Posted by: Captain Easychord | May 17, 2010

Leaving From A Jet Plane

Over at Gizmodo today, they posted this story about a guy who… well… let’s let Jesus Diaz summarize the facts:

This is Thomas Salme, a maintenance engineer who became a Boeing 737 pilot by flying a few nights in a flight simulator and printing a fake airliner pilot license. Amazingly enough, he flew passengers for thirteen years without any incidents.
Thirteen years of back and forth from Sweden to everywhere else in Europe. Nobody noticed until a couple of months ago, when Salme was caught by the police as he was getting ready for take off. He was in the cockpit of a Boeing 737, with 101 passengers at Amsterdam’s Schipol airport.

Evidently, Salme did have a lapsed pilot’s license, but it was for smaller prop planes… not a larger jet.  For his troubles, Salme was fined a few thousand dollars and banned from flying for a year.  But this incredible story of boldness and ineptitude leaves me with a few questions:

  • I realize that he first started flying in the pre-9/11 world, but even then, how on Earth do you get hired and not questioned without having actually earned a real pilot’s license but also with a homemade, unlaminated “license” printed on regular old white paper?  I mean, did he try using crayons to see if anyone was actually checking these things?
  • I have no idea how much piloting skill Salme has… I’m sure some of hte principles of flying smaller aircraft would be transferable and maybe it’s something that just comes naturally to him… but a few night’s worth of flight simulators prepared him to actually fly a commercial jet?  Is that a statement about how easy piloting is now that it is largely computerized?  Is it a testament to the sophistication of flight simulators?  And what kind of confidence do you need to have to be ostensibly putting your own life on the line flying one of these aircraft with that little training?
  • It may be easy to overlook here, but the guy did fly for thirteen years with a clean record.  For all I know, the other pilots on his flights may have had to bail him out more than occasionally.  But at this point, I would think that he’s presumably qualified for the job that he had been doing, even if he hadn’t been when he started doing it.
  • The punishment banning him from flying for a year is particularly ironic.  After all, he still doesn’t seem to have a current license to be flying in the first place!  Of course, that didn’t stop him when he started this whole adventure…

Regardless, it’s a crazy little story…

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