Southwest Airlines has mailed a highly unusual memo to all of its pilots at their homes admonishing them for a grow-ing complacency in using safe procedures.
The confidential memo, dated March 24 and provided anonymously to The Arizona Republic, tells pilots to pay more attention to detail and flight procedures in the wake of "an alarming number of flight incidents involving Southwest crews and aircraft" in the past six months."We are at a crossroads," states the memo, sent by a total of eight Southwest chief pilots and officials in flight operations and training.
"Do we take the road to complacency that other airlines in the past have taken, or do we choose `the road less traveled?'
"We have seen a definite, uncomfortable trend. Let's fix it now before it is too late!"
Officials from Dallas-based Southwest said Wednesday that the memo does not indicate any serious safety problems.
The incidents, which officials declined to specify, were mostly technical and procedural lapses noted by cockpit and simulator observers, said Jon Tree, Southwest's chief pilot in Phoenix and one of the memo's authors.
"We really feel we got the best darned pilots anywhere," Tree said. "This is our very pro-active approach to making sure that we do not lose that edge."
Tree said the memo arose from one of the periodic reviews the airline conducts of its flight operations.
Mailing the memo to pilots' homes was unusual, but "it was done for effect, quite honestly," Tree said, adding, "This was a different way that we wanted to approach the issue . . . get them (the pilots) thinking."
The memo, sent to nearly 2,000 pilots, refers to the airline's dramatic growth over the past few years and the additional responsibilities pilots face because of the trend.
A surge in procedural mistakes might be expected to accompany the growth, but that isn't acceptable, the memo says.
It cited complacency in following flight procedures, using common sense, paying attention to detail and dealing professionally with other pilots.
"We have witnessed a number of our outstanding aviators fall victim to an insidious onset of inattention," the memo states.
"Fortunately, whether due to past training, circumstance or just plain luck, we have not had a serious incident or accident!"
The memo adds that pilots will be required to view a company videotape titled "Are You Ready To Fly?"
According to the memo, some questions that pilots should ask themselves after watching the tape are: "Could this have happened to me? Have I grown complacent because of familiarity? Am I as standardized in my flying as I think I am?"
Among the memo's authors are Paul Sterbenz, vice president for flight operations; Hugh Knighton, safety manager; and Milt Painter, director of flight standards and training.
Since Southwest was formed in 1971, none of its airplanes has been involved in a fatal accident. Some incidents and accidents have resulted in injuries, however, according to records from the National Transportation Safety Board.
Since 1983, the earliest year for which safety-board computer rec-ords are kept on Southwest, one passenger has broken an arm, eight flight attendants have been seriously injured when thrown to the floor or ceiling, and one passenger suffered minor injuries in an evacuation.
Under federal regulations, an "accident" is defined as an occurrence that results in death or serious injury, including broken bones.
An "incident" is any other occurrence that affects safe operation of the aircraft. However it does not include procedural errors, such as a pilot's failure to call out a checklist item correctly.
Southwest had two incidents and one accident in January, although they have no connection to the incidents referred to in the memo, Tree said.
On Jan. 27, a 4-year-old boy broke his arm when he mistakenly walked out of the cargo door on the plane's right side, instead of the exit ramp on the left, at Dallas' Love Field.
On. Jan. 17, a Southwest plane's nose was raised too high for takeoff, causing its tail to strike the runway at John Wayne Airport-Orange County in Santa Ana, Calif. There were no injuries.
On Jan. 1, a Southwest pilot experienced a temporary loss of control of the craft while approaching a Houston airport, records say. No one was injured, and Tree said the problem involved mechanical trouble.
Six other noninjury incidents occurred in 1994, one involving a bird striking an engine and the others involving mechanical problems, according to Federal Avia-tion Administration records.
Southwest has expanded into six Western cities recently: Tucson; Salt Lake City; Boise; Seattle and Spokane, Wash.; and Portland.
When the memo was written, the airline had 1,191 flights a day.