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FAA has maybe worse problem than the 787 Dreamliners

While CASA makes a goose out of the ATSB in this country by withholding information relevant to the Pel-Air crash, a tougher focus is falling on America’s FAA over both the 787 debacle and pilot training standards.

Continental crash site Buffalo 2009, where it disowned poor flying by contract pilots

Are the standards of the US Federal Aviation Administration or FAA going downhill, and what needs to done if necessary to stop the rot?

These questions are being asked in the American media, which is more courageous than ours when it comes to airlines and safety and public administration, following the in-advance-of-release leaking of a review of the FAA by the Transportation Department’s inspector general.

The review faults the Federal Aviation Administration for not taking steps to encourage the big airlines “to consistently share safety information and best practices” with regional airlines that operate flights under contract for them.

That issue has been driven since the February 2009 crash of a Continental Airlines turbo-prop flight into a housing estate in Buffalo that was operated by a contract airline Colgan Air liveried and sold as a Continental Airlines flight.

This led to Congress resolving to set higher standards of experience for pilots permitted to fly any regular airlines services, and also to a Nick Xenophon inspired Senate committee inquiry into airline training standards in Australia that made a series of recommendations rejected by the government after the airlines and CASA insisted they were completely unnecessary.

The US federal polity was made of tougher stuff in its pursuit of better preparation of pilots for airline service, but has in effect been defied by the FAA as shown by the Transportation Department’s review.

Colgan Air has since ceased operations and Continental has been merged with United.

Among the other issues involved in the Continental crash was the strict legal responsibility of US carriers for the service delivered under their own brand by contractors like Colgan, including safety.  The situation is comparable to that of Qantas branded flights being flown as Qantaslink services by various entities as jets or turbo-props and Virgin Australia’s regional turbo-prop services being flown by Skywest, which it is in the process of taking over subject to approvals, or by Alliance under contracts now expired.

There is however no controversy with such arrangements in this country, in that Qantas and Virgin Australia make unconditional commitments to the standards of these operators and the product delivered to their customers.  What is notable in the US is the amount of push back that the major carriers exhibit when put on the spot over the failings or otherwise of those operators they entrust with flying their brand.

This is in turn important in this country when it comes to the pushing of ‘virtual airlines’ as an appropriate future strategy in which carriers become mostly a branding operation applied to the risks of airliner ownership and maintenance which are outsourced to entities no longer under the direct control of the airline using them. Australian regulation requires, at least on paper, the identical safety and standards outcomes from such outsourced services as from in house services.

This is already a ‘warm’ potato in Australia, but showing signs become a red hot potato as further moves to outsource skills and services to bases in Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, Hong Kong, and let’s guess, Dubai, become more visible to the general public.

The tension over maintaining standards and controls over the things that matter to airline customers, as distinct from airline managers, such as safety, will rise the more airlines even hint at passing them off to the cheapest, or in PR speak, best bidder.

All of which makes this part of the Associated Press report more repellent.

A year after the Colgan crash, then-Continental Airlines CEO Jeffrey Smisek angered victims’ families when he said it was the FAA’s responsibility to ensure Colgan’s pilots were properly trained, not Continental’s.

“We did not train those pilots. We did not maintain those aircraft. We did not operate the aircraft. But we expect them to be safe. We expect the Federal Aviation Administration to do its job,” Smisek told a hearing of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

The father of a law student killed in the crash later cornered Smisek in the hallway outside the hearing room, complaining that his daughter bought her ticket from Continental, not Colgan.

Smisek is now the president and CEO of the holding company for United Airlines, which merged with Continental.

Can there be anything more nauseating than an airline CEO who won’t take responsibility for pilot training standards after a plane covered in its brand, and sold as its brand, crashes, killing everyone on board?

While Smisek’s stance may or may not withstand litigation in the US, the proposition that the quality of Virgin Australia’s regional turbo-prop pilots or Qantaslink’s 717 regional jet pilots was the responsibility of CASA not the airlines would be rejected outright by the Australian carriers, and furiously resisted at a public and political level in this country.

The role of the regulator here is to ensure that the airlines keep to those standards.

It is thus not encouraging to know that CASA here not only failed to do this with Transair (the Lockhart River disaster of 2005) or Pel-Air (the Norfolk Island ditching of 2009) but in the case of the latter improperly suppressed the ATSB from knowing that it had failed, leaving its chief commissioner Martin Dolan looking like a goose during a Senate committee hearing yesterday.

