The ironic thing about aircraft accident investigation is that you end up being reactive instead of proactive. When I worked for the NTSB I would look at an accident and ask, “How could this have been prevented?” The NTSB makes a noble effort to stay in front, but they aren’t close enough to the situations in the five disciplines (Aviation, Marine, Rail, Highway, and Pipeline). The FAA does a better job being as it comes in contact with the players in the aviation industry more frequently. But if you keep your eyes open long enough, you pick up on the scary stuff; like watching a train wreck you know will eventually happen.
I watched a car commercial the other day where some driver is opining about what he may or may not have left on at the house or what his boss will say; the whole time the car he’s driving (advertising) is warning about encroaching traffic on the right or the left, even stopping the vehicle for the smiling idiot who doesn’t have the awareness to notice that the truck in front of him is not moving. The manufacturer wanted the buying public to know that this car will prevent accidents even though the driver is busy either multi-tasking or is distracted.
It’s important to note that these cars are not designed to drive the car for you; these innovations are meant to assist the driver, not take over one’s workload. I’ve heard of people ‘field testing’ anti-skid devices to a tragic result, employing cruise control in a way for which it was not designed, or using their cell phones with no regard for life or property. An electronic device cannot be a substitute for a vehicle operator’s attention.
I own a 1977 Jeep CJ-7; it is my commuter-mobile. It’s lousy on gas and runs like a Sherman tank used it as a loading ramp. But I can hear if a spark plug misfires or feel through the wheel whether a bearing race is going. There is something to be said for being in-sync with your ride; it gets back to being proactive, not reactive.
When I worked for the airlines, turning wrenches on 727s and the like, many a pilot could sense a problem through the throttles or airframe that let them know the aircraft was not 100%. Quite a few mechanics ‘heard’ complications with a flap system, leading them to check for heat in hydraulic lines – a tell-tale sign of a problem. Each of these professionals has learned over time that aircraft speak to them if they only have the patience to listen.
And the attention to notice.
My novel, Jet Blast, looks at this evolving concern; an overdependence on technology – in all aviation disciplines. Events like runway incursions are often hidden in the stress of a landing or take-off, where pilots in low visibility are involved in the job at hand: monitoring instruments, listening to communications, checking intersecting runways for traffic, etc. If you’ve never been in a commercial airliner’s cockpit during approach, you’d be surprised how a plane that intrudes on your runway can be invisible to a pilot’s eyes, sometimes ‘appearing’ with just seconds to make the decision to go-around. The flight crews I’ve flown with have all been 130% during critical phases of flight.
Should we expect anything different from the truck driver beside us, doing sixty in a fifty, caught up in a text or a phone call with someone clear across the country; a driver who is abusing the technology? The effects can be just as deadly, just as devastating. If you don’t agree, the next time you’re flying somewhere, ask yourself: do you want the pilot distracted with bills or running water, all the time his/her mind is supposed to be on the landing cycle?