Monday, July 7, 2014

July 7th, 2014

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

The NTSB report on last year's Flight 214 accident, in California, is now in the public domain: The report states 'The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of this accident was the flight crew’s mismanagement of the airplane’s descent during the visual approach, the pilot flying’s unintended deactivation of automatic airspeed control, the flight crew’s inadequate monitoring of airspeed, and the flight crew’s delayed execution of a go-around after they became aware that the airplane was below acceptable glide-path and airspeed tolerances.' 

In all honesty, there are no 'big surprises' in the investigators findings. Pilot error is the common thread found throughout its many pages. As always, the future safety of aviation will be determined on how we deal with the two questions: a) Why did this happen in the first place? and b) How do we prevent it occurring again? 

It is all too easy to put the blame on others, but when we are 'in command', we must take responsibility. We are given power and we must not abuse it. We must not take it on if we are not competent to do so, and if we find ourselves getting into hot water, we must seek advice and support from those who can help appropriately, in time to avoid a disaster.

Flight 214 was coming into an airport where an automated landing aid was not functioning. Not a problem if you are current with visual approaches, as you should be. Visual approach means that you look out of the window, you see what is happening and you adjust power, attitude, track, etc in real time, using small adjustments to keep everything as it should be. The crew were, for whatever reason, 'aiming short', and 'touched down short', resulting in damage to the aircraft (a write-off), property and, most devastatingly, life. We must all LEARN from this accident. If we fail to learn from it, those who died, gave their lives in vain. If we learn from it, their sacrifice will save many lives in the years to come.

Do you wear a seatbelt when you travel in a motor car? The law says that you should. Early cars didn't have seatbelts. They were added to save lives. Then, because people didn't wear them, the wearing of them became law. Think about that next time you put your seatbelt on: 'People died so that seatbelts would be introduced and made law, to protect me and my family'. 

What about that 'rear view mirror' or 'wing mirrors' on cars? Again, early models didn't have any... It resulted in many accidents. Then, in 1906 in 'The Woman and the Car', written by Dorothy Levitt, she wrote "carry a little hand-mirror in a convenient place when driving", she goes on, "hold the mirror aloft from time to time in order to see behind while driving in traffic". A few years on, and all the cars had mirrors - for safety reasons. 

In the same way, we have to learn from the demise of other business, countries and systems. We must learn from the mistakes and misfortune of others. It is one of the reasons we read history, it is one of the reasons that we watch the news or read the newspapers! Being aware of the mistakes of others allows us to stand on their shoulders - to get a better view of what is ahead - and to adjust our path in order to make better progress.

I ponder trends, past and present. I look at a variety of plans for the route ahead. It is possible to predict where additional challenges might be found - quite accurately, with practice. Finally, it is necessary to propose a solution, which takes as many of the risks and challenges into account. I never manage to cover all of the bases, and I am always ready to 're-evaluate', pondering on the progress made, reassessing the plans, re-predicting the outcomes based on new knowledge gained and then, if necessary, proposing a change of route. Just as one does at the front end of an aircraft, constantly. 

The fuel crisis of recent days was not a surprise. If you had your ear to the ground, and considered all the factors available in the public forum, a fuel crisis has been looming for many weeks. It was always 'just a matter of time before the bubble burst'. Many of the people I know made sure that they kept their fuel tanks topped up, and their gensets full. Thus, for those who planned, the crisis in its early days was more of an inconvenience than a crisis. But for those who failed to ponder, plan, predict and propose, it came as a 'shock', a 'surprise' and quickly became a crisis. 

The same can be said for the floods that hit Accra each year... and so many other challenges that hit us. 

None of this should be a surprise for us in Africa. We have a wonderful African story about the Vulture who complains during the rainy season that 'he must build a house during the next dry season', but when the dry season comes he neglects his good intentions and fails to prepare for the rains. Thus he suffers when the wind blows and the rain falls, and although he complains, he has no cause for complaint, for he failed to ponder, plan, predict and propose.

We can put the blame on others, we can all march in the streets, we can go on the TV and radio chat shows and complain. However, we must be careful not to be like the vulture... Over the past 20 years, I have often seen the same people complain, year in and year out... and I have seen others, who 'complain-eth not', who take action to prepare for the next challenge - that is surely coming their way.

It seems that many nations have the false belief that the 'Government' is responsible for all the decisions in the nation. Sorry, but the Government is not. The Government is charged with the responsibility to create an enabling environment for 'business to do business'. That includes, creating and maintaining transport infrastructure that works, ensuring adequate health and education systems and overseeing safety in various sectors - plus ensuring a level playing field, without corruption or nepotism. Government has no place in business, but must ensure that business has its place, securely in society. 

Business, the true backbone of a nation, is thus enabled to create a sustainable development platform. Extraction, farming, processing, production, services, etc, and with them all, growing new jobs and opportunities. The workers, in-turn, must take their place in diligent productivity, and thus the success of a nation is born. Break any of the links in the chain, and the system fails. Yes, the problems often start in the cockpit of the nation - the seat of Governance! BUT, it does not stop there. We have many more entrepreneurs than Members of Parliament, we have many more workers than civil-servants - and thus it is the work of the many to ensure that a nation prospers - despite the few that may not always be working towards the greater good. 

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and Pilot/Engineer with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics (www.waasps.com www.medicineonthemove.org e-mail capt.yaw@waasps.com)

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