A friendly message to the CEO of Southwest Airlines.
Whilst it is most unlikely that the CEO of SWA will ever read these thoughts from a little retired chap in the South Pacific, perhaps one of his staff will. It is one hell of a shock to be leading a proud old 'line and find oneself in the glare of potentially damaging publicity. I actually sympathise and empathise. An hour ago I took the trouble to read, thoughtfully, the words of one of your employees on a company site. This person was very proud of SWA and loves working for you, as I feel sure most of your personnel do. But underlying the text I began to sense that that old demon which I have long termed "Blame Transference" or "Avoidance" was infecting the article. I suspect that the dedicated employee was not even aware of it. During a period of my life I had the unenviable task of carrying out field investigations into aircraft accidents in a very inhospitable environment and conducted many interviews with survivors. There was generally a most human reluctance to admit that a primary causal factor just may have been a misjudgement on the pilot's (or engineer's) part. It is so hard to admit to oneself that perhaps one could have managed things better. I took great care to be very gentle with these traumatised airmen as I had myself broken aircraft when a young agricultural pilot. (I can still feel/sense/hear the impacts now!). However; we all err at some time during our careers and it really does no good to one's reputation to launch into a tirade about how unjustly one is being treated and how it was all somebody else's fault. (unless, of course, there is hard evidence that one is totally blameless).
But moving on. All of us who have been involved in the airline industry are very aware of the complexity of overlapping inspection and maintenance programmes. But that is common to all carriers. Ever since Mr. Junkers began using metal to build aeroplanes, that metal has been cracking along stress paths. I can recall an engineer calling me over and pointing out an airframe crack, and I have found a few myself. Now I do not wish to indulge in over-simplification but the scenario was that a Defect report was raised, a copy sent to CAA and a repair scheme was devised to fix it. (if one did not already exist). We did not just stare at it and hope it would somehow heal itself. At the least it would be drilled with a stop-hole, though cracks may still propagate.
I know I am generalising, but a CEO's primary responsibility as a legal Duty of Care is to dedicate himself to the safety of his customers. He is the Leader and must set the Culture of the company from the top. Cracked metal is not a good look, no matter how fail-safe are the stress paths. What the CEO can do is issue a Directive. "This airline will repair defects as early as is humanly possible."... "We will not wait for deadline dates!".... "What don't you understand about FIX IT NOW?"
Well, enough methinks....perhaps someone will point these well-meant thoughts to the SWA CEO. I feel sure that your great airline will ride this out and be the better for it. I wish you well.