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Recognizing Pilot Bravery: Iran Air vs. LOT Polish Airlines

We have rightfully heard a lot of praise for the LOT Polish Airlines pilots who landed a Boeing 767 on its belly in Warsaw yesterday after the landing gear failed to deploy. Hailed as a hero, Captain Tadeusz Wrona deserves a great deal of recognition for his bravery and skill in carefully landing the aircraft without injuring a single passenger or crew member. But the drama in Poland brought to mind another compelling story of pilot bravery that was rewarded in a very different manner.

LOT_Polish_Airlines_Captain

Last month, as an Iran Air Boeing 727 traveling from Moscow to Tehran neared Imam Khomeini International Airport, Captain Hooshang Shahbazi discovered the front landing gear would not deploy. Rather than panic, he slowly glided the plane to the ground at nearby Mehrabad Airport (allegedly to avoid embarrassing the Iranian regime if a fatal crash occurred), then used the rear wheels to land, screeching down the runway with the aircraft's nose in the air before gently coming to a halt. 94 passengers and 19 crew members (nice ratio...) escaped unharmed.

With a U.S. embargo barring Iran Air from acquiring new Boeing aircraft and spare parts, the pilot's feat was even more remarkable considering the aircraft was over 40 years old.Yet rather than hailing him as a national hero or even simply thanking him, Shahbazi was suspended from his job.

Now I am not saying the situation was handled as professionally as LOT. Indeed, it seems the pilot tried to keep passengers in the dark about what was really going on (which actually might not always be a bad idea):

...[T]he captain had made no announcement about the danger the flight was in. Instead, passengers noticed that the plane seemed to be circling interminably above the same area, and saw panic on the faces of the air stewardesses. The pilots were circling in order to use up as much fuel as possible before attempting the risky landing, to minimise the chance of fire when the plane touched down. The passengers realised that something was seriously wrong when one of the air hostesses broke down in hysterics, and the other members of the cabin crew had to lock her in a toilet..

Yet the pilot still managed to safely land an antique aircraft that should have been retired over a decade ago. Rather than scapegoat him for the fact that Iran Air has an aging fleet, some recognition was in order.

So I congratulate Captain Wrona but I also congratulate Captain Shahbazi. Nice work gentlemen!

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