It has been reported lately that 2017 was the safest year ever recorded, with zero commercial aviation fatalities. Politicians and bureaucrats on both sides of the aisle were standing in line to take credit for the milestone, convincing the public that this is a sign of the future; we stand on the brink of a brighter tomorrow; we have fixed aviation safety for good. Break out the champagne! All we have to do is conduct ourselves as we have the last twelve months and we … are … Golden.
In the words of Killer, the Vulture, “Uh, no, no, no … uh, nope.” When I hear that we have achieved such a record, that’s when I start looking up with fear at the sky; I pop open my Wile E. Coyote Acme umbrella in anticipation of becoming clobbered from above.
Such historic landmarks are illusions, non-existent; there are no assurances that each time an aircraft takes off, it will be an uneventful flight. Each flight is the continuing efforts of multiple individuals contributing to its safety, e.g. pilots, mechanics, flight attendants, etc.; an ongoing effort of being safe.
When I worked the aircraft line in 1987, one of my fellow mechanics signed off the logbook with the words, “Another every day, non-eventful post-flight accomplished on N*****.” My coworker was given something to remember this by in his personnel file and a re-post-flight was accomplished. As trivial as he found walking around an aircraft to be, it is not a mundane task … not in the least. One can find many safety anomalies during a post-flight walkaround, e.g. bird strikes, metal kicked up from the runway and embedded in a wing fuel tank (saw that one myself), tires missing restraining hardware, hot brakes, etc. Each finding represents a threat to man and machine.
Each flight must be treated as a unique event; not one of a group of events, but in a class by itself. To think otherwise tempts fate; it allows us to fall into a comfortable position that breeds complacency. I’ve had the opportunity to listen to several cockpit voice recordings of the last minutes of a flight. Never did anyone on those tapes believe that their soon-to-be accident flight would be anything but be uneventful.
The Titanic took the term ‘Unsinkable’ quite to heart, enough so, to race carelessly through an iceberg field. Someone convinced the Shuttle Program astronauts that, “a tragedy on the scale of the Challenger disaster would never happen again, so whose up for flying STS-107 in Columbia?” I’m convinced that the flight crew for Asiana Airlines 214 felt that the airliner’s technology would not let them crash. National 102, Air Midwest 5481, Colgan 9446, Valujet 592, complacency, complacency, complacency. Can it be more obvious?
Aviation safety isn’t brain surgery; it’s a culmination of years of accident investigation, ongoing inspections, record reviews, internal auditing, quality control, quality assurance, surveillance, etc. Aviation safety boils down to using tools, e.g. a simple list of rules that, if followed, will guarantee one satisfies his or her own place in a safe flight’s chain. The Aviators Code Initiative (ACI) provides Codes of Conduct that span many aviation disciplines, e.g. Aviators, Flight Instructors, Helicopter Pilots, Student Pilots, Seaplane Pilots, Light Sport Aviators, Glider Aviators, and Aviation Maintenance Technicians, each found at:
The site also provides guidance for Unmanned Aerial System Pilots and Manned Aircraft Operating Near Drones. For example, here is the Code of Conduct list for Aircraft Maintenance Technicians from the above website:
The Code of Conduct has seven sections, each containing Principles and Sample Recommended Practices.
- General Responsibilities of Aviation Maintenance Technicians
- Third-Party Safety
III. Training and Proficiency
- Environmental Issues
- Use of Technology
VII. Advancement and Promotion of Aviation Maintenance
Each section breaks down into its own rules of safe habits. These rules for safe habits are, fundamentally, work ethics and best practices that we all should follow. I feel work ethics have taken a large hit in this new world of reliable technologies; work ethics suffer from a lack of common sense, relying on the machine to police the safety, leaving the aviator free to attend to unnecessary distractions that have nothing to do with safety.
A concern of mine: work areas that display signs, such as: (#) Days Since the Last Accident, are posting excuses for complacency. These signs should be replaced with signs that say: Are You Going to Have an Accident Today? Make people worry less about being rewarded for doing their job with pizza parties and more about not being rushed to the hospital or losing one’s sight; that would be an incentive to be careful. People don’t need to be reminded of what they’ve already achieved; they need to be aware of what they haven’t.
We will never be accident-free. We need to remind ourselves every day about the consequences of inaction, what happens when we break discipline, not just to ourselves, but to those we are charged with transporting safely every day. It’s in our benefit to conduct ourselves to the highest level; anything less is just not good enough.