Aircraft Accidents and the Rule of Law

I really dislike social media; it’s ridiculously political, unnecessarily sarcastic and lacking in common sense.  Consequently, as an author, I have to maintain a presence in social media, while trying to remain apolitical.  But sometimes it just gets silly.  I read an aviation tweet strongly condemning the President for misspelling the word ‘hamburger’.  To me, that is very silly.  In a moment of uncharacteristic exasperation, I responded: “With the dangers facing aviation in the government shutdown, we’re reduced to condemning the President’s spelling?”  This prompted a critic, someone else, who questioned my morals; he condemned me for being unfeeling towards illegal immigrants (I still don’t get that stretch).  His question, which he insisted I answer: “What are you [meaning me] so afraid of?”

Ah, the emotional argument.  At this point the corner had been turned; my common sense kicked in and I recognized the pointless argument.  Shaking my head, I ‘walked’ away and turned off my cell phone.

However, I would like to answer my critic who questioned my morals because, the truth is, I really am afraid.  What I’m so afraid of is Ignorance, specifically ignorance of the Rule of Law.  And, as a young aviation enthusiast, my critic should be worried too … so very worried.

As I’ve mentioned earlier, my grandparents arrived in the United States around 1910; they didn’t cross the Rio Grande River, they crossed the Atlantic Ocean, before processing in through Ellis Island.  As poor and desperate as they were, they followed the Law.  They walked into the United States’ immigration process with their eyes wide open, voluntarily, gladly and without regret.

Ignorance of – or the flat-out dismissal of – the principle that “law should govern a nation” drives a breakdown in society.  The United States is a nation governed by laws; that’s a Fact.  We always have been and always will be.  To convince a specific population, e.g. illegal immigrants, to ignore the Rule of Law, to repeatedly reenter the United States illegally, suggests that they will ignore all Laws, even a Sanctuary City’s Laws.  This disrespect for Law promotes offenses against innocence, like Kate Steinle’s murder.  What happens when the illegal aliens’ entitled disrespect for the Law reaches that fevered pitch, making senseless murders, like Kate Steinle, to become the norm, not the exception?

The Rule of Law applies across all departments of government: Commerce, Justice, State, Defense, Transportation, Interior, Labor, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs, etc.  These departments all have their Laws, which we call Regulations.  They define what is fair, guaranteeing the safety of the people.  The continuous involvement of government employees in the affairs of the United States guarantees no foreign or domestic threat can interrupt the United States’ citizens’ integrity and safety.

However, these departments’ effectiveness is being neutralized by this shutdown, major interruptions that are due to ‘issues of the heart’ not the head; of opinion, not fact.  What are the fundamental factual arguments behind these furloughs?  What will the long-term effects be as a result of these lost weeks?

An aviation investigation took place several months ago … or weeks … or years; WHEN and WHERE are not important, but an aviation repair station (RS) was caught by the FAA intentionally conducting repairs unsafely, overhauling aircraft components against the manufacturer’s recommended instructions.  This had been going on for years.  The RS charged $2000 to overhaul a component unsafely, on hundreds of like components, annually.  Over the years their profits equaled hundreds of thousands of dollars just on that one component model … and they were approved to repair hundreds of other component models.  The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), through time consuming research of records, caught the RS only once; the RS received one monetary fine of $5000.  Why did the RS defy the Law?  The RS found it cost-effective to defy the Regulations they were certified under.  The RS felt it was cheaper to pay the fine than obey the Law.  And these violators of the Law were not the exception.

In this case, the faulty overhaul did not result in an aircraft accident.  But other similarly operated repair stations did cause aviation accidents, with numerous fatalities. Would it matter how many Democrats were killed? Or Republicans? How about Socialists, Independents and Constitutionalists, would it matter? If the RS was in a largely Israeli/Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn, should the FAA be called antisemitic or Nazis for investigating?  No, because aviation safety is not about matters of nationality.  If the RS was in Salt Lake City, should the FAA be called anti-Mormon or immoral?  No, because aviation safety is not about matters of faith.  If the RS was in a Cuban neighborhood in Miami, would the FAA be racist?  No, because aviation safety is not about matters of ethnicity. Their job is safety … period.

I’ve been researching aviation accidents for decades now.  Except for some weather-related accidents, I have found that the number of aviation accidents due to human negligence are almost at 100%.  ‘Almost’ was due to technical reasons: human error inputs into the airframe or powerplant designs, i.e. someone did not follow Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Parts 21, 23, 25, 26, 27 and/or 29.  The other 99.99% of accidents were due to someone not following the Law, aka, the CFRs.  This means that each accident’s root cause was due to deliberate violations of the CFRs by a mechanic, pilot, quality control inspector, flight planner, maintenance planner, air traffic controller, load master or manager.  Hundreds of travelers, perhaps thousands, since the 1960s, have died tragically because someone disregarded or was ignorant of Aviation Law.  A hard, true, unfeeling and impartial Fact.

These accidents occurred despite the direct oversight of overwhelmed FAA inspectors, who were also understaffed.  No, this isn’t an excuse for the FAA; it is another fact, that many FAA inspectors oversee as many as thirty-five Part 135 operators, twenty or more Part 145 certificate holders scattered across hundreds of miles; that Certificate Management Offices for major global 24/7 airlines with thousands of pilots and mechanics, only employ around eighty to one hundred FAA inspectors to oversee them all.  If past accidents are any reflection on the airline industry cultures, the desire to ignore Aviation Law will continue, especially when the FAA inspectors are absent during the government shutdown.

The Government Shutdown; how inconvenient.  As of this writing, the January 2019 government shutdown is now in week four.  The Department of Transportation, particularly (for this article) the FAA, has furloughed hundreds of inspectors who are not conducting surveillance, not visiting training facilities, not performing safety audits, not reviewing manuals and not overseeing ramp activities.  These duties keep backing up.  When the furlough ends, FAA inspectors will not only have to comply with what they have scheduled, but with what was left to chance during the furlough’s duration.

Mechanics and pilots are not receiving their certificates, air carriers are not receiving their supplemental type certificates, engineering questions are not being answered and planes are sitting without permission to ferry to maintenance bases.  This costs, not only the air carriers money, but thousands of pilots, air traffic controllers, mechanics and manufacturing jobs that are on hold until the furlough ends.  Even then, the backlog will take months to clear.  Is all this financial suffering in the private sector due to some elected officials’ idea that it is ‘immoral’ to follow the Rule of Law?

Laws and Regulations are made for good reason; this is embodied in events from the Titanic to 9/11.  All Laws have to be equally applied, to everyone.  If the FAA were to lose itself in emotion, their mission would be nothing but pounding the table.  Instead they research the Regulations, being fair and assuring that all certificate holders dealt with are following the CFRs – not just those who do, but those who try not to.  The contrast between following the CFRs or ignoring the CFRs, is the difference between concluding your flight safely at Point B or at a smoking hole.

And, in answer to a certain critic, that is what I’m so afraid of.

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