I checked this post on Airliners.net , but the formatting is hard to read, and the information or hearsay may not be trustworthy. Also, I'm hoping for a more efficient, efficacious method, rather than researching each accident separately.

I'd wanted to be advised if pilots, suspected of (provable, veritable) pilot error, were still flying: Qantas Flight 1, American Airlines Flight 1420

Yet I'd be heartened and inspired by heroic or esteemed pilots, like those for United Airlines Flight 232.

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    $\begingroup$ Well, the captain of AA1420 definitely isn't flying anymore, given that he's dead. $\endgroup$
    – Vikki
    Mar 13, 2019 at 21:41

3 Answers 3


How can I determine if a driver who was involved in an automobile accident is still driving?
The answer is "They probably are."

Broadly, unless the pilot died or the FAA (or equivalent authority) revoked their license as a result of their actions there is no reason the pilot wouldn't still be flying unless they decide to hang up their wings for personal reasons.
They may not be flying for the same airline, and certainly will have had some sort of remedial training (particularly if they were involved in an incident where pilot error was the cause), but damaging an aircraft is usually not a career-killing move unless one makes a habit of it.

If you want to know for certain about a particular flight crew you would need to research each accident separately (locate the pilots' information - name or certificate number - and check something like the FAA airman records branch to see if the pilot still holds a valid certificate and medical.


So pilots are supposed to be flawless? Are you even aware that often an incident or accident is blamed on "pilot error" simply to prevent lawsuits against companies (though that's more often the case when the pilot died and can't defend himself)?

Rest assured if someone makes a serious mistake they're going to get training and are likely to be grounded for a while during that. They're also going to have to live with the resulting damaged reputation, and if people died or were seriously injured with the mental anguish of the feeling of guilt that results (which more than likely will cause them to retire from flying).

Are you also going to demand that anyone with a driver's license who ever was in an accident lose it permanently?

It's life, shit happens as they say. Sometimes the best you can do isn't good enough, and the fact that there were no other options ends up being blamed on you for no other reason than that someone, somewhere, is looking for a scapegoat.

So a pilot who ends up landing hard in bad weather, resulting in a passenger who ignored the seatbelts sign to hit her head and break her nose ends up getting blamed for the hard landing causing the injury for no other reason than that it's better PR for the company to do that than to go public about the fact that the passenger ignored the safety rules and wasn't wearing that seatbelt.

Things like that happen more often than you think, and you want that pilot to as a result lose his license and his job?

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you. I've recast my answer to sound less judgmental or critical, which I hadn't intended to be. Is it more just now? $\endgroup$
    – user128
    Aug 4, 2014 at 9:08
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    $\begingroup$ I think, for the common people sounds much better to hear: "passanger ignored the safety rules and was hurt" as "passanger hurted by a pilot error". In the first case they think: "fortunately I am not a such a..hole", in the second they have fear. $\endgroup$
    – Gray Sheep
    Apr 8, 2015 at 3:58
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    $\begingroup$ @jwenting, « Are you even aware that often an incident or accident is blamed on "pilot error" simply to prevent lawsuits against companies ». By companies do you mean the aircraft manufacturer or the operators. The operators are responsible of pilots errors. $\endgroup$
    – user40476
    Jun 10, 2019 at 14:04
  • $\begingroup$ @user40476 either, lawsuits tend to go after the juiciest target. And no, operators aren't responsible for pilot error if they can show that the pilot operated outside of the standards the company sets. Which pilot error of course suggests... $\endgroup$
    – jwenting
    Jun 11, 2019 at 3:42

Pilots will make serious mistakes

Although pilot error can cause an accident or serious incident, systems in aviation are generally such that only multiple failures or errors will have a bad outcome. There is a constant process of verifying, cross-checking and so on.

It's true that people, including pilots, make mistakes. But that's only part of the truth; in fact people (including pilots) will make mistakes, as a matter of course. That is what they are expected to do, and that's why the systems they work with are so successful at preventing those mistakes from turning into serious

Accidents tend to represent the failure of systems, not individuals

Accidents tend to happen when the system breaks down and fails to prevent an error developing into a situation. The classic example is AF447, in which a long series of errors (both human and mechanical) occurred; the system that broke down between the three crew members in the cockpit was that of communication.

It would be pretty useless to (say) choose to avoid flying with pilots whose errors had led to accidents. Pilots flying right now all over the world will have made and will be making exactly the same mistakes, just with different outcomes.

It would be better to enquire after patterns

It would be much more useful (but also much more difficult) to know if the systems, patterns and habits at work in the cockpit and beyond were ones conducive to the production and sustenance of uncorrected errors.

For example: the pairing of a laconic and prickly captain with a cowed first officer. Or: an actual practice within an airline that's at variance with standard operating procedures. Or: flight rotas that have left both flight crew with disrupted sleep that week.

The industry's attitude torwards serious error

The aviation industry has an attitude towards mistake-making or even impaired pilots that's quite different from the one expressed in the question.

Each year, quite a number of commercial pilots are arrested for turning up to work (or in some cases, for finishing a shift at the controls) drunk. People might not want to get in a plane with a pilot who'd been previously been arrested for that, but the industry (actually I only know about cases from the USA, so I'd be interested to know more about other regions) has different ideas.

In fact many of them eventually return to work. In the USA the HIMS programme is key to this.

For example, Lyle Prouse, an alcoholic Northwest Airlines captain, served a 16th month prison sentence after being convicted of flying influence of alcohol in 1990. Three years later he was flying again with the same company, and retired in 1998 as the captain of a 747.


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