Monday, March 9, 2015

Aviation Safety Is About Knowledge And Authority

One upon a time during the pre-CRM years of aviation co-pilots job were only to obey Captains order, sit down and do nothing unless asked. Then CRM – Crew Resource Management came along. CRM opened the door for communication and decisions between pilots in the driver's seats. The co-pilot became enabled to initiate safety concerns to the Captain. Safety had moved forward, and everyone felt safe, secure and good about themselves. 

Then one day a flight attendant spoke up against the Captain about a safety concern. It was snowing heavily and snow was packing on an airplane preparing for takeoff. This interference was a new and unfamiliar for the Captain, since flight attendance were not expected to interfere with the Captains safety decisions. Not only had Captains over years accepted and adjusted to consider advise from the first officer, but now the flight attendant also wanted to become involved in safety. The Captain decided not to take this advise and ordered the concerned cabin crews off the plane. Then, on it's way offshore to 39thousand feet, the plane took off with fewer cabin crew members than planned.    

Precision approach is protected against obstacles with an obstacles free zone authority.
There are two accidents that stands out in history where airplanes lost control after takeoff due to heavy snow. One is the Potomac River accident on January 13, 1982, and the other is the Dryden accident on March 10, 1989. In both instances concerns were raised by a first officer who did not have the authority to speak on the issue. The authority to speak rested with the Captains. In both instances the Captains decided to continue the takeoff with several clues, however not facts, that the outcome could be a severe accident. The snow were clues and not facts since the snow was an indication only, and not an indisputable factor that it would lead to an accident. It was accepted in the industry that airplanes were designed to operate in heavy snowy conditions and therefore design and technology were trusted and lack of operational knowledge minimized facts to clues. 

Knowledge of driving a commercial vehicle  is not the same as authority to drive a commercial vehicle. 
Without knowledge of facts, improvement to aviation safety is simply limited to pre-incident clues. However, if one does not have authority to speak on facts, knowledge becomes irrelevant.  

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