I'm surprised amputees are allowed to fly, admits pilot
A pilot has told of his surprise that amputees are allowed to fly commercial airlines after it was revealed that a captain's false arm fell off on landing.
The incident happened on a Flybe flight to Belfast City Airport as a Dash 8 aircraft with 47 passengers on board was approaching the airport in gusty conditions.
Shortly before landing approach, the 46-year-old pilot had checked that his prosthetic lower left arm was securely attached to the clamp he used to fly the aircraft.
The Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) report said the captain had disconnected the autopilot and was flying the aircraft manually.
Dan Collins, who used to fly passenger planes and still flies light aircraft, expressed his surprise that amputees are allowed to hold commercial licences.
He said: "I wouldn't have thought that a pilot could get a class one medical.
"It is very rigorous testing, for example if you fail the colour blindness test your licence is restricted or not issued."
However, according to the UK's Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) there are four arm amputees who hold the medical certification to be commercial pilots.
It also indicated that double arm amputees are allowed to fly, however their prostheses must be inspected to the same standards as aircraft parts. The CAA states that when amputees first get their licence they must fly with a chief instructor to check they have complete control. And every six months, all commercial pilots are subject to medical checks.
For single arm amputees to obtain a commercial licence they must prove that a failure of the prosthesis would not result in loss of control of the aircraft.
As with the example of the Flybe plane's pilot, amputees can demonstrate that they are able to control the yoke with their remaining arm.
There are different rules for leg amputees.
For single below-knee amputees, they can wear their prostheses to operate the foot-controlled rudder – which changes the direction of the plane – and brakes.
And a person with two below-knee amputations will usually have an additional hand controller that does the same functions as the pedals.
For single above-knee amputees, pilots use their remaining leg to operate the plane.
The additional hand controls are used for double above-knee amputees.
And despite Mr Collins' surprise, the authorities believe the current system guarantees safety.
No one on the flight between Birmingham and Belfast was hurt and the plane was not damaged in the incident on the evening of February 12 this year.