It comes with the territory for British Airways

Weirdly enough British Airways (BA) is yet again on the receiving end of a public dressing down from the UK’s regulatory authorities. This time the Air Accidents Investigation Branch is giving them a very hard time indeed over what it found when it dug down into BA’s maintenance empire after a medium-embarrassing incident with a 757 back in 2003.

That comes just a few weeks after the AAIB also jumped on an incident when a BA A319 crew shrugged off a mid-air electronics failure with rather more sang froid than the investigators felt was appropriate. And that was distressingly close to another report which also widened its remit from looking at a panel loss on take-off to several other events that the investigators felt were looking alarmingly like a pattern.

Surprise was also expressed in the business (though not unanimously, and mostly in the USA) when a BA crew flew a loaded 747-400 from Los Angeles to the UK after suffering an engine failure shortly after take-off.

Now all this, remember, concerns an airline with a quite superb safety record and which more or less literally wrote the book on some aspects of safety management – notably the BASIS programme which was in large part the driver for the global spread of the flight operations quality assurance (FOQA) concept that is one of the single most important factors in achieving today’s extremely high safety rates in the developed world.

So what’s going on? Well, there is no doubt that morale in BA’s engineering world has taken a thumping over the last few years and people are not happy there. On the other hand, even those who are yelping the loudest are not alleging that safety has been reduced (well, only the occasional voice, and there’s always a couple in any airline.)

Here’s my view – commercial aviation in the UK is a) practised by some of the finest exponents of the art in the world and b) is more tightly regulated than just about anywhere in the world. In particular, the AAIB boasts some of the wisest heads in the industry or, to put it another way, some canny old dogs who’ve seen just about everything.

I confess to love reading AAIB reports. The best of them are drafted with a dryness bordering on irony so that you can practically see the author’s fractionally raised eyebrow as he listened to an erring pilot’s explanation of his, umm, novel way of flying an ILS.

But when the subject is the multi-billion pound corporation that is BA today, the AAIB, in an ever so gentlemanly way, takes its gloves off. And if you’re BA then by far the best course of action is to pay attention, say as little as possible in public, and take some very energetic action indeed in private.

I wouldn’t have it any other way. And actually I doubt BA would either.

(You can read the whole report on the 757 here.)


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