Friday, February 27, 2009

Celebrity-hungry airline pilots to land planes in rivers across globe

Rescue services are bracing for a surge in emergency landings as celebrity-hungry airline pilots try to emulate Hudson River hero Chesley Sullenberger by ditching aircraft in rivers across the globe.

Meanwhile Russian and former Soviet Bloc airline pilots have ridiculed the trend, saying that they have been landing Aeroflot aircraft in rivers for decades.

Captain Sullenberger has become an international celebrity since landing Flight 1549 on the Hudson River in January, and as airlines around the world continue to cut costs, demoralized pilots say their only option is to start emulated Sullenberger in the hope of scoring a lucrative book deal.

According to a spokeswoman from the International Air Transport Association, rescue services and air-traffic controllers are now preparing for a major uptick in river landings.

"It's a bit of an ultimatum," said spokeswoman Sabena Stuka. "The flying crews have made it clear that either we pay them more or they're going to try to belly-land on the New York Times bestseller list by banging down on any trickle they see.

However the threat has been dismissed by Russian and former Soviet bloc pilots, who say Western pilots are "girls". Speaking to the media at the Aeroflot Academy of Excellence outside Minsk, where pilots are taught how to repair disintegrating airliners mid-flight using a Leatherman and a potato, veteran pilot Yevgeny Krashkors said river landings have been standard practice for the Russian carrier for decades.

"Rivers, canals, streams, millponds, sewerage treatment plants, you name it," said Krashkors. "We've done it all. "In fact we haven't landed an Aeroflot flight on a runway since 1983." But not all national carriers have joined the move towards river landings.

This morning South African Airways confirmed that it had forbidden its pilots from ditching in any body of
water in case consignments of drugs in the hold got soggy, while Air Zimbabwe has guaranteed passengers' safety, thanks to its policy of not taking off.

The policy was introduced in 2006 when the last of Zimbabwe's jet fuel was auctioned to pay for Grace Mugabe's hormone replacement therapy. Since then all inter-city flights in Zimbabwe have been towed by combine harvesters confiscated from counterrevolutionary farmers.

Air Congo said that while the Congo River offered plenty of scope for dramatic landings, the carrier would "probably not" attempt any landings on the river as it had run out of aircraft.

Air Congo spokesman Hercules Bamako said that the airline had landed its last Airbus landed on the Congo River in 2003.

"And when I say 'landed on', I really mean 'crashed into nose first'," he said. "So no drama here.

Just long hot summer days sitting behind a desk, watching the fan go round and round, and waiting for someone to sweep up the wreckage out on Runway Three."

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