Use of Aviation Jargon Does Not Support Inference of Unsafe Operation by UPS

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ARTICLE: Former UPS worker says planes allowed to fly with safety issues


Perhaps it is too much to expect that a reporter can discern what is significant and what is not in a complicated safety context. However, does the power of a headline to impact public perception and/or effect an investigation place a burden on the journalist to do more than repeat the allegations of a source?

The former UPS employee, who is the source in this story, cited a regulatory term, Service Difficulty Report or “SDR.” That regulatory jargon has a specific meaning defined in the Federal Aviation Regulations. The rule’s “difficulty” reference is to “failures, malfunctions, and defects of aircraft, aircraft engines, systems, and components.” None of this language states that the condition is not safe.

SDRs are part of an overall effort by the FAA and the carriers to identify problems before they become serious. The data is collected and then it is decided whether action is warranted. The mere filing of an SDR does not mean that the aircraft is unairworthy.

In order to maximize the reach of the information, SDRs or their predicates can be filed by pilots and maintenance personnel. Within the daily maintenance use of SDRs, once one of these “problems” is identified, supervisory personnel (a certificated Aircraft Maintenance Technician, a QA or QC Manager, or Director of Maintenance) would examine the underlying situation and determine the appropriate action. The aircraft could be grounded for immediate correction before it is allowed to return to service, but it is also quite possible that the SDR pointed to an instrument or component which is on a list of items for which maintenance can be deferred called the Minimum Equipment List, i.e. not requiring grounding.

“Pencil whipping” and “you lick it, stick it, and kick it” are terms used to describe carrier managements which place schedules above safety. There is considerable reason to believe that UPS is not such a company and to the contrary it is a leader in advancing safety and has attained a high level of safety culture.

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1 Comment on "Use of Aviation Jargon Does Not Support Inference of Unsafe Operation by UPS"

  1. Thank you Joe!

    All too often, our friends in the media employ aviation terminology without a grasp of the very specific aeronautical definition to these terms. Simply employing a jounalist’s gramatical definition of terms without the aviation foundation risks significant misinterpretation and loss of credibility in their reports.

    Consistently, I have encouraged my media clients to allow me to explain to them the implications of their findings from an aviation pperspective to explore the validity of their conclusions before stating such a position in public. It is always preferable to heed Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) advice for those in the future with an overly quick keyboard: “It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.”

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