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A Series of Unexpected Events

Posted Tue 21st Apr 2015 | Airline

CAT Magazine is in no danger of turning into a journal for Classics scholars or English literature majors. However, according to certain bodies that claim to defend the English-language standards of periodicals, we’re difficult to fathom sometimes, given our tendency to maintain the regional grammatical conventions of our international authors.

I should add that we have enormous respect for the author - or conference speaker - whose native tongue is not English, yet still has the conviction and courage to enthusiastically participate. In this international industry, the training voices are many and varied, and they are all of merit. Encouraging discussion and the sharing of training “best practise” is central to all that we do, but we also must recognise and embrace the entire international training narrative. That narrative often has a powerful historical context, and it can be instructive to note the specific personalities - and attributes - of those who have directly influenced where we are today.

We are indisputably in an age of “big data” and all manner of “evidence”, and the industry recognises the power of designing and tuning training using the great volume of both operational and training data, including what can now be extracted from the simulator. We also lead all other industry sectors in using and analysing this data in accident investigation. Getting to “what went wrong,” and quickly delivering a corrective action to line operations, whether it’s a technical or training fix, is the primary goal of any investigation. Thankfully, these efforts are rarely required, but when they are, the global industry does a commendable job.

Clearly, however, beyond what very rarely “goes wrong,” it is equally important to look at “what goes right,” and indeed, why.

One of the challenges the industry faces is the retention of the competencies of an earlier generation of pilots, and their grasp of the oft-stated and perhaps old-fashioned term of “airmanship.” We all recognise that we’re not going to return to the training patterns of an earlier age any time soon, and it must be acknowledged that today’s well-designed “competency-based” training approaches are helping to yield some encouraging results. But those historical training patterns apparently delivered levels of situational awareness, leadership acumen, competence and decision-making that proved very valuable when faced with unexpected events – a subject much studied at the moment.

I can think of several examples such as the famed “Miracle on the Hudson” in 2010, where an A320 suffered double engine failure and was successfully ditched on water, without any loss of life. It is revealing to look at the training pattern and background of this crew, not simply stating that there was an abundance of luck, even though it was a contributing factor. How about the remarkable “Gimli Glider” incident in 1983? Another example of a completely powerless jet transport category dead-stick landing, this time with a B767 at an abandoned airfield, and again without loss of life. And perhaps most impressive of all, there’s the DC-10 in 1989 that suffered catastrophic failure of its tail-mounted engine and the loss of all three hydraulic systems. Without operable flight controls, the crew used differential engine power manipulation and managed to get the aircraft on the ground, saving the lives of two-thirds of the passengers.

Upon looking into incidents such as these, common denominators often surface in the crews. A childhood passion for flight, insatiable interest for all things aviation, tremendous motivation to succeed, broad experience in many aircraft classes and types (and often a GA background - the “Gimli Glider” Captain happened to have a glider endorsement), an engineering or technical degree, and possibly a military background. And in their personal time, they’re seen exploring and tinkering with an aviation-related subject. In short, “a pilot’s pilot”.

When I was a fledgling cadet pilot, the ground school instructor held up a copy of Wolfgang Langewiesche’s “Stick and Rudder” on the first day of training and asked “Who’s read this?” Several hands shot up – including mine. But we were all taken aback when one student said he had devoured the iconic book when he was 14 years of age.

Safe travels,

Chris Lehman
CAT Editor in Chief



Authored by Fiona Greenyer
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