Aircraft Accidents and Consequences

In the 1957 cartoon, Ali Baba Bunny, my hero Daffy Duck learned an important life lesson. Having recently acquired a Sultan’s fortune, he cleaned a tarnished lamp, releasing a genie. Afraid the genie was after his new-found riches, Daffy stuffed the genie back in the lamp, thus “desecrating the Spirit of the lamp”, angering said genie, who pointed out that Daffy would now suffer the consequences. Daffy responded, “Consequences, schmonsequences, as long as I’m rich.” The genie then shrunk Daffy to the size of an oyster, denying him the chance to enjoy the wealth he was now too little to transport.

It is amazing how people constantly desire things that lead to more dire consequences. If only they had the foresight to see beyond the wish. They are like children who repeatedly forget important lessons, e.g. ‘DO NOT touch a hot stove’. W.W. Jacobs said, “Be careful what you wish for, you may receive it,” which applies to the Daffys of the world, all good intentioned people looking for the short-term fix, that evolve into uncontrollable long-term problems.

In a June 5, 2019, a Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul’s website article titled: U.S. Lawmaker to Introduce Bill on Aircraft Maintenance Disclosure (Goldstein, Broderick), U.S. Rep. John Garamendi (D-California), a senior member of the House Transportation & Infrastructure (T&I) Committee, wanted to reintroduce legislation “… that would require [air] carriers to disclose more information about their maintenance activities to the public.” This lofty, indeed silly, goal only echoed a sensible American’s view of U.S. lawmakers as, “a bunch of Sideshow Bobs stepping on a field full of rakes.” Important Note: Sideshow Bob is another cartoon character intent on embarrassing himself.

My articles are not usually this cynical, but this bill is too ridiculous. Congressman Garamendi was quoted as saying, “As a person who spends at least 5,000 miles a week on an airplane, I want to know that airplane is well maintained, and I want to know where its maintenance was done, so I can hold that airline accountable.” Question: How does one spend 5000 miles a week on an airplane anyway? It appears the congressman’s “5000 miles a week” claim is his only aviation experience qualifier. Per his website, since 1974 Garamendi has been a career politician, who moved from bureaucratic position to bureaucratic position to … wait for it … a bureaucratic position. He has zero experience in aviation or business. The congressman says he is a ‘Rancher’; that is either a career choice or a tasty salad dressing. Either way, Garamendi has had nothing to do with commercial aviation.

Aircraft accidents are tragic events. Meeting with family members who have lost a child or spouse is heart-wrenching and humbling. However, in any tragedy’s aftermath, one should never overcompensate with impractical band-aid solutions; it is inane. Numerous lawmakers, unfamiliar with aviation, cultivated emotional crusades for ‘change’ that duped the victims’ families and provided false solutions, all the while exploiting the families’ losses.

The bill”, the article says, “would require carriers to display notices providing the public with the location at which aircraft most recently underwent heavy maintenance, as well as the dates of such maintenance. That information would have to be “prominently displayed” on carriers’ websites and boarding documents, and airline workers at the ticket counter would be required to communicate it clearly to passengers.” Who thinks up this stuff? This statement illustrates, with blinding clarity, Garamendi’s ignorance of what goes into maintaining commercial airliners.

A displayed notice is not like listing a burger’s ingredients on a fast food menu or what fat content French fries have. Major carriers, e.g. American or Delta, have roughly eight hundred aircraft – each – in their fleets. Those aircraft may be maintained in ten to fifteen different major repair stations, worldwide. The ‘display notices’ list will get quite long, considering that any airport could receive any tail registration number in any airline’s fleet on any given day. That is fifteen times the number of airliners per an airline’s fleet, e.g. one hundred and fifty B737-800s.

