LSE article on aviation safety makes good points, but misses key point

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Why flying is safer than ever and what we can learn from it

London School of Economics article praises aviation safety

Makes good points

Fails to give enough credit to government and technologu

A smart approach to management and design, rather than technological breakthroughs or strict government policies, lie behind commercial aviation’s remarkable safety record, write Chris Clearfield and András Tilcsik

The London School of Economics publishes a Business Review and it recently published an article by Messrs. Clearfield and Tilcsik, actually an abstract from their book, Meltdown: Why Our Systems Fail and What We Can Do About It

 

 Christopher Clearfield is a former derivatives trader and a licensed commercial pilot. He is the coauthor of Meltdown: Why Our Systems Fail and What We Can Do About It.

 

 

 

 

András Tilcsik holds the Canada Research Chair in Strategy, Organizations, and Society at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. He is the coauthor of Meltdown: Why Our Systems Fail and What We Can Do About 

The thesis of their paper is that others should learn from the exemplary safety record of the airlines. It is always good news when a publication like the LSE Business review writes about aviation safety in a laudatory tone. Clearfield and Tilcsik point to three specific characteristics which they say are the basis for the industry’s record:

  1. Teach people to speak up—and to listen
  2. Learn from small failures and close calls
  3. Fight complexity with transparency

Those are all good points for others to emulate and the examples cited are valid as well as instructive:

  1. Cockpit Resource Management
  2. Aviation Safety Reporting System
  3. The large W‑shaped control yoke mounted on a three-foot-tall control column — something brilliant about them: they make what’s happening clearly visible. There is no confusion about who is doing what. If your copilot—gripped by panic in a crisis—pulls back on the controls when the right move would be to push them forward, you can’t miss the error. It’s literally in your face and likely hitting you in the stomach.

All valid and points about which most aviation professionals would agree. However, the authors make too fine a point when they conclude “A smart approach to management and design, rather than technological breakthroughs or strict government policies…” We beg to differ.

Yes, great credit is due to the airline industry emphasizing “insight” rather than “oversight.”  The paper does not give regulatory organizations for leading the transition from strict enforcement to SMS.

No, there have been significant advances in technology which have provided the foundation to risk reduction. However, technology, in the form of big data collection, computation and analysis, has helped industry and the regulators to focus on which risks are threats. The ability of computers to collect and assess massive amounts of data has provided the basis to address risks based on trends rather than to wait for some failure. This has transformed safety into a preventative, rather than reactive, discipline.

Good observations, but in need of a finer pencil in writing conclusions.  The regulators and technology have contributed to aviation safety advances.

 



 

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