Administrator Dickson preaches an unnoticed Winged Gospel

Winged Gospel
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Need to Reinvigorate Safety Culture = Winged Gospel

FAA Administrator reminds Industry that SMS/ASIAS/CAST intensity needs to be Upped 

Past success led to laxity; Message that all must focus on SAFETY

Aviation Safety’s record between 2012 and continuously upward to 2017 was a remarkable trend of reduction of risks.

Whether those positive numbers led to overconfidence or the data points reflected a series of random good luck, a few notable recent accidents should have caused the industry to pause to reflect on its commitment to the discipline and focus that contributed to 2017.

This exceptional period has been attributed by commentators to the benefits of the regime of SMS/ASIAS/CAST/Compliance. The novelty of this new data-driven proactive approach likely added to the enthusiasm applied to this form of safety culture. Conversely as SMS/ASIAS/CAST/Compliance became more routine, the FERVOR needed to exact focus, constant attention and rigorous analysis MAY HAVE diminished.

Administrator Dickson recently delivered a largely unnoticed, but significant signal. His message was articulated in an evangelical vocabulary, which should have conveyed the call for a crusade. Because the speech did not receive much attention and no “Googleable” articles, here is his text which has been modified to HIGHLIGHT his appeal to all in aviation:

“Back to the Future: The Winged Gospel”
Stephen M. Dickson, Washington, DC
March 5, 2020

US Chamber of Commerce Aviation Summit

Administrator Dickson at Chamber of Commerce Aviation Summit

“Good afternoon everyone and thank you for attending today.

You know, watching that video makes me appreciate all the progress we’ve made in aerospace in a relatively short few years, and how fast we’re moving into the future.

It occurs to me that children born today, when they become teenagers, will think that getting their prescriptions or pizza dropped off at the house by a small delivery drone, is just the way it’s always been.

And when commuting into the city, or across town, they’ll do what they think folks have done forever—order up an autonomous electric flying taxi on their smart phone, and hop in without a care in the world for their safety.

Same goes for one day booking a regional flight on an ultra-efficient hybrid-electric passenger plane, taking a supersonic airliner to Europe, or perhaps a suborbital commercial flight to Singapore.

What we’ll see as amazing progress, they’ll write off as the everyday travel grind.

But that’s a good thing! If you can thoughtfully and safely integrate new forms of transportation into the national aerospace system—and hardly anyone takes notice—that is great news.

We as regulators, however, have to notice everything. That transportation future—which we know is no longer just in the realm of science fiction—keeps us awake at night. There’s so much promise from innovation and technology, but at the same time, so much potential for problems if we don’t get it right. So, we have no choice—we need to get it right. 

Our job at the FAA is to strike the right balance. We have to integrate these fast-moving, sometimes breathtaking, technologies that are transforming the aviation sector in a way that meets our mission—to provide the safest, most efficient aviation system possible for the American public, one the world will continue to hold up as the gold standard for safety.

You’ll be happy to know that we’ve thought about this, deeply, and that we have many strategies in motion. At the 60,000-foot level, we’ll succeed by sticking to our core values of safety, through integrity, innovation, and our workforce. At the ground level, we’ll be preaching—internally and externally—a “winged gospel” about how to take safety to the next level by following best practices in Just Culture, Big Data, Global Leadership, and People.

I mention the phrase “winged gospel” as an homage to Robert Hinckley, a distinguished aviation regulator from the early 1940s. [see Biographical Box] Hinckley was responsible for the Civil Aeronautics Authority and foresaw a great demand for what aviation could offer.

 Hinckley bio box_

The government at the time was, in many ways, in the same predicament then that we at the FAA are in today—on the bow wave of innovation and new entrants that could rapidly transform how we travel. How would they ensure safety? Where would they find a new generation of skilled workers to propel its growth?

A staunch advocate himself, Hinckley is said to have preached a “winged gospel” that tapped into America’s “near-religious” enthusiasm for aviation. “History has faced us with the plain alternative,” he would say. “Fly—or perish!” His solution? America had to become “air-conditioned.”

Now rest assured, we at the FAA are not looking to duplicate Hinckley’s fly-or-perish marketing campaign. But I do see some potential in reviving his call for the nation to become “air-conditioned.” He defined it as “a saturation of the American people in aviation skills and a general comprehension of the significance of aviation.” Not a bad idea at all, in my humble opinion.

Our country, right now, is on the arc of an aerospace renaissance similar to that on which the government found itself in the early 1940s.

Just Culture: Done correctly, a Just Culture will generate the data an operator or business needs to figure out what’s really happening in their operation. If you know about safety risks, you can mitigate the risks and fix the processes that led to those errors. I’ll explain later in our Fireside Chat how Just Culture and other best practices will play a role in our work going forward beyond the Boeing 737 MAX.

Global Leadership: We at the FAA will lead globally by working with other authorities around the world to ensure we meet the public’s expectations of the highest possible levels of safety.

Big Data: We must continue leaning into our role as a data-driven, risk-based decision-making oversight organization that prioritizes safety above all else. We do that in part by implementing Safety Management Systems supported by compliance programs.

And People: It’s now time to show the next generation what incredible opportunities lie ahead for them in our field, both personally and professionally. Let’s get them “air-conditioned.”

So that’s my winged gospel for today. I look forward to working with everyone in this room and throughout the industry to bring to fruition the incredibly bright U.S. transportation future as safely, efficiently and sustainably as humanly possible—while remaining a model for the world to follow.

Safety is a Matter of Constant Vigilance


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2 Comments on "Administrator Dickson preaches an unnoticed Winged Gospel"

  1. I’m glad to see the increased emphasis on items such as SMS. I am troubled by ads I see that talk about simplifying your SMS. This indicates there is less emphasis from the accountable executive which is unacceptable.

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