Ask the Pilot Series — Part 2 of 6: Fear of Flying

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Expert Flyer is featuring a special six-part “Ask the Pilot” series.  Our expert, Patrick Smith, is an aviator and the author of Salon.com’s popular ASK THE PILOT air travel column.  He also hosts the ASK THE PILOT resource site: www.askthepilot.com. Please enjoy this second installment of our series.

(Part 2 of 6)

US Airways jet lands on the Hudson

Captain Chesley B. Sullenberger III landed a US Airways jet safely on the Hudson after flying into geese. Pilots are not trained for the type of landing he made on Jan. 15, 2009. (Steven Day/Reuters/File)

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When it comes to a fear of flying, what keeps a pilot up at night – storms, birds, air traffic, technology issues?
Usually the things of concern to pilots * aren’t * the things that the average passenger worries about – i.e. wings falling off and turbulence flipping the plane over.  Bird strikes and potential runway incursions are two scenarios that jump into my own mind.  A pilot’s worst nightmare?  An inflight cargo fire, probably.

What was your most frightening experience as a pilot?
The only harrowing moment of my career actually took place when I was still a private pilot, in a single-engine Piper (The story is detailed here:  http://www.askthepilot.com/essays-and-stories/into-the-sea-love-death-and-other-near-misses/ ).  Hopefully, this gives you some idea as to how rare full-blown emergencies really are at the commercial airline level.

Stay tuned next week for part 3 of 6, when we find out who – or what – is actually landing the plane.  Man or machine?

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