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PHD. MBA. MHS. Type rated on A350, A330, B777, B747-400, B747-200, B757, B767, B737, B727. International Airline Pilot / Author / Speaker. Dedicated to giving the gift of wings to anyone following their dreams. Supporting Aviation Safety through training, writing, and inspiration. Fighting for Aviation Safety and Airline Employee Advocacy. Safety Culture and SMS change agent.

Sunday, March 24, 2024

Crime in Aviation

When Death is Imminent

The FBI recently told passengers who were on board the Alaska Boeing 737 Max, that lost a panel in flight, that they might be victims of a crime. Therefore the question I have is, is it a crime because the passengers "knew" the event  happened or simply the fact they were on the plane when it occurred? For example if a passenger slept through the event, would they, too, be a victim even if they didn't know? 

If it is a crime to place lives in danger on an aircraft,
then why are other Airlines not held to the same standards?

Captain Steve Dempsey, the Chair the Delta Flight Path Management Steering Committee, departed and learned his auto flight system had failed. He illegally flew into RVSM airspace, then at destination declared an emergency. Illegal, because there is 1000 foot separation requirement and therefore an autopilot is required by law. He placed passenger lives in danger, and Delta knew. 

Were those passengers a victim of a crime?

Delta's response, was to create a training video, staring Captain Dempsey, to encourage all pilots to declare an emergency if they, too, lose their auto flight system. Dempsey did not get more training, instead he wrote to me and said, "We (Delta) as a group are presently not prepared to fly in complex airspace with Level 0 automation. Nor, might I add, are we suitably prepared to fly in complex airspace with Level 4 automation (so says ASAP.)" Level 0 is manual flight. Level 4 is a fully automated aircraft. 

Even though Delta has access to the ASAP reports and they know that pilots can't fly without or with automation as a group, no remedial training was accomplished. Does knowing about a pilot performance deficit, for the overall pilot group, and not doing anything about it, make it a crime by placing these passengers lives in harms way?

To make matters worse, Captain Dempsey emailed me and said, 

"In our case, we have a 737 on final in ATL in IMC. At 700' they decide to GA but hit the AT button instead of TOGA (FD stays in APP). No one seems to notice that the pitch (3 degrees nose up) and power (56% N1) are not the pitch/power for GA (appx. 12 degrees up and 90%). It doesn't matter that they didn't have the exact number memorized...they didn't even have the SA to look beyond the FD and recognize something was wrong (and they got to 186' with 2,000+ fpm descent before saving the day as EGPWS wails in the background)."

Were Those Passengers a Victim of a Crime?

These events are all public record, as they became part of my trial, and my mental health evaluation. 

Simply because the passengers did not know they were minutes from death, does that make it any less of a crime? 

What about the Delta flight where the pilots departed in the middle of the night, experienced an emergency divert and instead of pulling the crew they continued on to destination and both fell asleep on final.  Thank God one awoke with the gear warning horn. You can read more on that event and what the FAA approved fix was in my novel, Flight for Justice.  

Were Those Passengers a Victim of a Crime?

What about AF447 with the loss of the pitot static system due to grapple (small ice balls) and 228 people died? The fact that the FAA knew, because Delta had 14 of these events (these, too, ended up in my medical file) and all pilots wrote ASAP reports, yet nothing was done until after 228 people died is that a crime?

Were Those Passengers a Victim of a Crime?


Since airline employees are prohibited from telling the public what's going on behind the scenes, or face termination. And, the only way to create change is if the public knows about it. What if there was a law that forced airlines to report to their passengers for every ASAP report, every near death experience, every event that is abnormal, that the passengers were on? This would enable all passengers to sue the airlines for poor training, forcing pilots to fly fatigued, and placing them in harms way on a case by case basis. 

Would you like to know that 
you were on a flight and faced death, 
in order to hold the airline accountable?

Simply because you do not know, 
doesn't mean it did not happen. 

Enjoy the Journey

Dr. Karlene Petitt
A350, B777, A330, B747-400, B747-200, B767, B757, B737, B727


  1. Running the risk of a crash is present on any flight you or I take. Whatever the cause.
    For me it would become a crime in case of
    a) wilful misconduct or
    b) where there has been a manifest, severe and serious disregard of an obvious risk and profound failure of professional responsibility to take such care as is evidently required in the circumstances, causing foreseeable damage to a person or property, or which seriously compromises the level of aviation safety.

    Does this help?

    1. There should be little or no risk flyin, no more than you running the risk of getting hit by a car... etc. Flying is supposed to be safe. Based on what you suggest, it would be a crime to knowingly place pilots in planes who did not have the skills, and intentional violation of federal regulations, placing people in harms way, would constitute that too. I suspect all the events in this post meet your crime standard. I couldn't agree more. Thanks for your comment!

  2. Agreed. Knowingly placing pilots in place who do not have the skills etc. in my view is a very serious offence. I could be prosecuted judicially.

    Preferably of course, there is strong oversight combined with good ethics and bussines morale that together will maintain the balance. In case both appear absent, you could revert to more draconian interventions.

  3. Apologies, that previous one was me again. :-)


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