We need more serious querying of the public administration of air safety in this country along the lines of that which is asking whether the FAA was up to standard in its certification of the batteries in the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and capable of making US contract airlines as safe as those they fly for.

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  • 1
    Alex
    Posted February 17, 2013 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

    One benefit from all this “turbulence” is the great reading it makes! Love your work, Ben, it invariably leaves me hangin’ out for the next instalment.

    (BTW, when do you take a break from work? It certainly doesn’t seem to be on the weekends!)

    Cheers, Alex

  • 2
    chpowell
    Posted February 17, 2013 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

    “We did not train those pilots. We did not maintain those aircraft. We did not operate the aircraft. But we expect them to be safe. We expect the Federal Aviation Administration to do its job..”

    Absolutely jaw dropping.

    Time for the Lily Tomlin quote: “No matter how cynical you get, its never enough”

  • 3
    Malcolm Street
    Posted February 17, 2013 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

    chpowell – and you can guess if the FAA was intervening on pilot standards Continental would have been complaining about interference from government bureaucrats.

  • 4
    Roland Delhomme
    Posted February 19, 2013 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    I wish I could contain my remarks and observations strictly to the topic of the FAA and US flight training, but the roots are deeper. What we have here is an ethics and integrity problem and an incapacity to bootstrap and self police ourselves.
    In aviation safety and aviation security matters and air traffic control, certification, other areas, the professionals I’ve worked with from FAA were exceptional. Overall, aviation attracts some pretty bright minds, it’s too bad a few have to ruin it for the many, but sometimes a little housecleaning is in order. As a result of repeated scandals and headlines, (intoxicated airmen, lax official oversight, politically lubricated certification of dangerous aircraft, abuses of power, vendettas against whistleblowers) US aviation is-and has been in a spin for some time. One area where there was a significant fight was the NextGen air traffic control system; tens of billions of dollars are slated to build systems that FAA managers acknowledged were flawed and below par, character assassination attacks and ruthless Iron Curtain tactics have been waged upon FAA whistleblowers, yet many within FAA will not have heard of this. Aviation is like a small town with many secrets, they usually all spill out, but not everyone knows every one.

    Aviation is both thriving and being strangled here in America-it’s just that those who are thriving aren’t always the ones you’d expect, and the ones getting harassed and run out of business are sometimes paying the price for setting a too-high standard. While the FAA has had its share of trials, executives at Boeing hijack the hard work of their workforce and scatter design teams, silence critics and manipulate markets in what increasingly looks like a Ponzi scheme of juggling aircraft deliveries, PR releases about the disastrous 787 battery fiasco. Now Boeing, exploiting weaknesses and leaning on political lubrication, is hard at work pressuring regulators to accept a comically contrived ‘fix’ for a battery problem that has only haunted them for over five years. We are to believe that all is well, nothing is wrong and there’s no story here.

    On a business side, what’s really going on is a shakeout as key US aerospace businesses fall prey to their own cost overruns on Pentagon programs, while simultaneously exporting defense sensitive materials and information to competing and even hostile nations, all while trying to remain profitable in a business that has long suffered from its own success. Now things are getting competitive, demanding and non-exclusive, and some of the current crop of execs haven’t any history running things in aerospace, other than to run programs into the ground. Boeing’s McNerney is a good example; not being from aviation, they lack personal investment in these institutions; they’re hatchet men, suits and money managers who’ll be out of town and cashing in on their own machinations long before it all finishes burning to the ground. I wish that was the scope of the problem, but it goes much further.

    We have an FAA that can’t decide if it works for the airlines, the aerospace companies or the nation. It depends on who’s on the other end of the phone, I guess; last time anyone checked, they worked for the American taxpayer, but like other institutions, their leadership has been twisted to other purposes and so has been ineffective or absent from making real progress on improving airmanship. A great many experts within FAA have a LOT to say about what’s wrong-you just won’t hear their voices cited if they advocate too strongly. Their higher-ups answer to outside pressure and change is slow to come unless it’s Boeing lobbying for lower standards or a sham flight permit to fly a plane from the paint shop like last week, ostensibly to run battery tests.

    As for airmanship, it’s the tough who carry the weak and the strong who outlast the survivors; there are some terrific pilots and instructors who anyone could uphold as a paradigm of how it should be done, but we lack people strong enough to set the tone on ethics and leadership. Unfortunately, ethics and leadership aren’t part of the check ride or background checks for hiring; human resource types are looking for malleable personalities who aren’t too riled by coworkers who don’t have personal standards; the type of person who goes with the flow and gets along with incompetents.

