Aircraft Accidents and Teaching to Fish

First, my apologies; I missed last week’s blog.  I was attending my older son’s graduation 1300 miles away.

Second, my apologies to Anne Isabella Ritchie whose quotable expression I don’t intend to mutilate.  In her book: Mrs. Dymond, she originated a phrase using these words, “… if you give a man a fish he is hungry again in an hour; if you teach him to catch a fish you do him a good turn.”  Today it is worded: ‘Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; show him how to catch a fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.’

What does that have to do with anything?  Since I’ve returned to teaching, I have been trying to help aviation professionals understand the true nature of aviation accidents.  The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has been tasked for decades with discovering what caused (verb) an accident.  The aircraft crashed due to some reason, they seek the reason(s); whether it was mechanical or pilot-driven, the NTSB will find what caused the disaster.

But only of that particular disaster.

What the NTSB won’t do, on most occasions, is look into the cause (noun) of the accident.  It is my intention to teach these professionals that an accident isn’t just a sum of its parts, but the depth to which it must be analyzed.  In other words, I can hand these people the reason(s) an aircraft crashed and that will give them a brief closure.  Or, I can teach them to look further into events than the NTSB normally goes and these professionals can prevent many accidents in the future.

On August 2, 1985, a Delta Airlines flight 191, an L1011 crashed in Dallas, Texas, due to wind shear.  The disaster prompted increased training for pilots across the board to recognize wind shear and how to fly out of it.  That was what caused (verb) the accident: the airliner entering wind shear unprepared.

On July 2, 1994, US Air flight 1016, a DC-9 crashed outside Charlotte, North Carolina airport due to a wind shear event.  An airliner entered a nearly identical situation as Delta 191, nine years later.  What came out of Delta 191 was increased training and a plan to modernize weather tracking technologies.  What didn’t come out was a major cause (noun) of the accident: a lack of procedures to deal with approaches into wind shear, in this case during the time between 1985 and when the new technology was up and running.

The airline industry was handed a fish when what they really needed was to be taught how to fish.  Accident history is filled with disasters that focused on ‘what-caused-the’ and not on ‘what-the-cause’; from the Titanic to the Challenger.

It’s a stretch to align my plans with the ‘give a man a fish’ adage, but the point is important.  One thing the NTSB does concern itself is with numbers; the greater the attention an accident receives, the more they will devote resources.  However, the people I instruct are involved with General Aviation (GA) or small repair stations; they will never deal with tragedy on the scale of a TWA 800.

But that doesn’t mean that the single-pilot accident that claims a father of three isn’t as important to the widow or orphans as any major accident.  Each accident is an opportunity to prevent another.  And if the resources aren’t dedicated to finding this single-pilot’s cause of the accident, then that family will only be the first to suffer a loss due to possibly the same cause.

Resources come in many forms: technical expertise, experience, analytical qualities, or even a fundamental understanding of Physics.  They are all Fish given to the aviation professional in their earlier days.  Now it is time to teach them how to use them.

3 thoughts on “Aircraft Accidents and Teaching to Fish”

  1. First, congratulations on your sons graduation. A terrific accomplishment. Much success in his future. Second, I hope your student adhere to your advise and not only find the cause, but train those who need to know that it doesn’t happen again. Shame on the NTSB for not finding and solving the cause. Keep up the good fight. Eventually people do listen.

    1. Thank you Tim. I will. The inspectors I meet with are very interested in the Paul Harvey of the story. They will do great.

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