Oct 3, 2007

Accidental Airline

Jim Spilsbury's account of his Queen Charlotte Airlines turns out to be an enjoyable read, especially for someone now living in the area. This review gives a good idea of what the book is about:

Along with the usual tales of the pioneering days of commercial aviation, I found these two comments to be of particular interest:

Regarding the transition of QCA from bush flying to airline flying, Spilsbury says:

"It takes a different type of personality to deal with this kind of flying. It takes a person who can follow procedures, double-check every preparation, second-guess every assumption, stay within a wide margin of safety at all times and maintain unvarying habit over long periods of repetitive work. While remaining alert for the freak event. It isn't easy. It's why airline pilots are so well paid. It's also why the old rugged individualists of the bush flying era had such a hard time adjusting to the modern era of airline-type flying. Many of the most famous old pilots never made the transition. And very, very few of the old bush flying companies made the transition from airways to airlines." (page 163)

This transition is still going on. Over the last thirty years I've seen automation and better communication and information technology continue to impact the air traffic control system, and the airliners we fly. So operational methods continue to evolve. Flight dispatchers and air traffic controllers and computers play a much larger role than ever before in the pilots' pre-flight and in-flight decisions.

Yet, as always, the more things change, the more they stay the same. While there is no room in the flight deck for "bush-pilot mentality" where that term means taking unhealthy risks, the uncanny ability by the pilot to discern when the system is on the verge of failure, and to do something about it before disaster strikes, is still a crucial part of the pilot's skill set.

Spilsbury's second comment of interest focuses on business and politics in the airline industry (again, some things never change). Looking back over his years in airline management, he says:

"This was my loss of innocence in business politics. I won't say it made me into a cynic..., but it left me with a healthy skepticism about the way things work, especially in the upper storeys of the Canadian business world. There's all kinds of room for the small entrepreneur to get started, roll up his sleeves and build a profitable small business. But when you go beyond a certain point and start crowding the big boys, you soon find a different set of rules coming into play. ... They were a small group in this country then, if you got on the wrong side of them, they could cut you off at your bank, they could tie you up in red tape, they could get you coming and going." (page 243)

Interestingly, QCA was finally bought out by Russ Baker's Pacific Western Airlines. According to Spilsbury, Baker's methods relied upon "knowing the right people" rather than on sound business or operational tactics. Interestingly, PWA went on to eventually buy out larger rival Canadian Pacific Airlines, forming Canadi>n Airlines. And they were eventually taken over by Air Canada. Some at Air Canada (especially within the pilot's ranks where seniority list issues still rankle to this day) would claim that Baker's philosophy outlived him.

I'm just happy that life at GooseAir is always Hap Hap Happy and involves no underhanded business or political issues!


5400AirportRdSouth said...

Loved that book. I've worked in and around YVR for some time now and hearing Mr Spilsbury's stories that took place in the very buildings I've worked in really make the place come alive.

Anonymous said...

Please go back to your original postings about actual flying experiences, they are so great. Also include Paula!

Johnny Wadd said...

Definitely have to check that out, Bush Pilot with a Briefcase...the story of Canadian Pacific's Grant McChonachie is also another great read.