    The emerging pattern is alarming, but the response is even moreso; we don’t confront the problems we’ve created, we just expect you to pay the ticket and enjoy the ride. If the airplane falls out of the sky, it’s either pilot error or some technical bogeyman, never the failures of leadership, of training or of the regulators entrusted with keeping it all in line. Above all, ethics is never at issue, even when its absence is a root cause of so much we have to talk about.

    Again and again, we have seen a falling off in airmanship standards-not in terms of what’s required to license or earn a certificate, but in the demonstrated skills we see in experienced aircrew when confronted by emergencies. The skills and training required are not inaccessible to any pilot, but it takes a little dedicated creativity to find venues where one can fully explore flying an aircraft as it was meant to be. For many a good pilot, stall-spin training and aerobatic flying aren’t required checkboxes, or part of company sponsored advanced or recurrent training, it’s a way of life. When you strap on an airplane, the folks in back have a reasonable expectation that you are not a fraud; that you can handle the aircraft and that you are able to perform your duties. Spin training, aerobatics and ‘upset’ recovery,loss of control training are being required now of some pilots by their employers. A long delayed rule change from the FAA is expected to satisfy a 2010 law requiring changes in flight training and experience, but you can’t get safety by mandate, nor will you see a magical improvement across the board.

    There was a time when it was a foregone conclusion that if you were a pilot, you knew how to fight your way out of a paper bag. The reality is that US flight training standards were diluted and dumbed down years ago

    We are supposed to see a stall/spin, upset training requirement go into effect later this year, but it will be eye opening to see just how the requirements are met-and how effectively, and with what aircraft. While simulators are good for embedding certain skills and practicing some things, there’s a reason why you don’t go on vacation by watching TV; there’s no substitute for the real thing.

    Airmanship skills have been watered down to the point where you can actually find pilots willing to debate the merit of actually flying an airplane hands on, ‘stick and throttle’, no computers involved; many are happy to delegate duties to the autopilot.

    Captain Chesley Sullenberger, Captain Al Haines and many others (US Airways Hudson River landing, Sioux City DC-10 emergency landing) are among a number of exceptional airmen whose example should be the norm, but despite a fatality-free 2012 in US air carriers, we are in a decaying trend and no single accident or FAA ruling will correct it. The problem is one of fiber; moral fiber, a lack of backbone, a brittleness in the face of criticism and an incapacity to self examine and correct.

    These days, a career in the cockpit is marketed as a glamour career, not a deadly serious profession. Both Captains cited above brought skills honed in military service and decades of airline flying to bear in the emergencies that confronted them, but today’s new pilots are truly cut from different cloth and trained in ways that have significantly cheated us all of the airmanship standard that once was a foregone conclusion when you saw those wings displayed proudly upon a uniform.

    Sample any random group of pilots these days and ask them about their last stall, spin and aerobatic experience. Ask them about the intensity and frequency of their emergency training and the realism of the scenarios flown-not in the simulator, but in the air, in an airplane, not a box of silicon chips. Aviation trades on public image and the public trust, Boeing reliability and safety was its stock in trade, a pilot’s wings and epaulets were more than symbols; they were earned, and an airworthiness certificate used to mean that an aircraft had passed rigorous scrutiny.

    Stick and rudder skills have perished, and the trend has been to breed them out of the pilot population, not inculcate them. You can read a lot glossy brochures from flight training companies that cite the thoroughness of their training, but there’s a cottage industry emerging to provide real world ‘upset’ training and decisive emergency management skills to aviators, the market has evolved because some- not all, are trying to live up to the standard the public once believed was the norm.

    Although it was not aboard a US airline, If you look at Air France 447, where a crew stalled an Airbus at altitude and then flew it in a stalled condition all the way to impact the ocean, you see a perfect example of what’s endemic; all the pilots on the flight deck knew how to get out of a stall, but the correct response had been bred out of them in later flight training.

    When you’re the product of a flawed system, you must doubly take it upon yourself to set a higher internal standard and reject mediocrity and challenge the accepted status quo. If that were the norm rather than the exception, the system would tend to be inherently self-correcting, but not so here; in US aviation we have pockets of excellence amidst a rising ocean of incompetence, disregard, and shrugging acceptance of the debased. In aviation, it is considered poor form to speak of the underside of our field, but that griminess has infected the whole, and to remain silent is as reprehensible as keeping the secrets that have rocked the church.

