By MICHAEL MAGNELL
I have been following the story about the 15-year-old boy from San Jose who stowed away in the main landing gear wheel well of an Hawaiian Airlines B767 going to Honolulu. Here is one amazing aspect of this whole thing — and I am not talking about how the teenager survived the flight. It’s the breakdown in the chain of security that has me wondering where the pilots were in all this.
All of the reporting I have seen has been discussing airport fencing, TSA surveillance and the like — completely missing or overlooking the fact that the flight crew was really the last line of defense in this situation.
Let me explain. Flight crews of big jet airliners are suppose to do preflights just like any general aviation pilot does on his plane, whether it be a little piston popper or a jet.
It is obvious this Hawaiian Airlines crew did not or could not have done a thorough preflight inspection of this B767 without seeing this teenager in the wheel well. Airliner wheel wells have excellent lighting, so even in the dark a person could not be missed in one.
Preflights are done on airliners within one hour of departure and that teenager had to be up inside of that wheel well long before one hour prior to departure time in order to have not been noticed.
I started out with Western Airlines at LAX in 1976 as a flight engineer on the B727-200 and was captain on several planes before I was done. Guess what? I never could get away from doing preflights.
I did them as a flight engineer and later as a first officer and captain on two pilot airliners like the B767. On the two-pilot jets we would take turns with the captain doing one preflight and the copilot doing one. We called them walk arounds and they are done before every takeoff.
Trust me it would be impossible to miss any person hiding in a wheel well if a pilot was doing a preflight like it is supposed to be done.
As far as jet airliner wheel well preflights go, the pilot is supposed to walk up inside of the big wheel well and inspect for hydraulic leaks and to make sure fluid and quantities are normal (fluid reservoirs and gauges are located in wheel wells) and that gear doors and the landing gear and tires are all up to speed.
Please explain to me how any preflight, even one done in a hurry, could miss a person in a main landing gear wheel well? Yet I have heard not a word about this angle when it is obvious that the flight crew, as in many cases, was and is the last line of defense in airline security and safety.
Currently I ferry all kinds of planes all over the world and I am not only doing preflights I also do a post flight. Guess what? Airline crews are supposed to do post flights as well.
My post flights are like quick preflights, looking mainly for hydraulic or oil leaks or anything obviously wrong. The sooner I find a problem, the sooner I can make arrangements to deal with it.
Let’s be careful out there folks and not slack off on the everyday mundane tasks, no matter what type of planes we fly!Michael Magnell is owner of TransOceanic Aircraft Ferry.