Pilots: Do not fly Turkish Airlines

13 December 2011

Nicolai Sennels

Thirteen non-Turkish Turkish Airlines pilots and even a Turkish Airlines safety consultant critizise the company as being dangerous to fly with because of incompetent Turkish pilots and because it does not follow safety procedures. The Danish news paper Politiken is in possession of internal reports mentioning a long list of mistakes made by Turkish Airlines pilots. "I would never let my wife and my children fly with Turkish Airlines," says one pilot. "It is a dangerous company." says another pilot.

Here are some excerpts from Politiken's articles about Turkish Airlines:

"Pilots sound alarm on airline"

"Last year, 199,000 passengers flew to and from Denmark with Turkish Airlines, according to Copenhagen Airport. 'I flew to a city in Africa and returned with someone who did not speak a word of English. He introduced himself with "Excuse me, sir, my English, very little.' a pilot tells us.
The company is so popular that it was voted the best in Europe this year (2011). But now, a security consultant at Turkish Airlines and 13 pilots report serious safety problems in the company.
"Once I had to take over the control of the plane because my Turkish pilot was not able to land at the airport in Istanbul, when there were strong winds, which is often the case at Istanbul. I would never let my wife and my children fly with Turkish Airlines,"
said one pilot.

The company has expanded rapidly The 13 pilots, Politiken has talked to, are coming from different European countries.

Most are still working for the company, while others have left it within the past year. They had been employed by Turkish Airlines, because the company has expanded so much that it needed foreign pilots in addition to its staff of Turkish pilots.

The 13 pilots accuse independently many of the Turkish pilots in Turkish Airlines for being so bad at flying without the help of the autopilot, that they should not be allowed to fly.

"It is a dangerous company. Never in my time as a pilot have I benn sitting next to a pilot who was incompetent and just let go of the stick because he could not handle the plane. But I have now,"
says one pilot.

Afraid of being labeled as 'tattlers' The 13 pilots speak anonymously for fear of otherwise being fired and branded as 'tattlers'.

They also criticized many of the Turkish pilots for being so bad at English, that it is a security problem because they have difficulty communicating and understanding the instructions from air traffic control and therefore make mistakes.

Politiken is in possession of internal documents from Turkish Airlines, which describe a number of serious errors committed by its pilots in the recent years. Among other things, the papers describe how a plane last year landed in the wrong airport because the pilots did not read or understand their instructions.

One pilot said: "I flew to a city in Africa and returned with someone who did not speak a word of English. He introduced himself with "Excuse me, Sir, my English, very little."

The pilots failed to follow agreed procedures Turkish Airlines is also being criticized by Nuri Sakarya. He is a captain of Turkish Airlines, where he also has served as security consultant since 2003.

Nuri Sakarya believes that Turkish Airlines has not learned from an accident in February 2009 where a Turkish Airlines plane crashed while approaching Amsterdam, and nine were killed. One reason was, according to an accident report, that the pilots failed to follow agreed procedures and were poorly trained.

"Therefore, we must expect it to happen again," he says, but stresses that he does not speak on behalf of the company.

Criticism of Turkish Airlines is 'serious' Chairman of the Danish Pilot Association, Lars Bjørking, believes that criticism of Turkish Airlines is 'serious'.

Interviews: horrified Turkish Airline pilots speak out Politiken.dk brings you excerpts from interviews with 13 terrified pilots. Politiken has interviewed 13 foreign pilots in the last year who have worked for Turkish Airlines.

Here are excerpts of what the 13 foreign pilots say:

"I have flown with several captains (from Turkish Airlines) who only know the English words for "left", "right", "climb", "Descend" and "no problem".

"Many of the Turkish pilots are what we call robot pilots. They can not even speak into the microphone without reading from the manual."

"Turkish Airlines pilots are notorious for their poor English wherever they go. It is so embarrassing to arrive with a Turkish Airlines machine in a foreign airport."

"I flew with a (Turkish) pilot that did not speak English at all. We could not talk. He was the captain, and it's simply not safe when the captain does not speak English. As long as things go well, it is not a serious problem. But if there is a problem, you have to be able express more than just the standard phrases. It is especially a problem when they need to communicate in English if something is wrong or they need need help."

"During a flight to a European city, I asked the Turkish pilot to stay away from the radio. We had to go down to 4,000 feet, and air traffic control said 'go down and when you pass 5,000 feet, then turn left'.He repeated the order as: 'Turn left and then go down to 4,000'."