    Across aviation, even into the military, I have witnessed alcohol, substance, and illegal drug use among airmen. It’s one of those things that is rarely spoken of, and to speak of it is to commit career suicide in some circles where drinking prowess is a rite of passage, but so be it. The point is, those individuals tend to be weeded out. Though inexcusable, we don’t have planes falling out of the sky due to inebriated aircrew, and on this matter aviation tends to be self-policing. On the other hand, more insidious behaviors get a free pass, as if there was nothing we can do. Lackadaisical and ineffective enforcement and policing, corporate manipulation, blackmail and intimidation of regulators, inspectors and elected officials are all part of the game played between airlines and aerospace companies and the government officials they lobby and donate to. While one behavior gets deserving headlines, the other, far more prevalent, scarcely gains any notice, save for when Ben here sounds the alarm.

    Leadership has given way to management by expediency, pursuit of the realtime stock ticker, quarterly report and annual earnings statement. Even when such practices are demonstrably destructive, executives can always line their pockets as they loot the companies they rape.

    Blame does not rest on private industry, however; the greatest CEO I ever worked for held NASA and US Department of Defense contracts. On the day I was hired full time, I was given the mandate to “find whatever needs to be fixed, regardless of cost’. He was uninterested with complying with the regulations as we faced a USAF inspection, he wanted to exceed their expectations, not aim for the cutoff point or meet minimum standard. Such men are few.

    Misconduct and wallet groping is not isolated to business either; one doesn’t have to look far in aviation to find government leaders and administrators who’ve lined their pockets as consultants after ravaging their field and silencing dissenting voices who cried foul over abusive practices and self serving contract awards. Look at the recent resignation of Secretary of Transportation Ray Lahood in the immediate wake of the press conference that was held as a Boeing commercial after the January 7th battery fire aboard a 787; also present was FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, the third appointed in a startlingly short time. Boeing executives managed to finesse government PR even as they sat on known defects and a troubling history of fires and explosion with the 787′s battery and charging system. The resulting loss of prestige only marked what had begun some time before.

    Boeing CEO McNerney, presiding over the gutting of once proud Boeing, enjoyed a staggering bonus for his performance bringing the 787 to market, but the skeletons are beginning to flood out of Seattle as journalists and Washington DC investigators are hearing from whistleblowers running for cover, emerging suddenly with deep insider information on Boeing execs and the dirty secrets of the Dreamliner program. Before long, the devastating damage to US aviation will go far beyond a loss of credibility by the FAA and US Department of Transportation, it impacts the entire industry, and serves no good.

    As it stands, the credibility of these organizations is no better than demonstrated by the decisions made by their leadership, and that’s too bad, since all three have some fine people working very hard to make things right.
    It may not be a popular view, but it’s not a popularity contest. All of this was self-inflicted, and the irony is that many of the dedicated but inadequately trained pilots you’ll fly with on regional routes are making much less than the assistant manager at the local donut shop.

    In Asia, the explosive growth of airline routes and flight training is fueling another round of pilot training and airport expansion, airliner sales. It’s unlikely the same mistakes will be made, one can only hope that the excellent training materials that are available to Australian and other Commonwealth pilots will find their way into academies and cockpits. There is a difference between how we train pilots today versus a generation or two ago and there is a huge difference in theoretical knowledge and the quality of what is taught outside the US; introduce a US pilot to materials from Australia’s recreational pilot curriculum and watch their eyes widen.

    Perusing my own collection of 1930′s to 1950′s vintage flight training books and manuals always leaves me questioning if what we have today constitutes ‘progress’ or a watering down of skills and understanding.

    Regarding the future of Asian aerospace, the great mistake being made in Seattle is one of a kind of unacknowledged racism; in many circles, post cold war thinking and lack of perspective lets many excuse themselves into thinking that the views they hold are valid or the norm. The long term relationship that could evolve is being lost over the embarrassment and scandal of foisting off an unsafe and incomplete product on partner countries and risk sharing suppliers; why wouldn’t they just reorganize around alternative and more dependable relationships that are being forged now? A culture of honor is foreign to our business executives and leaders. To lose face is no shame to executives at Boeing and it seems not to matter to those who have pillaged US taxpayer dollars. If you’re involved with this program, you’re not just facing the wrath of US taxpayers…

    Perhaps the best thing that could happen to Boeing would be McNerney’s plan to move the commercial airplane division to China; if imprisonment gets meted out to executives who mislead officials and endanger lives, there’s a cell waiting for you, Mr. McNerney and more than a few would like to pay your moving expenses.

