Aircraft Accidents and Professional Standards

Not too long ago, there were ‘Stay Smart’ commercials that highlighted the advantage to staying at a Holiday Inn Express.  In one specific ad a man performed flawless surgery on a patient, impressing the surgical team.  When asked how he had managed the life-saving operation so coolly, he said he’s not a surgeon, but he had stayed at a Holiday Inn Express the previous night.

The point of these ads was to associate staying at a Holiday Inn Express with unlived experience; that unearned talent was bestowed on someone just because of his/her hotel choice.  Ironically, aviation safety has the same expertise qualifications.  There are those aviation website owners who never worked a single safety issue, yet they play aviation experts on nightly news shows.  Travel journalists pass themselves off as seasoned accident investigators, not solving cases of missing aircraft.  Then there are the countless senators and congressmen, bloviating nonsense, while getting in the way of safety. The common thread: they stay regularly at Holiday Inn Express.

What standards should aviation professionals aspire to?  Doesn’t the industry become unsafe when inexperience distracts us from safety?  In short, there should be a law that says: If you don’t know what you’re talking about, just … stop … talking!

For instance, there was an aviation website administrator who rejoiced on his website when pilots disregarded their approved de-ice programs by broom-sweeping ice off an airliner’s wing.  Is this website administrator aware of when Arrow Air 1285 crashed in Gander, Canada, on December 12, 1985?  When 248 U.S. Army personnel were killed as they flew home for Christmas?  The accident occurred due to inadequate de-icing; the pilots disregarded Arrow Air’s de-ice requirements.

What about the travel journalist who passed herself off as an aviation accident professional?  The journalist interviewed accident investigators, applied her inexperience to interpret the second-hand information incorrectly, then fed conjecture while distracting attention away from the real causes.

Representatives in Congress misdirect information regularly in order to garner support from their base instead of fixing the serious problems that plague all modes of transportation.

In all these cases, aviation safety suffers; accident lessons are lost; PEOPLE DIE!

And now, the Director for the Office of Aviation at the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has been sharing his self-imposed professional experience to tell the aviation industry just how safe aviation is.  Aviation International News online (Ainonline) aviation journalist, Kerry Lynch, covered the 2018 Bombardier Safety Standdown in Wichita, Kansas; her two articles included reporting this NTSB Director’s speech.  The Director made comments about the air carrier industry accident rate and a Trans-Pacific Jets fatal accident in Teterboro airport last year.

This NTSB Director began with grandstanding; his misleading comments lacked professional integrity, indicative of the fact that attending accident meetings did not equate to understanding major issues in the investigation itself.  Words and terms discussed by the seasoned investigators were misunderstood by the NTSB Director, who grasped just enough of what the investigators examined to be dangerous.

The NTSB Director’s first comments were about Part 121 air carriers, an industry he should have a better grasp on, considering the fact he manages the investigators who conduct these accident investigations.  The NTSB Director’s comments about air carrier accidents, “is a very short conversation.  It’s the sound of crickets … they’re just not happening anymore in the U. S.  How did what was already the safest form of transportation become one in which accidents just got wiped off the map for nine and a half years?  A lot of things came together.”  And then, he says, “Are we realizing those gains in Part 91 and 135 jet operations?  Not yet.”

Apparently, the NTSB Director stayed at a Holiday Inn Express.  Aside from the fact that Part 91, 135 and 121 operations aren’t limited just to jet traffic, these claims are very irresponsible.

Part 121 refers to Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 121 air carriers, aka airlines: Operating Requirements for Domestic, Flag and Supplemental Operations.  The NTSB Director was pushing for CFR Part 91: General Operating and Flight Rules and Part 135: Commuter and On Demand Operators, to be the next on the list for accident-free NTSB assistance.

Let’s be clear: the Part 121 industry is not now, nor will it ever be, accident free.  The absence of destroyed airframes and dead passengers does not mean that serious problems don’t exist.  It is naïve to even suggest that air carriers have cleared some imaginary hurdle, e.g. accident-free status, especially from someone representing the NTSB.  Has the NTSB Director ever worked in the air carrier industry?  No?  Then the NTSB Director does not understand how the air carrier industry works.  He should refrain from making absurd comments until he understands what the safety consequences of his words are.

Congress and the media listen to NTSB managers, though no aviation professional knows why.  Anyone who has ever dealt with bean counters knows that the purse can snap shut without the benefit of facts.  It is Congress that decides the budget for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).  Presently understaffed, the FAA manpower cannot meet the demands of the current aviation industry.  With increasing future responsibilities of oversight and surveillance, e.g. an increasingly global industry, unmanned aerial vehicles and NEXTGEN, the FAA is undermanned; serious stuff, here people!  With the number of Part 121 operators increasing their footprints internationally and their growing fleets of aircraft, can the limited number of FAA inspectors keep up?  Can the NTSB Director’s ramblings about airliner accidents ring true, that, “they’re just not happening anymore in the U. S.”?  With the FAA’s senior workforce retiring, can their experience be translated to the next generation of inspectors?

In the second article, the NTSB Director spoke about a Trans-Pacific Jets’ Learjet 35A accident that is under investigation; the aircraft crashed in Teterboro, NJ, on May 15, 2017.  In the Bombardier Safety Standdown, the NTSB Director shared with the audience certain particulars of the cockpit voice recorder (CVR) recordings that should not have been shared publicly and so flippantly.

The NTSB Director stated, “This captain would say things like: What the bleep; we’re a bleeping Learjet; get us bleeping higher; …”  The NTSB Director questioned the Captain’s motives; the captain’s request for a cruise altitude of 27,000 feet during a repositioning flight.  The NTSB Director mocked the second-in-command (SIC) flying, “… a training flight for an SIC who is not ready to fly the airplane.”  When, but in a training flight, is a pilot supposed to train?

These particular CVR recordings are part of an active investigation; their contents are not open for public viewing.  Elements of professional confidentiality should have stayed within the confines of the accident report – and only the accident report – where transcripts can be correctly translated, expletives and all, in the order they happened.  Although written transcripts do not capture the urgency or the speaker’s tone, the words and actions must be accurately recorded.

I have had the unhappy experience of listening to CVR crash recordings; I say ‘unhappy’ because you realize that the persons recorded are deceased; that you are listening to their final moments, often in stressful situations.  To treat such CVR recordings as a point of entertainment is unprofessional.

To question the Captain’s intentions or the SIC’s qualifications without a point of reference is also unprofessional.  Did the NTSB Director have access to Trans-Pacific Jets’ Operations Training Manual; how do they conduct training flights?  Is the Director a former Chief Pilot?  Did he have experience in choosing altitudes?  If the Captain’s methods were unorthodox, what experience did the NTSB Director draw those conclusions from?  How long has it been since the NTSB Director investigated a major accident; what discipline was he investigating under, e.g. engineering, maintenance, etc.?

In today’s world of instant social media access, nothing can be done about rogue aviation website administrators; writers can’t be stopped from penning second hand hearsay; government administrators should employ discretion and common sense.  A fancy job title has as much to do with aviation safety as sleeping in a Holiday Inn Express.  Both have nothing to do with professional standards.

2 thoughts on “Aircraft Accidents and Professional Standards”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *