Ah, the joys of aviation. You find me aloft at more than 30,000ft blissfully unconcerned by the unnatural feat I am undertaking. I have handed my safety to the skill of the crew; people I have never met before. They speak a different language from mine and they have a different culture (here’s a clue – some of them probably attend bullfights), yet I quietly place my life into their hands.
In this post I want to talk to you about aviation safety and why I find it all-consuming.
I once visited a friend’s office. He is an airline Safety Manager and has parts of helicopters on his office bookshelf. He explained that these were from accidents he had investigated when he worked in the helicopter industry.
In my lounge at home in front of the fireplace, I have a helicopter gear as a reminder. It’s similar to one which failed and caused the loss of eleven lives.
There is a difference in approach between those who have been responsible for lives and deaths and those who have only spoken about it. The pilot who knows how close he was to a fateful action, or the engineer whose action nearly led to the loss of an aircraft, will always make decisions against that background.
This is what aviation safety is about. When I worked in the helicopter industry, my biggest mistake led to workers on an oil rig refusing to board a helicopter to fly home because, following an earlier preventable accident, they considered it unsafe. There is an intangible line between feeling safe and unsafe. Between worrying about the quality of the inflight entertainment and panicking about dying in a manner out of your control.
Our job in aviation safety is to make the comfort of the seat the most important thing on the passengers’ minds. The holidaymaker should be thinking about the quality of the wine rather than the risk of controlled flight into terrain.
If I get it right, more people will live to worry about the ethics of bullfighting than will work for Flight Data Services. Every person employed in the company should have saved the lives of more than one person.
Will we ever be able to prove this? I doubt it. However, it is a goal that drives the company forwards and part of my mission is to inculcate in the younger members of the team the same ethos.
It is becoming an issue for the whole aviation industry as air travel becomes safer – if you have never been responsible for a death or near-accident, how can you be as driven towards air safety as someone who has?