A pilot’s worst nightmare during flight

- John Cox Special for USA TODAY Cox is a retired airline captain with US Airways and runs his own aviation safety consulting company.

Q: What’s a pilot’s worst nightmare in flight?

— Submitted by reader Ari, Pa.

A: My worst nightmare is an onboard fire that we cannot control. This does not happen very often but creates very challengin­g conditions for the flight crew.

Q: What does a pilot do if there’s a fire in the cockpit?

— Mamoun Beiruti, Syria

A: An onboard fire is one of the most serious situations a pilot can face. After donning the oxygen mask, a pilot would declare an emergency. Landing at the nearest airport is often the best course of action. All aircraft have fire checklists that help isolate the source of the fire. Some of these checklists are very complex and take time to accomplish.

I recommend reading the Royal Aeronautic­al Society’s Specialist Document Smoke and Fire in

Transport Aircraft 2013. It’s available on the Internet. This is an up-to-date review of the issue.

Q: What’s the biggest danger to aircraft when in the air?

— Jeffrey Myer, N.J.

A: Statistica­lly it’s loss of control. Let’s be clear that the “danger” as you call it is very low. If you look at causes of accidents not in the process of taking off or landing, the largest accident category is loss of control. There are many causes, and the industry is making good progress to lower the number of this type of accident.

Q: How many emergencie­s have you faced that may have become fatal had you not taken action?

— Jay Stoltzfus, Lancaster, Pa.

A: I have had only one occasion to seriously question the outcome of a flight. It was in 1972 in a corporate airplane in severe icing conditions. The other abnormalit­ies I have experience­d were handled in accordance with my training and checklists. I did not question the successful outcome of any of them.

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