On 07 November 2023 a respected aviation news outlet reported:
“The FAA is monitoring the correlation between pilot inexperience and aviation incidents and so far it isn’t finding much. In the recent hiring sprees at most airlines, pilots have been moving up the ranks at unprecedented rates. Rather than taking years, sometimes decades, to move up to larger and more complex equipment, the hiring blitz of the past few years is upsetting that methodical and predictable career path . … the FAA and the airlines are both on the lookout for experience-related issues but so far no clear patterns have emerged despite anecdotal evidence that occasionally comes to light.”
The article continues: “ … the FAA’s data-heavy approach shows that, statistically speaking, the broad number of errors and missteps by pilots is within normal limits.”
The patently obvious point the FAA—and, by extension, Part 121 air-carriers—are endeavoring to tacitly make is accelerated pilot promotion has no discernible adverse effects on safety of flight.
The logical fallacies inherent in the antecedent claim are at once manifestly astounding and deeply worrying.
For the benefit of those unfamiliar with such, logical fallacies are errors in reasoning—most often illegitimate contentions or irrelevant points—by which arguments are rendered invalid. Expressed otherwise, logical fallacies are leaps in reasoning by which the naïve, ignorant, or flat-out stupid are compelled to support unsound conclusions.
Logical fallacies derive primarily from logos (reason), arguments from logos appeal to reason; ethos (ethics/disposition), arguments from ethos purposefully focus upon and surreptitiously presuppose the rhetor’s authority or trustworthiness; pathos (emotion), arguments from pathos appeal to and usually attempt to elicit emotion; and kairos (time), arguments from kairos are contingent upon a subjective “perfect moment.” Kairos connotes timeliness, appropriateness, decorum, symmetry, and balance.
By dint of averring “the broad number of errors and missteps by pilots is within normal limits,” the FAA resorts—perhaps deliberately, perhaps extemporaneously—to Confirmation Bias, a fallacy of logos by which the presenter searches out, selects, and shares only those data supportive of his aims, whilst suppressing evidence to the contrary.
Airlines profit financially from the increased capacity and revenue-passenger-miles born of expanded fleets and swollen pilot rosters. The FAA, particularly in light of the Boeing 737 MAX debacle and the public and Congressional brow-beatings resultant thereof, saves much-needed face by promulgating the notion that air travel remains eminently and unalterably safe under the agency’s regulatory auspices. Ergo, the FAA asserts—and air-carriers hasten to concur—that speeding green SICs from right seat to left is not only safe, but demonstrably so.
Upon what investigative processes did the FAA predicate its implication that no correlation exists between pilot experience and safety of flight? How large a sample-set of flight operations was evaluated, and over what span of time? Moreover, how do the agency, the airlines, and the aviation press rationalize the framing of human life in nebulous language comprising vagaries the likes of “isn’t finding much,” “broad number,” and “normal limits.”
Persons too-long exposed to Confirmation Bias, known also in philosophical circles as Homophily, are apt to pay credence to only those sources—media outlets, publications, pundits, etc.—by which their ideological biases are substantiated, thereby deepening subject biases and displacing themselves ever-further from objectivity and temperance.
While Confirmation Bias can be propagated by even the abjectly humble and inveterately deferential, it is most effectively wielded by the powerful and popular, by whose influence it can be further corrupted into Argument from Authority.
An informal fallacy of ethos, Argument from Authority posits—albeit erroneously—that powerful or influential persons or organizations are effectively infallible by virtue of the power or influence they command. Persistent and difficult to challenge, Arguments from Authority play on the common fear that disagreement with or disrespect of authority is apt to occasion humiliation or censure.
From its onset, flight training is liberally salted with allusions to and examples of the FAA’s expansive and immutable authority. As early as Part 91.3, the Federal Aviation Regulation’s state: “Each pilot in command who deviates from a rule under … this section shall, upon the request of the Administrator, send a written report of that deviation to the Administrator.”
After the fashion of an avuncular schizophrenic thug, the FAA’s mission statement purports: “Our continuing mission is to provide the safest, most efficient aerospace system in the world.” Yet in 2018, the agency declared: “Congress has provided the FAA with exclusive authority to regulate aviation safety, the efficiency of the navigable airspace, and air traffic control, among other things. State and local governments are not permitted to regulate any type of aircraft operations, such as flight paths or altitudes, or the navigable airspace.”
In making the absurd claim that pilots, in periods of time measurable in months, can acquire degrees of discernment, judgment, and aeronautical and institutional knowledge historically earned over decades, the FAA makes an egregious Argument from Authority and underscores the wanton nonfeasance by which contemporary U.S. federal agencies are characterized.
Lastly, if not finally, the FAA—as chronicled by the aforementioned “respected aviation news outlet”—is guilty of invoking Mala Fides, a corrupt argument from ethos.
Known also as Sophism, Mala Fides (Latin: Bad Faith) is the making of an argument the rhetor himself knows to be invalid—such as a lawyer arguing the innocence of a defendant he knows to be guilty. The invocation of Mala Fides is generally undertaken for purpose of gaining an individual’s (or a group’s) support or motivating him (them) toward some belief or action consistent with the rhetor’s desires. A particularly bizarre and corrupt form of Mala Fides is the fallacy of Self-Deception—called sometimes, in the coldly-ironic argot of psychology, Whistling by the Graveyard. The self-deceived deliberately and knowingly delude themselves in order to achieve a goal, or for the simpler purposes of suppressing anxiety, or maintaining enthusiasm, focus, morale, peace of mind, or sanity in moments of adversity.
While the notion of a federal agency succumbing to Self-Deception is superficially preposterous, it must be borne in mind that governments and agencies are human things and function in keeping with the dispositions and aims of the humans by which they’re populated.
Whether or not the world is in the throes of a bona fide pilot shortage is a matter of contention. It can be stated with certainty, however, is that the perception of a pilot shortage has been well and truly established by stakeholders in the air-transport and pilot training industries. Faced with the manufactured (perhaps) exigency of the global airline sector come crashing down for want of pilots, a frightened America turns now to an embattled FAA for guidance, resolution, and assurance. Dares the agency, accused since 2019 of gross incompetence and conceivable invalidity, concede the de rigueur practice of paper-whipping SICs into PICs—a practice it has thus far condoned—is dangerous in the most elementary sense? Or does the FAA fall back on old habits, declare the prevalent status quo hunky-dory, and pray to its own strange gods for deliverance from endemic hubris and folly?