    For pilots, airmen, if you want to wear those wings, be deserving of them, and don’t tolerate those who drag your profession downhill; there’s work to be done. Keeping silent only plays the politicians and executives game. If you’re a politician, an executive, or in civil service, don’t forget who pays your bills.

    The business of training pilots has created a sausage machine that grinds out too many automatons and systems managers and too few aviators with stick and rudder skill sets. Worse, as long as I’m infuriating all the brethren, most of us don’t have and were never exposed to enough weather knowledge to support confident and decisive decision making. The professional is always challenging their knowledge base and constantly striving to improve, but low standards and lower expectations are an invitation to seek the lowest common denominator.

    In 2011, we had a horrific tornado touch down in a major city while airline flight operations continued unabated-right up to the point where a loaded jet was shoved across the tarmac as windows blew out of the terminal in a scene from a disaster movie. Radar archives and radio transcripts, monitoring, reveal that operating well past the point of sanity is not that unusual; the standard in aviation has always been to make changes in the wake of bloodshed and cratered remains. It’s been that way since the dawn, it has been that way all the way to NASA, and it’s why the 787 is being pushed back to service with Boeing only offering an interim ‘fix’; only angry survivors and the relatives of the dead ever seem to make a dent in the thickheaded, stiff necked way that bureaucracy moves and corporations respond. Aviation can do better-it just hasn’t decided to.

    Global business sometimes applies a self-correcting influence which culls the herd: where regulators fail, actuaries sometimes force the change-and never in ways to the liking of those who missed the opportunity to lead. Accountants have been cited many times as the bane of aerospace, usually when shortsighted leaders use statistics to justify incompetent decisions. For example, a popular notion is that decisions on the 787 were accounting or numbers driven; actually, it was propelled by an ethics vacuum. Insurance actuaries, however, inject another element; see below.

    Around 1999-2000, many US flight schools were closing due to skyrocketing insurance rates.One of the finest in the country, a small school which offered glider, tailwheel, aerobatic and advanced instruction was effectively run out of business by soaring rates-despite the fact that their kind of training, taught by a highly experienced fighter pilot, was exactly what was missing from ‘modern’ flight training. The loss of that school and many others have had a devastating effect upon the quality of result we see in the cockpit. As is often the case, aviation suffered a self inflicted wound, but this time it was applied to the extreme opposite of where most problems lay. It would have been better if shoddy operators could have been shut down instead; they were, after all, the ones responsible for the inflection point in accidents that triggered the knee jerk rate increases.

    In conversation with an executive from Lloyd’s of London, one glimmer of hope was offered: insurance underwriters wield a power that sometimes exceeds that of the regulator. When risk premiums drive better training and practices, and audit firms have to certify air carriers, you tend to see a winnowing of the shabby operators, but bottom feeders still permeate the entire ecosystem and elected officials and corrupted regulators are still deeply embedded and invulnerable.

    If this is soil, don’t expect much good to take root. At the risk of sounding too pessimistic, I have to say that the unguarded strength is the same as the unprotected weakness; I’m not worried about those who are the vanguard of change, but the reality is that it’s become incredibly hard for the best in our field to hold ground against the rising sewage.

    There are some who would make the mistake of saying I must be a dissatisfied corporate employee with an axe to grind; I invite the remark and to them I say: no axe here, just a rusty sword, but one I will not relinquish. If it takes bludgeoning the point, then so be it; we are, have been in, and will continue to be in a slide. My own career has been too fulfilling for me to watch aviation chase itself down the drain.

    One might wonder if it’s really that bad; actually, it’s worse than acknowledged; it’s just a hard paradigm to swallow, since it leaves one without clear soundbite answers and a discernible happy ending that wraps itself up in short order-such thoughts are escapist fantasy. Everyone would love better news, but Ben, your article sounds the alarm.

    Flying has cultivated a heroic mythos for itself of decisive leaders; bold actors who take charge, or the endearing rogue who bucks the system. Both types have been amplified to distortion but a third type, that of the quiet professional is more prevalent-and under attack. The quiet ones excel and are prized for their contributions, but these days, it’s their silence that is rewarded and secured by place on the seniority list.

