Another ~ 150 body bags were filled with the remains of passengers of an Indian B737-800 that overshot a runway in supposedly good and calm weather. According to the news, all kinds of officials, representatives, ministers and others ‘in the know’ have been touched, the United States is sending NTSB professionals to the scene in trying to help put the pieces together on this most recent crash of Air India’s Flight IX- 812.
Accidents happen and will continue to happen. Its natural and can be expected in a system of worldwide mass passenger transport, which on average transports passengers for ridiculously low amounts of money. The non-flying public is extremely quick to judge, several self-declared experts usually jump on the wagon and make scary statements about the airlines, the alcohol level in the pilots blood, the shape and form of the runway, the weather, the general state of the fleet, the professionalism of the crew and so much else and if it will rain in their neck of the woods… However, when we (as pilots) read such comments we may feel as if the ‘idiocy carousel’ just got another heavy push for the worse. People seem to excel at their way of coming up with sometimes helpless stories as to what may have caused this last (or any other) aviation accident. We call it “Monday Morning Quarterbacking”. The press throws the word “Human Error” around like warm chocolate cookies. That helps in selling sensational news but leaves the majority of readers under informed and moreover, it does nothing. When we take the word “Human Error” we find several meanings and associations:
- “Human Error/Reliability” is related to the field of human factors engineering, and refers to the of humans in fields such as manufacturing, transportation, the military, or medicine. …
- “Human Error” is a Swedish Punk Rock Band.
- “Human Error” is the twenty-fourth episode and season finale of the third season of House and the seventieth episode overall.
- “Human Error” is the stage name of Rafał Kuczynski (born 21 may 1982), a polish electronic musician, working mostly in the ambient music genre …
Here is a more logical explanation of Human Error & Reliability: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_reliability. The point I am trying to make is that when we try to determine the reasons for an accident we need to make sure the non flying public understands the depth and complexity of the issues at hand when we talk about “human error”. What happened in India has caused quite some outrageous responses. Upon Colgan Air’s accident in Buffalo NY which killed 50+ people we had these same discussions with the same outrage. Every once in a while a Pilot is caught arriving for work with rest alcohol, or makes a mistake that is (by the general public) considered stupid. In Buffalo NY, once the press had picked up that the Captain had failed one or more Pilot Exams & Tests in the past we were extremely quick to pay political attention to an issue that has been bogging our industry into despair for decades. People started to gain a glimpse at the fact that being a pilot is no longer what it used to be in the not so distant past. We have, and will continue to have, Pilots who sleep on recliners, couches and sometimes a futon, because they cannot afford hotels on their lousy salaries. We have and continue to have pilots who travel for hundreds of miles to fill a seat for less money than an average Star Bucks employee. We continue to have stressed pilots, under tremendous pressure. Idiotic schedules, idiotic rules or the fact that they will simply lose their job if they say no!, has a tremendous effect on the people in the pointy end of todays average airliner.
What can cause a Runway Overshoot accident?
- Aircraft to high or fast on approach (problem related to the human)
- Tailwind (selection of runway & compliance issue = problem related to the human)
- Malfunction of reverse thrust, brakes or spoilers (technical issue= ultimately related to the human)
- Miscommunication upon realization of the fact that something is wrong (related to crew & human)
- Lack of attention, situational awareness or a simple other, small mistake that is allowed to progress into a big issue (human)…
The lack of proper overrun space is not a cause for an accident like that. The fact that India does not have what we call the NTSB is not a cause. I’d go out on a limb and say the pilots where probably not drunk, drugged or otherwise impaired, did not suffer from a lack of intelligence or skill and where generally probably just as good or bad as you and me. Yet, the lack of proper overrun space greatly limits airport versatility and is cause for concern in quite a few airport management offices. When the issue comes up, and airports try to lengthen available space, the result is, usually and again the human who takes offense in the form of citizen groups who vehemently fight against airports and what they do. However we turn and twist it, when we look at accidents our first action should be to touch our own nose. It is the public, who wanted cheap flights. It is the public who called for and allowed the deregulation of the airline industry. It is the airlines human resources office, which hires and fires the pilots, and determines how many peanuts they get paid for what they do. It’s the laws, which allow them to do what they do, and it’s generally the law that prohibits them from doing things. I believe that we will unfortunately keep seeing such freaky accidents, which wipe out hundreds of lives and leave many thousands of families affected by grief and upset, before we stop making the same mistakes over and over again. I believe that our industry worldwide needs a heavy-handed “Integrity Check” and we need to re-evaluate our hiring practices for professional pilots and what we pay them. We also need to start looking at how we educate the non flying public in somewhat easy to understand terms as to what our issues are, currently. Maybe then, the press and John Doe will stop throwing the word “Human Error” around like a worthless, dry and tasteless cookie. Otherwise, I am afraid we will soon hear different comments of passengers when they enter the cabin while boarding. While many years ago, the public evaluated the shape and condition of the airplane (“Oh, I hope this airplane holds up, it’s so dirty!”) as a factor in determining if they are safe, we may soon hear “I hope the pilot does not make a human error!”. Well, the pilots can’t really make any other errors, so chances are, if there is a crash it’s going to be the result of a human error! Our goal must be to improve human reliability and hold people accountable for their decisions. Our goal must be to educate and learn as much as we can about why mistakes are made. The world cannot be free of mistakes, yet the only way to eliminate or reduce mistakes is by education, training and sound decision-making. I doubt we will see improvements as long as John Doe still flies across the country for $99.99………….