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I just saw this Newsweek article, Man Pilots Planes for 2 Years After Lying to Airlines About Experience:

A man has been sentenced to one year in prison for lying about his job experience before working as a commercial pilot in the U.K. for two years.

Craig Butfoy, 49, entered false details and fabricated his experience in his flight logbook so that he could appear more qualified to work for BA CityFlyer, a British Airways regional airline, and former Irish regional airline Stobart Air.

To summarize, a pilot for a major British regional airline was caught falsifying his flight hours and certifications to get his job.

What's interesting to me is, according to the article, how he was eventually caught:

Butfoy was employed with each airline [BA CityFlyer and Stobart Air] for one year, from 2016 to 2018, according to The Times of London. During that time, officials at BA CityFlyer reportedly became suspicious of his experience after an incident occurred in Switzerland when he pressed a button that "no qualified pilot would," a source told the news outlet.

What button(s) exist(s) on the sole aircraft type BA CityFlyer operated at the time, the Embraer E-Jet family (the 170 and 190SR, to be specific), which "no qualified pilot" would press, and which one was pressed by the pilot? Why would pressing that button be considered an action worthy of starting an investigation, which would eventually result in the airline finding out he made false representations?

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  • $\begingroup$ I'll try to salvage the question by editing. Original title was "What button did a pilot press that led to them being caught for falsifying experience?", which is unknown. But a producing a list of such switches, perhaps ones that have been activated by mistake due to inexperience, may be feasible. $\endgroup$
    – Therac
    Apr 2 at 21:34
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    $\begingroup$ Just a though: do not rush to VTC even though it seems from ones perspective that a Q is not answerable. Perfect case example here... $\endgroup$
    – Jpe61
    Apr 3 at 10:42
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    $\begingroup$ @Jpe61 Please don't presume it was rushed. There is no AAIB report making it still OT/opinion-based (bad journalism everywhere); i.e. still not answerable to SE standards. $\endgroup$
    – user14897
    Apr 3 at 12:18
  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – Federico
    Apr 4 at 17:26

2 Answers 2

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There appear to be conflicting reports of what exactly happened. A relatively detailed one says the pilot has accidentally cut power to the aircraft, while sitting on the tarmac. This has been mentioned by The Telegraph.

But suspicions concerning Butfoy's performance were roused when he apparently plunged a jet into darkness while stationed at an airport in France, the Telegraph understands.

There is more than one way to lose power. One example scenario that involves specifically a button rather than a switch:

  • The pretender starts the APU by mistake, while ground power is connected and sufficient.
  • Their mistake is pointed out by the other pilot.
  • The pretender turns the APU off, but it keeps running, which is by design.
  • In a haste to fix the mistake, they push the APU Emergency Stop button, next to the knob.
  • Since starting the APU disconnects AC ground power on the type, the plane goes dark.

This is something that no qualified, type-rated pilot would do. They would know the correct power transfer procedure, and if their memory "ain't what it used to be", just let the APU waste some fuel. It's these procedural details of how the systems work that one can't just wing, and only a pretender would try. A panic shutdown would instantly out someone as a fraud, it's a "where did you get the uniform?" kind of blunder.

There are other ways to get the same outcome. Most involve a switch flipped or a button pressed at the wrong time. Since pilots are human, doing the right action at the wrong time, or accidentally hitting the wrong switch, happens every now and then due to fatigue. Doing something totally out of place for a practical reason, however, would grab attention.

Shutting down an airliner can delay the flight, lose money, produce passenger complaints. It's not a reportable incident, since it doesn't affect safety, but it's good diligence to run an investigation internally. The company will mostly be looking to see if something similar happened before with previous employers, rather than for outright fraud.

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    $\begingroup$ @gparyani: That's the problem with "a source told the news outlet"; without a report things get muddled. $\endgroup$
    – user14897
    Apr 2 at 22:14
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    $\begingroup$ @randomhead Every button is meant to be pushed under some circumstance. But pushing something completely pointless can be dismissed as an accidental touch. One would out themselves as a fraud by doing the wrong thing for a valid reason. Turning the APU on by mistake, then shutting it off with EMER STOP would be one way. Note that I don't know what happened, it's just an example. $\endgroup$
    – Therac
    Apr 3 at 1:39
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    $\begingroup$ Here's the same question, asked on reddit's /r/flying. More discussion can be found there. $\endgroup$
    – tedder42
    Apr 3 at 4:47
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    $\begingroup$ @Therac : for the sake of this example, should we understand it so that a competent pilot, after activating the APU by mistake, should know what procedure to use to deactivate it, instead of pressing the emergency stop? $\endgroup$
    – vsz
    Apr 4 at 4:41
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    $\begingroup$ @vsz Yes, in this example. Since turning the APU knob back to off won't shut it down at once, it's possible that someone unqualified would resort to emergency stop. While a type-rated pilot would follow the power transfer procedure to go back to GPU without going dark. I'll edit a bit. $\endgroup$
    – Therac
    Apr 4 at 6:34
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It was probably not a single act. The button press was probably a "straw that broke the camel's back" event that was the culmination of a string of suspicious and odd events that finally led someone's BS detector alarm to trip over the threshold.

It's not that hard to goose your qualifications as long as you have the basic difficult-to-forge official documents like licenses etc and you don't get carried away with it. Nobody is going to audit your log book, going back years looking for "P-51 time" (a old slang word for fake hours), beyond calling references and previous employers, and someone who is really clever and resourceful will be able to pull it off to a point.

There is quite a lot of reliance on the interview process to weed out phonies, followed by simulator training and evaluations as another filter, with line indoctrination as a final filter. It would be a clever person indeed who made it that far before they finally screwed up badly enough to get colleagues taking steps to trigger an investigation.

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    $\begingroup$ "P-51 time" is an old expression for time added to a logbook by a Parker model 51 pen. (ie. faked hours) $\endgroup$ Apr 3 at 19:04
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah kind of a double entendre gag. Common expression when I was young, although I hadn't heard Americans use it. $\endgroup$
    – John K
    Apr 3 at 19:07
  • $\begingroup$ According to the news source, the airline only "became suspicious" after the button press incident occurred in Switzerland. $\endgroup$
    – gparyani
    Apr 3 at 19:53
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    $\begingroup$ At the management level. Someone had to report it to them. At the crew level, there were probably "observations" and internal gossip for a period of time but it took some really egregious event to finally make someone report the guy $\endgroup$
    – John K
    Apr 3 at 20:17
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    $\begingroup$ @JonathanReez maybe they did... but only when everything is going according to plan. You wouldn't get much practice with emergencies or mistakes that way... $\endgroup$
    – user253751
    Apr 4 at 9:03

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