    The balancing, moderating influence in any flight department are those airmen who are responsible for standards and evaluation; they are quality control. The safety officer is another role, and in the airlines, the dispatcher who releases your aircraft after planning the flight and briefing the captain serves as ‘mission control’. All are vital and all labor against management with varying degrees of success, but human resources often has them trying to contain the effects of those who have become disaffected and disillusioned with flying. Today’s flight crews hardly act the part, with notable exceptions. It’s not glamorous to sell your soul to a company whose leadership and decisions you can’t respect while you try not to lose your license or certifications in the act of performing duties that you were told were illegal and that the public would never accept. That’s the reality for too many airmen-and explains some of the tensions you see over schedule, compensation, contracts and seniority. These are not the kinds of things you need infecting the mind of your flight crew as they head to work, but once in the hangar or on the flight line, they get to deal with what their similarly abused engineers and technicians had to sign off on. It just never ends.

    Overall, people tend to be paralyzed by problems that require nuanced, complex analysis and decisive, swift action-just like flying. It’s not a superhuman skill however; a child on a bicycle quickly learns to assess and maneuver around threats; adults seem to lose this. In the cockpit or the boardroom, when things go wrong in flying folks often tend to split into two groups with a narrow band in between: some act impulsively and wrong, others ‘go primal’, and are paralyzed in momentary fear at precisely the point where they need their faculties-call it a fainting goat reaction. The narrow band is comprised of those who arrive at the correct answer instinctually or by trained habit, or who at least don’t worsen their predicament, thus prolonging their time to react. The challenge we face is to either retrain or filter out those who can’t demonstrate the competencies expected of an airman; if you can’t handle the airplane, take up another profession. If you can’t handle ethics, get out of the boardroom, or face the lawyers.

    Loss of control and stall-spin accidents remain a stubborn blot on the record of aviation. Teaching pilots to deal with loss of control or ‘outside the box’ situations has replaced aerobatic and stall-spin training for many, although stall-spin recognition and recovery are at least taught conceptually, if not in practice. (For some glider pilots, a favorite use for an altitude gain is to use the extra height to launch into another series of maneuvers which include stalls and spins) If you can’t respond to a situation correctly. you’re liable to make it worse; ironically, that’s exactly what aviation faces today. We haven’t managed ourselves very well, but there’s a sense of entitlement; you’re supposed to trust us.

    Though undesirable, the fainting goat reaction isn’t the worst of behaviors-nowadays, we’ve replaced that with active denial and reality rejection or suicidally stupid, impulsive response; (witness aircrew decisions in too many accidents, Boeing’s recent executive decisions, statements) the unfortunate metaphor is that in aviation business, those who fly the corporation are often guilty of the kind of mistakes the early student pilot is hopefully taught to avoid. Meanwhile, in the cockpit, you’d hope for better, but a surprising number of airline pilots would never be caught dead taking time to master soaring or training in aerobatics; even among military aviators, the idea of flight without an engine is anathema to many; too bad, since it’s taught at the academies and is core to the flight curriculum of many a well rounded pilot.

    Executives in aviation too often escape having to face jail time or worse, but their decisions and cover ups have sentenced many to death at the hands of those in their charge; Boeing execs might keep that in mind as they push for an early return to flight for the 787; so far, they’ve managed not to kill anyone with their new jet; the usual practice is to weigh lawsuits and regulatory action before re-engineering is undertaken. At last check, however, Boeing execs were still pushing for an easy way out.

    When confronted by problems, aviation has a built-in mechanism to insulate the public from what would cause panic; you simply don’t yell ‘fire’ in a crowded theatre, but when legitimate concerns are afoot, the reflexive ‘keep it quiet’ mode kicks in to the point of disguising any voices of dissent or pushing them out to the margins. The trust extended to aviation has been abused, however; if there’s something wrong, really wrong, that affects public safety, you’re more likely to learn about it from a union picket line when they threaten management with disclosure of all the dirty laundry.

    Time wasted on gentlemanly discourse and polite avoidance of reality has only gotten us here faster; in aviation, so notoriously small a world, reputations are dearly held and one does not make waves or attack the brotherhood. The resulting code of silence enforces the wide suffering of too many who can’t simply launch into a lone personal war against their own employers or the regulators. It’s a slow strangulation, like a python crushing ribs and choking the life out of a victim.
    If you try to make headway, you’re not going with the flow, you’re creating strain, you’re a disruptive influence; you’re drag in a field that runs on streamlined flow.

    The career professional who tries to seek change is faced with two choices: keep your head down and do your job, or break ranks and be de-selected from the organizational gene pool. Only a few manage to find themselves in organizations that are soundly run and well led.

    There are a few bright lights out there-no, actually, quite many-but they stand too far apart against the fall of night, and I fear their beacons may not be seen ’til we all have suffered much worse than scandal and a little healthy debate.

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