It is not clear whether the requirements would extend to the component level,” stated the article. What a foolish reflection; of course it would extend to the component level. If not right away, soon enough. Remember, this is the US Congress; They’re not happy until you’re not happy. In that case, multiply the fifteen repair stations by hundreds of certificated component repair stations contracted to the major repair station. Ailerons removed for reskinning and balance are not outsourced to the landing gear overhaul shop. Countless contractors chrome cylinders, repair composites or specialty service thousands of components in each aircraft. Then there are all those numerous engine and propeller repair stations. Do each of these contractors make Garamendi’s ‘display notices’ list? “Be careful what you wish for …

So, the question is: Why? Why pursue this information? Does listing each contract repair station give Jane C. Passenger a warm feeling of security before her business flight? Would Joe Q. Tourist even recognize terms, e.g. metal quenching, balancing or resin infusion to forego that Disney vacation? What about Congressman Garamendi; would he understand what overhauling an Inertial Drive Generator requires? My high school buddy regularly flies to Ireland for business; maybe I should get him a deck of ‘D’ phase check work cards, you know, to read on the plane.

The silliness continues because it doesn’t stop here. Next, they will want airframe and powerplant certificate numbers because …  something-something about safety. List their work hours or what trade school they went to; what branch of the service they trained in. Need more safety? Pilots’ should post their photos just like a taxi driver. Why? Because Garamendi’s years of inexperience tells us it’s safer.

Then Garamendi speaks candidly, “… there is a ‘structural problem’ at the FAA posed by the agency’s sometimes contradictory dual mandates of protecting safety while promoting U.S. industry.” That statement is followed by Garamendi’s underlying theme, “We’ve made a choice to allow that conflict to exist within the FAA, which led to 346 people losing their lives because getting [the MAX 8] up and running was more important than getting the issue resolved.

Ahh, there it is! He’s an expert! A throat-catching emotional crusade, using those families’ pain for his agenda. Those MAX 8s are grounded, still being investigated. But Garamendi knows what happened because aviation ‘experts’ speculated about the MAX 8 crashes. Garamendi will now save us all.

This is the danger of inexperienced speculation. This is why speculation is wrong. Speculation leads to foolish ends. Speculation fans the flames of fear while crushing reason.

What is even more frustrating, beyond the shameless mendacity, is the time, energy and money wasted on this lawmaker’s efforts. As our country struggles through many important challenges, Congressman Garamendi wants to skew our attention to … a shiny set of keys; a bridge to nowhere; a distraction.

But let us assume Congressman Garamendi’s intentions are honorable, that he wants to stop the scourge of accidents. Perhaps, then, he and his colleagues should look to really improving safety by:

  • funding the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) manpower; expand the number of qualified inspectors to increase the surveillance activities that repair stations and air carriers need;
  • giving help to the FAA to oversee the increasing number of unmanned aerial vehicles;
  • looking into who will oversee the aerial taxi industry that will be tested in Dallas next year;
  • stop shaming the transportation oversight agencies tasked with the safety of the transportation industry;
  • help the oversight agencies with acquiring improved technologies;
  • realistically fund programs for, e.g. NEXTGEN, and other transportation improvements.

It’s funny (not ha-ha funny) but lawmakers, like our good Congressman, will not entertain these suggestions; it is easier to fabricate agendas. Aviation safety comes second. To quote my hero Daffy Duck when talking about dishonesty, “It’s dith-th-th-th-pick-a bull!” �

4 thoughts on “Aircraft Accidents and Consequences”

  1. This is a spot-on example of feel good policies that will not translate well in practice. I can’t even fathom the amount of man hours even creating a working system that can track the vague requirements of this legislation will waste. Well articulated, sir.

    1. Thank you Chris. That is actually an aspect of this issue that I did not even consider: the man-hours to create a bogus system. I know you see this type of waste in your own arena; well said.

  2. As always…. spot on. I have been on Capitol Hill pushing for more oversite of outsource maintenance. They always agree, and even include requirements in the FAA authorization bill. But then they dont provide the funding. If the Congressman really wants to know where maintenance is done the FAA knows that already.

    1. Being ‘in the Beltway’ gives one such a unique perspective of how rusty the wheels of government are. The Congress people who chair and occupy committee seats are so out of touch, and easily swayed by lobbyists and special interests. The bureaucracy, being ‘an in your face’ kind of silly, was the main reason I left in 2006. Thank you Gary.

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