Watch CBS News

Despite United Airlines flights having problems, pilot says flying remains safe

Pilot says air travel remains safe despite recent incidents
Pilot says air travel remains safe despite recent incidents 03:18

SAN FRANCISCO -- Over the course of a week, six United Airlines flights have had problems. Some of them took off and had to turn around; others had to make emergency landings.

Two of those flights left SFO and were diverted to LAX. One plane had a hydraulics problem, and the other lost a wheel during takeoff. That wheel crushed one car and damaged others in an SFO employee parking lot.

"That's never a good look for anyone," admitted pilot Scott Miller.

Miller is a pilot for a major airline and an aviation lecturer at San Jose State University. While it was a turbulent week for United, he said it was likely a mix of chance and newfound attention on airline incidents.

"I don't see a rise in the incidents that are occurring. What I'm seeing is increased interest in the incidents that are occurring," he said.

He said pilots are trained to deal with the unexpected and uncommon.

"We spend 90% of our training time working on things that may only occur 1% of the time," he said. "Even though it appears United is having a bad week, in reality, everything is working at United Airlines because everyone is able to get back on the ground in one piece – unfortunately with a little bit of a disruption – but be able to carry on their trip."

He did say a mid-air engine fire and the wheel debacle are incredibly rare situations.

"The thing that is even more striking to me than the actual incident itself is that these two rare incidents happened in such close proximity of time," he said.

Miller believes the dramatic Alaska Airlines incident where a panel known as a "door plug" blew off a flight out of Portland, OR, at 16,000 feet is what recently sparked the higher level of interest and scrutiny in airline operations. However, he thinks the real interest kicked up back in 2018 after the first of what would be two deadly crashes involving Boeing Max jets.

"I'm not surprised there is increased scrutiny in airline operations right now," he said.

United wasn't the only airline to deal with issues this past week. An American Airlines plane clipped the tail of a parked Frontier jet in Miami.

Despite the turbulent week, Miller said safety measures have increased in recent years, and he believes that will continue to be the case as time progresses.

"Because of the changes that have been made in safety tracking and the safety management systems over the last 20 years in the United States, we've enjoyed the longest stretch of airline safety in the history of this country," he said. "Even with these incidents, I see that trend continuing. As we build those programs, airline travel will become even safer in the coming years."

United has said the incidents it dealt with are "distinct and unrelated to one another."

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.