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Sometimes I wish more things operated on a Life and Death basis

… at least you’d know if you are doing it right.

It is somewhat dark humour to refer to ‘life and death’ as a preferred mode of operation but it does provide a useful view of how you are doing your own business.

A podcast got me thinking about this again. AVWeb’s podcast covers a lot lot flying related material but there are always things that apply beyond the pilots seat.

NASA on the Science of Pilot Error: “AVweb caught up with Dr. Key Dismukes, chief scientist for human factors at the human systems integration division at NASA Ames Research Center.”

I’ve moved between the world of technology, education and flying. I must admit I wish the first two worked more like the last one. It is just too easy to hobble along doing important work mediocrely and missing the less important stuff all together. When the results can be catastrophic you don’t accept the ‘whatever’ standard.

Memory is Good – Paper is better
While knowing your craft and having good skills and habits are the traits of a professional (pilot or other wise), you still don’t leave things to chance. The classic example is the use of the Checklist. Pilots drill on emergency procedures and learn to react to even the most bizarre situations. But, unless their is the most dire situation, you still go to the checklist. Its not that you don’t know what the list is, you don’t rely on memory if you don’t have to.
An example is when I used to do test prep skills with my students. I would tell them if there was specific facts you knew you needed somewhere in a test look at them before you went in the room and before you even started the test – turn the paper over, and right them down. They were shocked that this sounded like ‘cheating’ – the rule it you have to carry the info into the test in your head, no law about how long they had to stay there. Any reasonable person, would not rely on holding critical bit of information and expect to be able to recall them at a critical and stressful moment.

Avoiding Trouble is always preferable

A great Transport Canada safety poster proclaimed

A Superior Pilot is one who uses superior knowledge to avoid situations that require use of Superior Skill

I always loved this line. Too often we let problems degrade to the point that massive skill and effort is required to avoid disaster. Then we pat ourselves on the back for how we pulled it out in the end. This is viewed as a trait of a successful organization and it makes me want to weep. In IT circles the concept of Hero worship or the God complex drives many things that we do. I work with highly complex network systems and the assumption is that it is a big black box that no-one, save the chosen few can understand. Ultimately that is a disservice to ourselves and those our efforts are supposed to serve.
Saving a bad situation is a rush – don’t get me wrong. Whether it is the adrenaline or the glee of wrestling the near impossible to the ground it does drive our ego. Flying had this problem in the 50s and 60s. The post war ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ view carried into civil aviation. It wasn’t stupidity, it was people engulfed in a particular culture. Later analysis would show we probably killed a lot of people as a result. Hell I work in IT, and the culture is apparent every time I need to go into privileged mode on my servers – as in SUDO (for Superuser Do) -not that this should go to your head or anything…

Communicate, communicate, communicate
In the late 70s and early 80s there was a concerted effort to improve the way commercial airplanes were operated. The military hierarchy that prevailed post war flying was a problem. The view that the Captain could fly the airplane into the ground and everybody else would standby for instructions was not acceptable. Flight crews were made up of a group of people and there was a need to start operating as a team! This started with training in Cockpit Resource management (CRM). Prospective airline pilots were graded on their ability to communicate their actions and what need to be done. They was also a need to break up complex tasks and utilize the people around you affectively. Most importantly, there was an expectation that duties would be shared based on the situation not some perceived pecking order.
In teaching the hierarchy was wrapped up in the ‘Sage on the Stage’ model of teaching where all the information flowed from the brain of the teacher out. Whether it was in my flying or in my teaching, I hated that model. Information can come from many sources whether it is the kid in the third row or the flight attendant in mid-cabin. There is value in drawing information from any source and integrating it whether you are handling a classroom or an airplane.

Apathy Stinks

The wakeup calls happen just when you start getting too comfortable. There have been recent examples in flying of pilots getting to complacent and bad things happening. The NWA flight to Minneapolis is probably the widest known but the Colgan 3407 crash in Buffalo is the deadliest with 49 fatalities.

In the FAA report, of the four contributing factors to the accident here are the middle two:

(2) the flight crew’s failure to adhere to sterile cockpit procedures, (3) the captain’s failure to effectively manage the flight,

It’s not exactly the same as using you Blackberry while driving but ….


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