“Accountability” seems to be a most popular word these days,whether it refers to banks, government officials, oil company executives or pilots. The NTSB is hosting a forum this week on pilot professionalism which presumably will include a heavy dosage of accountability. I admit to being confused because I always thought that the PIC title conferred that – no questions asked, regardless of the size of the aircraft or the part of the regulations under which the flight was conducted.
The professional side of the business generally does a very good job and their safety record proves it but there have been some very high profile lapses in past several years that obviously have attracted scrutiny.
The laptop lapse in the Airbus that over flew Minneapolis was irritating. A quote from a well-known captain in the NY Times: “Something in the system allowed these well-trained, experienced, well-meaning, well-intentioned pilots not to notice where they were, and we need to find out what the root causes are, he said. Simply to blame individual practitioners is wrong and it doesn’t solve the underlying issues or prevent it from happening.”
How is it the system’s fault when two professional pilots in a perfectly functioning aircraft manage to forget that they are flying eastbound at over 400 knots and should be landing soon? When do individual practitioners who are placed in position of absolute authority and there are two of them to be sure that they are looking out for each other, come to be accountable?
The Colgan accident had numerous failures from an undisciplined Captain who apparently didn’t understand the reasoning for sterile cockpits. He also didn’t quite get the importance of monitoring approach airspeeds and the autopilot while on a night IFR approach. Those are individual failures because I’m certain the airline Ops specs called for different behavior. However, the airline didn’t think that training in envelope protection was essential for pilots new to the aircraft – that is a systemic flaw.
In light aircraft with largely single pilot operations, we don’t have as many opportunities to blame “the system “ except possibly ATC. You ARE the system and when there is a systemic problem and it wasn’t a self-inflicted wound, please file an ASRS report. Even if it was your own doing – we can all learn from such incidents.
It’s said the road to Hell is paved with good intentions and best wishes. Unlike felony law where intention does make a difference, gravity and Newtonian physics make no distinctions – it’s all about avoiding the edges of the airspace and other aircraft. I will be curious to see how this NTSB professionalism forum plays out and there may well be some good ideas that come from it. But forgiveness is divine and no one flies without fault. The system should not be blamed and complex solutions proposed when the core problem resides in the mirror.