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# Ethics / Morals: The Ethics of being an airline captain

Mon 23 Oct, 2017 03:35 pm
Hello, I have a very odd question. I am currently making a career change decision and want to be a pilot. My greatest aspiration would be to captain a Boeing 777. However, I have inner conflict about the ethics of this aspiration due to the pollution it will be causing. Assuming that I achieve what I set out to achieve I would spend 20 years as a 777 captain. According to my calculations this would mean I would be responsible for the death of 56 people over these 20 years. I came to these calculations due to the following:

A 777 burns 14.149 kgs of fuel per mile.

A 777 captain flies 562,000 miles per year.

562,000 multiplied by 14.149 is 7,951,649 kgs of fuel per year

7,951,649 kgs of fuel per year is 8765.2 tons per year.

65,000 deaths per year are caused by plane emissions

The world's airlines use some 205 million tons of aviation fuel (kerosene) each year.

205,000,000 divided by 65,000 is 3153.846 so it takes 3153 tons of fuel to kill a person.

A 777 airline captain releases 8756.2 tons of fuel per year and it takes 3153 tons of fuel to kill a person statistically. So a 777 captain kills 2.78 people per year assuming they are responsible for the entire plane's emissions. That is 56 people killed if you are a 777 captain for 20 years.

I have also worked out that for the deaths that I cause per year I can offset it by saving the same amount of lives per year by donating to the against malaria foundation. By donating around \$3500 to the Against malaria foundation statistically it saves one life due to the malaria that it prevents due to the amount of mosquito nets and vaccinations it would provide. If I donated \$9,800 a year this would save 2.78 lives a year and offset the deaths that I would be causing through pollution.

Would this make being a boeing 777 captain ethical?
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Type: Question • Score: 2 • Views: 2,028 • Replies: 15

roger

1
Mon 23 Oct, 2017 03:39 pm
@ig747,
How much pollution from a full size SUV, transporting one person (driver) and no cargo. Is that ethical?
ig747

0
Mon 23 Oct, 2017 03:44 pm
@roger,
Even if a full size SUV is driven several hours every day over a 20 year span it wouldn't be enough fuel to kill 0.1 of a person statistically. Contributing to a tiny fraction of one death through the pollution caused over 20 years is something I could be comfortable with. Killing 50+ people would trouble me.
0 Replies

cicerone imposter

1
Mon 23 Oct, 2017 10:02 pm
@ig747,
Your calculations doesn't mean much. Many pilots have flown thousands of hours without any accidents. Airplane travel is safer than vehicles. There are literally thousands of airplanes flying at any time, especially during the morning hours across the country. https://www.quora.com/How-many-airplanes-are-in-flight-on-average-at-any-given-time-worldwide

Look at what's actively flying at any one time. https://flightaware.com/live/

Many learn to fly in the US military, then go to work for a commercial airline.

You're not going to change the use of airplanes, because they are part of commercial travel and military defense around the world.

The EPA is working to reduce the emission of pollution from airplanes. https://www.epa.gov/regulations-emissions-vehicles-and-engines/regulations-greenhouse-gas-emissions-aircraft
ig747

1
Tue 24 Oct, 2017 09:13 am
@cicerone imposter,
Thanks for a reply but I am a little confused why you are referring to airplane accidents. I was not talking about deaths caused by airplane accidents I was talking about deaths caused by airplane pollution. To answer the one thing you did say about emissions, yes the EPA is working to reduce the emission of pollution from airplanes but why would that make a pilot that is producing 8000+ tons per year of fuel into the atmosphere no longer responsible?
cicerone imposter

1
Tue 24 Oct, 2017 09:29 am
@ig747,
Just trying to share information I’ve learned over the years of world travel, having visited some 113 countries. Yes, airplanes produce pollution, but airplanes are here to stay. We live in Silicon Valley between two major airports, SFO and Norman Mineta International in San Jose. The climate is such that air quality remains pretty clean today compared to the past when smog was a problem.
ig747

1
Tue 24 Oct, 2017 09:51 am
@cicerone imposter,
Most of the air pollution created where you are will not stay there, it drifts long distances, thats one of the reasons China and India suffer so much air pollution. Drugs are here to stay as well. If one drug dealer quits dealing for ethical reasons drugs will still be there. Does that mean there would be no ethical difference whether he chose to continue dealing drugs or not?
0 Replies

ehBeth

3
Tue 24 Oct, 2017 09:53 am
@ig747,
Is the captain alone in those 777s?

If not, why is the captain solely responsible for the emissions of the 777?
ig747

-1
Tue 24 Oct, 2017 10:25 am
@ehBeth,
Very good question, how do we determine to what degree he/she is responsible? A 777 capacity is around 450 passengers. Is a single passenger equally as responsible as the pilot? The pilot is the one taking the actions that release the fuel into the atmosphere.

