A Glorious piece in the paper yesterday showed a still from a bit of YouTube footage with one of Cathay Pacific’s new Boeing 777s taking the Great and the Good of the Airline up for a jolly. The only problem was that the pilot, one Captain Wilkinson, decided to give the passengers a flight they would remember for the rest of their lives by blasting down the runway, wheels up, at what has been measured at 8.5 metres off the ground. I suspect the passengers’ feelings about this strafing run will be rather dependent upon whether the pilot informed them about what he had planned for them before he did it.
You can’t help but imagine that Captain Wilkinson must be a closet Tom Cruise/Top Gun fan, and, instead of fixating in that film, as any real man should do, on the straightness of Kelly McGillis’s stocking seams, he must have seen a once in a lifetime opportunity to respond to the “Top Gun” line when Cruise asks permission to buzz the Tower - “That’s a Negative Ghostrider, the pattern is full”, knowing that he was in a uniquely good position to copy his hero’s subsequent antics.
The airline, as you might rather depressingly expect in today’s environment, did not take too kindly to all this, although it does not seem to be the people on board who whinged about it. Putting a video of it on YouTube seems to have done for him. In an internal review lasting a week (!), the suits in the Airline decided to sack him.
Given the buckets of free publicity he has generated for the airline, I’d have thought they’d have promoted him to Head of Marketing, but maybe I’m missing the point here.
But when you read the Airline’s press release, you start to get that “here we go again feeling”. The spokesman droned out “ …. was dismissed as he had neither sought nor obtained the necessary company approval to undertake such a fly-by.” Actually, looking on the bright side, it doesn’t say that he wouldn’t have got it if he’d asked, so maybe I’m being a bit down on Cathay Pacific, and they may be less stuffy than you’d think.
A Cathay Pacific “insider” who is also interviewed says “He decided to give them a flight they would never forget (I think he’s right there), but why he chose to do it with the chairman on board (whose surname is Pratt, if you’re interested) is anyone’s guess. ….. Maiden flights are treated as a bit of a jolly for executives with lots of champagne flowing, and these fly-bys used to be done for a wheeze in the old days. But they are dangerous, because however good the pilot thinks he is, he isn’t trained for it, and the planes aren’t designed for it.”
Hang on a minute – we’re talking about flying in controlled conditions close to the ground here. Now call me old fashioned, but I want my pilot to have the maximum possible experience in flying feet above the runway. Most of the accidents I read about seem to occur quite close to terra firma. If Cathay Pacific isn’t training its pilots to fly close to the ground, or it’s buying aircraft that are uncomfortable near it, I think a different airline is called for, irrespective of how gorgeous the Stewardesses are. If you want to see why I want these guys to know what they’re about, just look at this landing of a 747 at Hong Kong.
The real clue to this story is in what the “insider” said. These things go on all the time, and the freedom we now have to put everything on the internet has here resulted in a case of The Law of Unintended Consequences taking its toll.
He kept his job, and they immediately stated to sell shed-loads of 707s.