It has been a while now since I wrote a serious post. Seem to have been mainly rambling on (some would say raving) in the Forum section. But, whilst attempting to restore some semblance of order out of my chaotic paper archives and records, I came across an article that I wrote back in 1995 which might well interest some readers.
At that time, I was back from Papua New Guinea for a break in my homeland of New Zealand. I did not realise it at the time, but I was pretty well stressed out from years of high-pressure problems involving serious PNG law-and-order situations (AK47 syndrome), lack of funding for the PNG Dept. of Civil Aviation (of which I was a very senior officer) and from carrying out field investigations into a run of particularly "messy" air accidents in some very remote and rather "challenging" locations. One difficult aspect of my work up there was that one almost always knew the pilots, and often some of the passengers as well. I mention this because it may explain the tone of parts of the following article. To add to my somewhat cynical attitude was that, in my home country, the newish Civil Aviation Authority was still finding its way, was under intense critical scrutiny and had incurred the ire of almost all of the aviation industry; both commercial and recreational. For the first time in our nation's post-war history, the Govt. had appointed a non-aviation Director of Civil Aviation. Actually, a nice enough sort of chap, but lacking the background that almost all of us considered neccessary to perform the range of duties required. It was a bad time both for the CAA regulator and just about everyone else in our tight-knit aviation community. Anyway, here are just one man's thoughts from the mid- 1990s.
But before commencing this, and future Flight Safety items, I wish to sort of dedicate them to a rather nice chap whom I worked for during the 1980s. His name is Ron Chippindale who was in charge of the NZ Office of Air Accident Investigation and then the NZ TAIC for many years. Ron was very kind to me and I learned much from him before taking up the position as boss of Papua New Guinea's Air Safety Investigation Bureau. It was a sad day indeed when, on the news of February 2nd, 2008, we heard of Ron's sudden death. From his home north of Wellington, he was taking his usual morning stroll to buy a newspaper, when a teenage kid lost control of his speeding car, careered onto the footpath and struck Ron who died instantly. May I recommend that you Google his name and have a read about this true and modest Gentleman.
"The most difficult and frustrating aspect of aviation safety writing/education is that it is so very difficult to precisely measure its effect - or lack of it! I often ponder whether authors (including myself) are prone to overestimate the attention span and literary ability of the target audience. Participating in formal courses is one thing - absorbing and understanding the literature on one's own is quite another! I have certainly read millions of words relating to aviation safety but even I, one who is intensely interested in the subject, have found my interest and attention flagging at times when studying some learned paper - goodness only knows what the 'average' pilot makes of it all?
Much of the academic material I have studied over the years is, in my opinion, often convuluted and contains excessive "psycho-jargon", which is not clearly or readily understood/digested by the average pilot. What is the point of aviation academics writing and talking principally to each other? The message must be conveyed clearly and lucidly to the primary target - pilots, engineers and management; they are the people at the sharp end of day-to-day and week-by-week risk management.
As an associated theme, we have to constantly try to counter an almost obsessive desire of some management/bean-counters for greater and greater productivity, and their tendency to indulge in commercial expediency. Why do some of the management/bean-counter fraternity almost appear to worship at the alter of the Great God of Cost-Cutting? The desire to take short cuts, to cut turn-around times, to pressure pilots and engineers almost to the blackmail stage by threat of job loss is almost pathological. And don't tell me it doesn't occur - I have listened to too many distressed pilots and engineers for too many years not to know it goes on. Of course, much of the management pressure is cunningly subtle, covert and conveyed by 'hints' and body language. But nevertheless it certainly exists - not widespread perhaps, but is there all the same.
The fear of loss of income, or deterioration of same, is a powerful motivator to 'obey', even when one knows that something is not right and standards are being eroded. So when a crucial concept such as air safety becomes adversely money-affected, we are in real trouble both in the short but, more particularly, in the longer term as more and more pilots and management become infected with the 'affordable safety' virus. I believe that the Government - and its aviation regulatory arm, the CAA - has not helped at all with the problem, due to its foolhardy, dangerous, irresponsible and obsessive pre-occupation with 'cost-recovery'. The whole concept - today a basic tenet of CAA policy - is that of 'affordable safety'. The very idea is, to me, obscene and repulsive. Did anyone ever survey the travelling public as to whether they embraced the the concept of 'affordable safety'? I do not recall any such 'user' poll or research being done!
Personally, I find the fact that the words are even printed and stated by a Minister or Director of Civil Aviation verging on the disgusting. Defence of their 'affordable safety' policies and actions might evaporate somewhat if they ever visited the scene of a serious air accident before it was "sanitised". Such a visit might also assist some of our cost-cutting bean-counters to truly understand the business we are involved with: The business of avoiding violent death and injury while moving human beings from one location to another. If I sound somewhat harsh, remember that parts of my mind are imprinted for all time with such sad and horrific scenes that such memories sometimes over-ride my thoughts when contemplating the seemingly all-important CAA or operator's balance sheet.
But it is time to return to the business of imparting digestable air safety risk-management material and then move on to consider a specific real-life case/scenario. The technique I have used over many years is to 'tell it like it is' - no hedging, no emphemisms, (what is that word? Perhaps I meant euphemisms?) no prevarication: just be direct and very blunt when necessary. There are many fundemental rules or'laws', and 'rules of thumb' that, if routinely and appropriately applied in a potentially hazardous situation, can and will reduce the number and rate of both light and heavy aircraft accidents and incidents. These rules relate to aerodynamics, total energy conversion/exchange and conservation, critical system management, checklist awareness/adherence, performance understanding and achievement - a whole range of 'airmanship' procedures and practices in fact. I shall continue to use the term 'airmanship' even though it does not have an academic ring to it. If the term 'seamanship' still has a real significance, I see no valid reason why its 20th century derivation should not conjure up, in the newer pilot, a 'feeling' or 'sense' of its meaning.
The vast majority of the world's aircraft do not have autopilots - they have to be flown, navigated, managed physically and mentally by human 'airmen' and 'airwomen' in much the same way as our parents and grandparents operated them. Surprisingly little has changed since the 1930s with respect to light aircraft. Please read carefully the following quote from a book I studied line by line when a teenager.
(NOTE: this is going to be a WIP item as Mrs. dakota67 has just demanded that I take a break and have a jolly cup of tea and a bikkie......sorry about that. Back soon troops..carry on...at ease...chat amongst yourselves.