Hitler was democratically elected. He was responsible for the death of 6 million Jews. But what share of responsibility does each person who voted for him share?
ehBeth

2
Tue 24 Oct, 2017 10:26 am
@ig747,
Would the pilot be in the 777 if there were no passengers? would there be a need for a 777 pilot without passengers.

0 Replies

cicerone imposter

1
Tue 24 Oct, 2017 10:37 am
@ehBeth,
Good q, ehBeth. How about the airplane manufacturer and the fuel manufacturer? How about the governments that builds all the airports and the necessary infrastructure? I'm sure there are more involved.
On the other side of the equation, however, are the jobs created.
0 Replies

ehBeth

1
Tue 24 Oct, 2017 10:57 am
@ig747,
Who was put on trial in Nuremberg?

https://www.ushmm.org/outreach/en/article.php?ModuleId=10007722
ig747

0
Tue 24 Oct, 2017 01:27 pm
@ehBeth,
not every voter that was responsible for putting the nazis in power. Only 22 nazis were put on trial even though millions played a part in the holocaust happening. By this logic the pilot bears a lot more responsibility for the pollution than the passengers do.
0 Replies

jespah

1
Tue 24 Oct, 2017 01:45 pm
@ig747,
You went to Godwin's Law on this?

Look, air travel consumes fuel, yes. As does automobile traffic. And when your jet carries (for sake of an easy number) 100 people, it has the potential to take 100 cars off the road for the duration of the trip. This doesn't just save the pollution from those 100 cars. It may very well save more, because by alleviating traffic congestion and stop and go, cars will use less gas (stop and go takes more per gallon, and idling with the engine on burns fuel).

Because air travel is also safer, and fewer cars would be on the road, you can logically assume there could be fewer traffic accidents. Traffic accidents mean not just the accident, but also stopped traffic, possibly police, fire, and ambulances rushing to the scene (and burning fuel), possible fuel leaks or fires (also polluting), and possible totaled cars meaning a different car must be purchased. If a newer replacement car is bought, it's more likely to have better fuel efficiency. But buying used means the gas mileage might be worse.

Yes, when air disasters happen, they're horrible. There's no denying that. And yes, they use fuel, which can end up in groundwater, oceans, the soil, etc if there are leaks. Fires of course can pollute as well. Fortunately, the number of air disasters is low.

The average number of car accidents in the US every year is 6 million.
https://www.driverknowledge.com/car-accident-statistics/

Odds of being on an airline flight with at least 1 fatality: one in 3.4 million.
http://www.planecrashinfo.com/cause.htm
There were 19 plane incidents with at least 1 fatality in 2016, with 325 victims:
https://aviation-safety.net/graphics/infographics/ASN_infographic_2016.jpg

There is a lot more that goes into fuel calculations than just what goes into a plane. It's also saved fuel from automotive travel, savings from prevented accidents and the easing of traffic congestion.

And preventing pollution, while important, isn't the only measure of creating a better life for yourself and others. Preventing fatalities should be up there, too.
cicerone imposter

1
Tue 24 Oct, 2017 02:10 pm
@jespah,
Besides all that, flying saves much time, and often times it’s necessary when traveling to distant places.
I think when people are able, they should experience all modes of commercial travel: Bus, train, river and ocean cruise, airplanes (large and small) helicopter, trams, gondolas, streetcars, and spaceship - when it becomes affordable.
0 Replies

Robert Gentel

2
Tue 24 Oct, 2017 03:51 pm
@ig747,
ig747 wrote:
Is a single passenger equally as responsible as the pilot?

No they are much more responsible. If the pilot refused to fly they would just find another pilot and the same amount of pollution would occur because this is widely acceptable behavior (to fly on an airplane) and the pilot can't change that. If the passengers refuse to fly they will cancel the flight and the pollution will not occur. As long as we consider the flights acceptable behavior they will continue, if anything I think the ethical consideration here (and for cruise ships to a much larger degree) is that they should have the societal costs built into their prices. Because we all accept that there is a utility to air travel and if its costs outweigh this utility then those costs should just be built into its price.

Beth nailed the key ethics issue here. And it's a relatively simple one. The passengers of an airplane are the one who shoulder the primary ethical burden of their consumption. Similarly the electric company is not primarily responsible for their users who waste the resource, those users are.
0 Replies

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