Reliable Aviation Record-Keeping is Incredibly Important to an Airline Safety

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If given a survey of what they hate most about being a line maintenance worker, a shop supervisor, the manager of a hanger, the MX trainer or the SVP of maintenance, they would all with one accord voice[1]RECORDS”. The job of accurately and correctly writing down what was just done (or not done) is nemesis of professionals who live in this time demanding environment. “Why?” is their next comment. The priority assigned to this seemingly insignificant task is beyond their comprehension. Greg Feith’s comments on MSNBC provide more than one rationale and a good reminder for all who labor in the records world.

The mystery of MH 370 flight has captivated the world’s attention for more than a year. The recent revelation, that according to Malaysian’s maintenance records the life of the aircraft locator battery had expired in December 2012, was shocking and disappointing news.

That finding, in and of itself, is incredibly damning. If the allegation is true (Malaysian denies that the battery was expired), the likelihood of finding the MH 370 black box is greatly diminished. That is tragic in human terms and reprehensible in regulatory terms (again on the assumption that the record of battery’s status is correct).

There are those who say that an aggressive regulatory regime, which attempts to ferret out such missed responsibilities, is overly demanding. Tracking what may be considered “minutiae” to the men and women who work in the pressured MX environment may feel tedious to them. This purported battery status omission should serve to magnify how truly significant such paperwork is and should be. The aviation community struggles with reminding all involved with safety how critical these documents are to the airline’s/OEM’s/repair station/etc. safety culture; there are techniques which can help reinforce the desired behavior. The MH situation is an excellent, real world admonition.

If one is to accept that the Malaysian statement that its battery was current, as reported by Greg Feith, the record-keeping error points to another reason for a strong discipline in putting the data on paper correctly—liability. The lawyers will take this omission (hard for the airline to disprove) and use it to create a picture of an airline with a lax safety culture there. That impression is not favorable to the airline in any litigation; jurors are most capable of generalizing. Coincidentally such sloppiness causes regulatory auditors to sharpen their knives as they examine all of a carrier’s records.

A very sad accident provides a lesson to all who are assigned the seemingly ministerial, yet incredibly important task of record keeping!

ARTICLE: MH370 Report: Underwater Locator Beacon Battery Had Expired

[1] A reader, who first recognizes this obscure literary reference, will receive a picture of the FAA building autographed by the author.

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