"Many of the Turkish pilots have a very poor language level. They get the numbers wrong and give wrong messages to the air traffic control. For example, they mix up the numbers 2 and 3, and I have had several Turkish pilots who got permission to go down to 2,300 feet, but understood it as 3,200 feet. Once we were on our way to a European city. The Turkish pilot was flying while I was talking on the radio. Bu the pilot misunderstood the order, reversed the numbers and turned too early. We started a 45 degrees turn before I managed to get the plane back on the route. The air traffic controller said, 'Turkish Airlines, you are heading in the wrong direction'. This happens quite often." Pilot of Turkish Airlines: "I never thought I would be afraid to fly"

“I can fly this plane with my cock,"a Turkish captain of Turkish Airlines said to his co-pilot in the seat beside, as the captain denied that it was necessary to follow the rules before a flight and check the instruments. ... 'I never thought I would be afraid of flying. But I am now when I'm on board as a passenger (on Turkish Airlines) and can not take control of the cockpit," the co-pilot says.

The former General Secretary of the Turkish Pilot's Association, Nuri Sakarya, recognized the problems that the 13 foreign pilots are talking about. He says that Turkish pilots generally get too little exercise. 'I'm trained to handle threats towards civil aviation, and what I see is not safe enough," he says.

One of the pilots reports:

"I've seen a Turkish pilot, I had to fly with, who was not able to read the map properly because it was in English. So he programmed the airplane with the wrong speed and direction, when we had to fly out of a big airport. I stopped him, but he claimed he had typed the correct numbers. It took me 20 minutes to explain to him that he was wrong. His attitude was that everyone did it like this - without taking into account that the map had been changed in the meantime."

Some months after his employment with Turkish Airlines he should train emergencies - this time in a simulator. The rules say that all pilots have to undergo such training every six months.

"I sat next to a Turkish pilot. He could hardly speak English and were unable to communicate with me. When we got an alarm, he did not understand what the alarm was about. If for example the alarm says that the oil pressure is low in one of the engines, then you must take a checklist that explains what to do in such a situation. He did not understand that I asked him to take the checklist, and he did not understand what was written in the checklist. Yet he was not sacked, "
said the pilot.

Politiken is in possession of several so-called internal flight safetybulletins issued by Turkish Airlines, which describes serious errors, pilots in the company have committed in recent years. Among them:

• how flights from Turkish Airlines twice - in October 2006 and March 2011  put themselves in the wrong altitude after taken off from Stansted Airport in Britain, because the pilots misunderstood instructions from air traffic control. At the bottom of the bulletin it says that Turkish Airlines over last three months of 2010 was the airline in the UK airspace, that most often misunderstood instructions from air traffic control, and got into the wrong altitude.

• how a Turkish Airlines plane in April 2009 landed in the wrong airport in the Georgian capital Tbilisi, because the pilots did not read their instruments and instructions properly.

• how the pilots in a Turkish Airlines plane in July 2010 did not follow instructions to land further up on a landing path at the airport in Moldova's capital Chisinau, because the first part of the runway was under repair.

• how a Turkish Airlines plane in July 2009 came close to colliding with another aircraft during the approach to Heathrow Airport in London, because the Turkish pilots did not obey the alarm messages to evade.

• how a Turkish Airlines plane in October 2010 was close to serious accident after a landing in Brussels because the captain suddenly gave one of the engines full throttle as he braked with the other three engines. This caused the plane to smash one wing down into the runway.

Internal documents confirm the problem Chairman of the Danish Pilot Association, Lars Bjørking acknowledges that the internal documents confirm that there are security issues withTurkish Airlines, and that management is aware of it.

For some of the Turkish pilots are talented, the non-Turkish pilots stress:

"The talented ones are usually the youngest pilots who have had a civil education instead of an education in the Turkish Air Force. They are good at English and can still remember the training they have received. Many of the older pilots are bad at English and have almost forgotten how to fly manually without the help of the autopilot. I would say that half of the pilots in the Turkish Airlines are decidedly dangerous, another 20 percent are so mediocre that they could not cope in a Northern European company while the remaining 30 percent are skilled, "
said one pilot.

Another puts it thus:

"The proportion of bad pilots is at a critically high level. They make up about half. "

"The bad pilots, we are talking about, you will find on all Turkish Airlines aircrafts. This means that passengers will fly with one on every Turkish Airlines route whether it is between Istanbul and Copenhagen, Oslo, London and Frankfurt or between Istanbul and Bangkok, Tunis and Beirut, " one of the pilots says.

Captain fears new crashes of Turkish Airlines It is a matter of time before there is a new aircraft from Turkish Airlines, which crashes. This gloomy prediction comes from Nuri Sakarya, a former Secretary General of the Turkish pilots' association Talpa, one of the experts who knows Turkish Airlinesbest inside. He is himself a captain in the airline and has since 2003 worked as a security consultant for Turkish Airlines.