A couple of months ago, a popular aviation blogger wrote about an independent-thinking airliner captain, deicing an airliner HIS way. His fellow pilots were skeptical of his safety practices, while the blogger enthusiastically applauded the rogue pilot’s initiative. I posted on that blog entry that, not only did I agree with the skeptical fellow pilots’ criticisms, but I felt the rogue pilot’s actions – and the response of the blogger – were dangerous.
We have rules in society; they separate us from the animals. I can’t murder my neighbor for playing Led Zeppelin at 3:00 AM at an ear splitting volume; I also can’t steal my boss’s car. These actions break the rules and laws of society. And when we break the rules and laws, there are consequences.
In aviation, we have regulations and guidance that prevent us from dying in fiery balls of flame. Part of my job is to teach FAA inspectors, NTSB investigators and Industry professionals why the regulations exist and why they must be followed or else risk the lives of the travelling public.
The Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR) do not dictate subtopics, e.g. deicing or the proper ways to load an aircraft. However, the FARs do dictate that an air operator design manuals that include procedures for, e.g. safe deicing and aircraft loading. These manuals are then accepted or approved by the FAA to meet or exceed the safety requirements of the FARs. The air operators are held to these accepted/approved manuals as their procedures for safe operation. The rogue pilot, by his dismissing of the company’s deicing procedures, puts his company at risk of violating their own approved procedures, while putting his and every passenger’s safety and very lives at risk because of his impatience and arrogance. This is not a subject I take lightly; unfortunately I can point to dozens of fatal accidents through all areas of aviation that resulted from someone not following the rules.
But it doesn’t stop there. I take serious issue with the blogger.
I became involved with blogging as a means to draw attention to my aviation magazine writing and novels; I try to write about aviation safety problems and changes that the industry goes through. I then offer my opinions or recommendations based on my 35 years of air carrier experience on how the problems should be fixed.
Other bloggers become involved with social media to connect with others with similar interests, in this case all facets of aviation. This is the most redeeming part of social media: finding birds-of-a-feather across great land distances or across even greater oceans.
But there’s a down side to social media: Misinformation. Political tweets and postings are chock full of misinformation; exhaustively mind-numbing social media postings ranging from sarcastic banter to out-and-out lies. But in aviation, when I say misinformation I’m not talking about confusing a 737 with an A320 or thinking there’s a difference between the terms ‘powerplant’ and ‘engine’. I’m talking about having a large following of aviation enthusiasts, those who take seriously what others say. In this case, when one has many followers and passes on unlawful information, it can be dangerous; it teaches others to ignore the rules and procedures by glorifying what’s expedient or trendier.
I point to what a former NTSB member – someone who should know better – said to a conference of Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) enthusiasts. He said, “It took a flock of them [geese] to bring down Sully’s [US Air 1549] plane. So a drone is going to bring an airplane down? That’s a little bit of baloney. A drone hitting an airplane in flight and getting digested by an engine might be expensive for the airline, but it’s not going to bring an airplane down.” This former member is a friend of mine, a political appointee and has thousands of followers, yet he dispensed these opinions to impressionable people who take him at his word, believing that everything he says is true.
As bloggers take on more followers, they increase the opportunity to dispense impressionable information, whether true or false; not just on social media, but on TV or radio. And as I found with an aircraft accident investigation writer – one with no investigation experience, at all – some of their followers believe their bloggers with an almost fanatical loyalty.
When someone doesn’t question their sources – any sources – even ones with years of air carrier experience like myself, that is the most dangerous situation I can think of.