Even when we think about temperature

A Fox “News” personality wondered on live tv if it might be the metric system that caused the AirAsia flight to go missing.

Fox News host Anna Kooiman speculated on Sunday that an AirAsia flight could have gone missing because international pilots were trained using the metric system.

During breaking coverage of missing Flight QZ8501, Kooiman asked former FAA spokesperson Scott Brenner if the “real reason” the plane had disappeared was because of the “different way other countries train their pilots.”

“Even when we think about temperature, it’s Fahrenheit or Celsius,” she pointed out. “It’s kilometers or miles. You know, everything about their training could be similar, but different.”

Also? They’re upside down. That must make it hard to fly planes correctly.

Plus they’re probably Mooslims.

In addition, they eat unfamiliar food items.

Too, they’re far away from here.

And furthermore they probably don’t watch Fox News.

So no wonder.


  1. says

    FWIW, the Gimli Glider incident was partly caused by metric/imperial confusion. However, this Fox thing sounds like idiot talking heads speculating in advance of the facts, just for the sake of being xenophobic. Because that’s what Fox does.

  2. John Morales says

    I live in a country ostensibly using metric system, but for some reason, media stories about flying invariably revert to using feet.


    Indonesia’s air transport director Joko Muryo Atmodjo said the aircraft had been flying at 32,000 feet and had asked to fly at 38,000 feet to avoid clouds before it lost contact.

  3. Dunc says

    As far as I know, the entire global aviation industry is standardised for precisely this sort of reason. Altitude is always measured in feet, airspeed is always measured in knots, and so forth. There are some peculiarities (runway lengths are measured in metres while long distances are measured in nautical miles) but it’s all perfectly well understood.

  4. says

    It’s entirely possible, given that English is the international language of aviation, that the crew of the missing AirAsia flight spoke better English than the typical Fox News talking head.

  5. dmcclean says

    Pretty much, dunc @7. There are a few things where different units are used.

    Some countries use millibars or hectopascals (which are equivalent) for altimeter settings, other countries use inches of mercury. Fortunately this can’t really cause confusion because the valid ranges of numbers don’t come anywhere close to overlapping.

    The fuel loading measurements that Eamon Knight @1 pointed out have also caused problems. I believe, but I’m not sure, that the aircraft manufacturer determines what units will be used to measure the fuel load on each type of aircraft.

    The standardization that Dunc mentions is also the “some reason” why John Morales @5 sees altitudes in feet in news stories about aviation even though he lives in a country that uses the metric system. Although to be really pedantic, in the example “Indonesia’s air transport director Joko Muryo Atmodjo said the aircraft had been flying at 32,000 feet and had asked to fly at 38,000 feet to avoid clouds before it lost contact”, what’s almost certainly meant is “had been flying at flight level 320 and had asked to fly at flight level 380″, and so what’s really specified is the barometric pressure at which the aircraft is directed to fly, and so the connection to feet is pretty indirect. (To make it more complicated, some countries do use flight levels defined by nominal altitudes in meters…)

  6. peterh says

    Pilots the world over have to master a dizzying plethora of measurement systems – nautical miles, statute miles, metrical distance measures, “standard” distance measures, elevations in feet/meters, wind speeds in kilometers-miles per hour, etc.; Indonesian pilots are far from alone in having the need to convert similar but disparate measurements. With tens of thousands of flights per day, these computations are generally automatic and transparent to the overall transport of hundreds of thousand of passengers & crew members daily. Igt is said the cockpit crew had in excess of 20,000 hours air time. So far as the basics are concerned, they knew what they were doing. “… what’s really specified is the barometric pressure at which the aircraft is directed to fly…” Aircraft are directed to fly at certain altitudes, not barometric pressures.

  7. dmcclean says

    “Aircraft are directed to fly at certain altitudes, not barometric pressures.”

    No, peterh, that’s actually incorrect. Both types of directions exist and are routine, although only altitude directions apply to aircraft that can’t/don’t reach high altitudes. If you take a long range commercial flight it will definitely receive both types of directions. The exact cutoff point varies, but here in the US aircraft flying below 18,000 feet above mean sea level are generally directed to fly at altitudes. Aircraft operating above that are directed to fly at flight levels. A flight level is a specific barometric pressure. They are named after the altitude in the standard atmosphere where that pressure would be found.

    The reason this is done is because the purpose of assigning vertical positions to high altitude traffic is only traffic separation. Low altitude traffic also requires terrain clearance. Low altitude traffic is also generally slower, and so keeping aircraft up to date on the local altimeter setting is both necessary and more practical.

    (Absolutely the pilots knew what they were doing and the news presenter doesn’t have a clue.)

  8. says

    As usual, Fox Nuisance blames everybody except for the US which is still living in the 18th century. It was NASA’s failure – a US failure – that doomed the Mars Climate Orbiter. They made the silly mistake of using both systems and constantly converting measurements instead of doing everything in one system or the other.


    I would have also mentioned the Gimli Glider if EK hadn’t beaten me to it. The silly name of a small town and military base is so apt for such a silly mistake. Here’s the “Mayday” dramatization of it:

  9. says

    Did the geniuses at Fox back their “arguments” up with quotes from the air-to-ground communications showing confusion or argument over measurements before the plane vanished? If not, then they’re completely full of shit.

    Also, if there was confusion over different units of measure being routinely used, we’d have seen a lot more news about mishaps, overshots, undershots, near-misses, misinterpreted instructions, and probably even more actual fatalities as a result. I, for one, have heard nothing of the sort, so again, they’re probably full of shit.

  10. busterggi says

    Them Indonesians probably use Arabic numbers on their instruments instead of English ones – its all the fault of mooslims!

  11. lpetrich says

    Something I’d love to see: some big international corporation sues the US government for not pushing the metric system because not using it is a “trade barrier”. I’d love to see right-wingers’ heads explode as they agonize over whih side to take.

    Metrication in Myanmar — slow progress there. I can’t find much on Liberia, either.

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