Steve Hull wanted to be a photographer but fell into an apprenticeship with BEA. After a career at the airline and its successor, BA, he is training and consulting in aviation safety as RTI's safety and investigations director
How did your career in aviation begin?
It began when I joined BEA as a 16-year-old engine airframe apprentice in 1970. At that time I had never been on an aircraft and was not really interested in aviation - I really wanted to be a photographer. In 1970 it seemed far easier to get an apprenticeship, as I was offered three.
Where did your career go from there?
After my apprenticeship I was placed in the hydraulic overhaul workshop, stripping, repairing and rebuilding aircraft hydraulic components. I soon realised the only way to progress was to get better qualified, so I began studying for the basic aircraft engineering certificates and then for aircraft type licences.
Hull: analysing information is the most important part of safety
How did you get into flight engineering?
After eight years as a licensed aircraft engineer, British Airways started recruiting flight engineers for its expanding Boeing 747-200 fleet. I applied and was lucky to be accepted onto a course. The opportunity arose some years later to train on the Concorde - that was a great career move.
What sparked the move into air safety investigation?
I studied for an MBA to get into management and in 1992 became a duty flightcrew manager. I wanted more so I asked the then head of safety for a job and moved into corporate safety.
Tell us about your job now
After retiring from BA I wanted to continue in aviation safety, first, as I believe it is the most important part of aviation and second, I have a passion for it. The opportunity came with RTI to be its safety and investigations director. I want to let others know what I have learned after 40 years in aviation, but more importantly to pass on my 18 years of "hands-on" aviation safety experience.
Aviation has become much safer during your long career. However, the improvement trend appears to have hit a worrying plateau in recent years. Is the industry becoming more complacent or have we simply hit a level of "attrition" that will be hard to get past?
This is an interesting point, as technology has been useful in the reduction of incidents and accidents, but being humans we will always make mistakes. The next step in accident prevention must be analysis. I believe analysing safety information is the most important part of safety. Safety departments must be staffed with the right personnel, who have the right qualifications, safety knowledge and airline experience. Saying "safety is our No 1 priority" must be a passion, not an airline slogan.
Investigating incidents and accidents must be rewarding. What are the positive parts of the job and what are the negative?
When you are investigating an incident or accident, you get a rush to want to find out "why". When you do find the reasons why and are able to make recommendations to prevent recurrence, it is rewarding. Invariably however, events are never straightforward, and as a senior air safety manager once said to me immediately after an accident, "initial reports are often exaggerated, sometimes false and mostly lies". The investigation will take its course and hopefully the truth will be discovered. It is frustrating that some investigations take time to unravel the facts, but as long as lessons are learned, then the investigation has been a success. As an old safety saying states "good airlines learn from their mistakes, great airlines learn from others mistakes".