gauges, writing down clearances and instructions and various other things that can ease the workload of the flying pilot.

That would be my interpretation. The reporter was probably told that she’s a commercial pilot but not current under IFR, and in standard brainless reporter fashion turned this into “her license for reading cockpit instruments had expired.”

So what happened to the First Officer to necessitate him being restrained? Don’t they screen these people?
I do hope he/she’s OK and can return to work.

In the U.S., you need a current 1st class medical exam to be an Air Transport Pilot. They are pretty strict and cover almost everything both physical and mental.

Nitpick: Everyone keeps referring to to the Flight Attendant as having a lapsed commercial pilot’s license. A commercial pilot’s license is real but it isn’t what most people think. That is what you need to tow banners or take people on sight-seeing trips in a small plane. Airline pilots generally need an Air Transport License.

Could I request a different flight?

Seriously - when a copilot can’t follow basic procedures, falls asleep, becomes “belligerent and uncooperative”, refuses to obey the Captain and has to be physically restrained, it argues that another line of work might be indicated. Move the guy to customer service.

It’s not an error. They mean the instrument rating.

No psychological screening can rule out the possibility of future problems developing. Even schizophrenia can appear suddenly in adulthood.

We’ll never know for sure, but it sounds like this guy was pretty seriously wacked out. I hope it’s something treatable.

I suspect that this person’s medical will be yanked until it is vetted. It’s easily a career killer.

The 767 is designed for a 2-man crew (versus a 3-man crew that includes an engineer). Just having someone operate the radio stack and update the navigation system would be a tremendous help along with reading off the check lists.

I’d argue that explaining a non-current instrument rating as “her license for reading cockpit instruments had expired” is an error.

Me too.

I don’t have anything to add, other than I thought that something like this:

… could only happen in an Abrams, Zucker & Zucker movie.

I used to fly 767s.

If that happened to me I’d poll the pax looking for another current jet pilot. There’s usually one, especially on a large airplane like a 767. (hijack: Funny, back when the flights were more empty, having non-rev airline folks along was more common that it is now with every last seat filled with a $59 internet fare.)

In normal ops, one pilot flies & the other talks on the radio & takes notes & cross checks what’s going on. Sometimes the talker will flip a few switches or type on the computer, but only upon the direct request of the flyer.

If our volunteer was not 767-qualified I’d sit them in the copilot seat, point out how to operate the comm radios, and ask them not to touch anything but the comm radios & their mike. And to watch what’s going on & cross check me as best they could. They’d still be darn valuable even if they had only flown Learjets or Airbusses or F-18s. Even if they’d flown, say, 737s, I’d be very hesitant to try to use them for switchology; the marginal gain is too small & the odds of a foulup too great.

If our voluteer was qualified on the aircraft type (i.e. 767 in this case), then I would be able to get more value out of them. Best is if they work for my company; then they’re familiar with our particular models of the aircraft & our procedures. Somebody from another carrier will have different terminology,and be used to perhaps quite different computers & engines & such, even though they fly the same type.

OTOH IMHO, a lightplane pilot or long-time former jet pilot (such as myself nowadays) would be worse than useless. They’d be likely to be some use until things got busy at which point they’d freeze up or get behind or get confused & then I’m worse off than being alone.

So in the OP’s case, I’d have told the FA with the non-current commercial license “Thanks, but no thanks.”

The full AAIU report is available here (warning, website is very slow!).

Reports for pretty much any incident that falls under their jurisdictions are made public by the AAIU (Ireland), AAIB (UK), NTSB (USA), TSB (Canada) and I presume other countries as well (I just haven’t looked yet). They are usually all found as pdfs on the various websites.

In the final report, it specifies that the flight attendant had a current commercial license, current multi-engine rating, and expired instrument rating.

The report also states that the co-pilot had a medical clearance as recently as October 2007 (with the incident occurring in Jan 08). The co-pilot spent 11 days in Ireland receiving treatment, and then returned to Canada with his wife, who came to meet him. I doubt we will ever know what the problem was, due to medical privacy reasons. I can’t imagine the co-pilot would go public about what happened to him that day.

Too late for the edit window:

What makes me sad for the co-pilot is that the report says that he

I hope a full recovery from whatever it was was possible :frowning:

LSLGuy Would the fact that the flight attendant worked for the same company (as opposed to a passenger FA from another company) make a difference in your hypothetical choice? This would have been a woman the pilot presumably knew, who would have known the same terminology, and been trained with the same CRM, etc. If she was only helping with checklists and communications, then sharing at least that much would have been very useful. As it is, the pilot stated that she was helpful, and not out of place in the co-pilot’s seat, so at least it worked out well!

Sometimes just a warm body to keep you company is a help in a stressful situation…

With a declared emergency, I rather doubt is got too busy from a traffic and approach perspective, at least none of my declared emergency’s ever did. the poor pilots of the traffic they knew about who were being cleared out of my way were probably kinda busy but on that front I was the only one in the sky, so just the normal non broken airplane 767 approach using appropriate single pilot procedures. No need for anyone to read check lists or watch for traffic or any of that stuff as some ATR rated pilots do not need that it seems. Some can do all that and fly the airplane just fine it seems…

Can you imagine the stress on the Flight Attendant? She’s staring at the pilot and praying that his heart keeps ticking and that whatever possessed the co-pilot isn’t contagious!

Take away his license for reading cockpit instruments and make him a flight attendant.

Of course, I don’t know what happened to the co-pilot, but just off the top of my head a stroke - which can happen at any age - can cause significant changes in mental status and thinking. Or he could have had some sort of mental dysfunction.