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Monday, December 26, 2011

Some Rest From The Fatigue Discussion?

Now that the long awaited Flight and Duty Time regulation is out I am trying to decide what it means.  I have come to the conclusion that this new regulation will not end the debate on pilot fatigue.  There will still be companies that use the regulation to try to bully pilots into flying when they are tired.  There will still be pilots that will try to exploit the rules for personal agendas that have nothing to do with fatigue.  It's a new set of rules, but that's the problem.  Mostly, it's just a new set of rules.  It's the same game, just a new hand of cards.

The one place for optimism in the new regulation is the requirement for effective fatigue risk management.  The new FDT rules themselves try to legislate best practices in an environment that is entirely too dynamic and too complex to be governed by a set of fixed rules.  Only the pilots know what schedules create a fatigue problem on a real time basis.  Additionally, each company has it own unique and challenging scheduling constraints.  Currently there are not widespread effective data collection systems that can be merged with the available science to allow certificate holders to accurately manage fatigue proactively.  With the implementation of fatigue risk management systems that airlines are developing, pilots can identify situations where they are fatigued and not risk a loss of pay.  Only when the pilot's fatigue is self induced will he be vulnerable to loss of pay.  Even in those situations the pilot will be released from duty without fear of discipline.  That is why the Fatigue Risk Management provision is so powerful.  It allows for a flexible system that can address the fatigue issue on a case by case basis as well as looking proactively at future scheduling considerations.  All that's left is for pilots and their managements to create a relationship that cooperatively manages fatigue. That's a pretty ambitious goal. It will require trust and professionalism.  I don't know if the juxtaposition between legal and moral will ever be decided between labor, management and the FAA. 

I have to admit confusion about one aspect of the new regulation.  I have never flown for a cargo carrier, so my views are somewhat uninformed.  I don't understand why the new FDT regs would not apply to carriers such as FedEx, UPS and their counterparts.  Flying the same aircraft between the same two city pairs at the same time of day would require equal rest would it not?  I know there are lots of differences between the passenger 777 I fly and the all cargo 777 my colleagues fly.  I just don't know what those differences would have to do with rest requirements.  I am sure there is a good reason for not applying the rules unilaterally, I just haven't heard it.  I really would like to have the difference explained if there is one.

2011 is coming to a close.  A decade has passed since 9/11.  The world is a very different place, but my hope for this new year is the same.  It is that we, as aviation professionals, remember that safety is not just a result of how we do our jobs, but the very reason WHY we do what we do.  God Bless us, every one.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

"What Were You Thinking?" and Other Rhetorical Questions

The head of the FAA gets a DUI.   If you are at all interested in aviation, how do you not write about it?
When something like this happens, the question is always, “Why did he do that?”.  That’s the right question, but not usually asked with the correct intent.  By that I mean it is usually asked in the same rhetorical manner as my wife when I can’t find my keys.  “Where did you put them?”, she lovingly will ask.
We all seem shocked when other people make, what seems to us, obviously poor decisions.  “Hindsight is 20/20”, as they say.  At the same time, one of my most favorite quotes comes to mind, “There are no new types of airline accidents, only short memories.”.
Writer, Christine Negroni, has one of the best aviation blogs online.  Her latest post, DUIs, Bankruptcies, and Little Old Ladies Who Claim to be Strip Searched, touches on Administrator Babbitt and other newsworthy issues.  Lots more interesting topics are explored at her blog, Flying Lessons, .  
Here is my comment to her post.
You are right on.  It is very sad.  Although Capt. Babbit's role as Administrator is as much political as aviation related, this incident is as relevant as it is sad.
It's sad because his alleged DUI was 100% preventable.  It's relevant because this incident exactly mirrors a major cause of accidents in the industry he is tasked to administer, poor decision making.
Aviation safety is all about resisting the threats and managing the errors that come with our humanity.  This dynamic is the essence of Human Factors in aviation, a subjest that is addressed in this blog as well as it is anywhere.
I'm sure Randy Babbitt had no more intention of receiving a DUI that night than an airline crew begins their flight intending to run off the runway at their destination.  Did he have a car service at his disposal?  I think taxis are still available in his area.  These options were available to him just the same as options available to crews before their accident.  
Additionally, it's incredibly ironic.  I've read speeches by Mr. Babbitt making these same points.  It just demonstrates that we are all human.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Goodbye, Farewell and Amen

This Thanksgiving I want express my gratitude for all the wonderful memories I have from my career at Continental.  The name is gone, but the memories will live on forever.  There were good times and great times and not so great times, but looking back I am grateful for it all.  I would never write a story like the one I lived and now I would not change one line.  I am blessed.

The people I have met and worked with, the experiences I have had, the things I have learned are all some of the most memorable of my life.  I am most grateful for the people I have worked with.  We have faced some rather challenging times at Continental, just like people at other airlines have.  I believe the difference in my experience is our ability to rise above them and not let them defeat us or turn us against one another.  We’ve had our quarrels, but we worked through them and moved on, we didn’t let them define us.

Here are some of the things I remember best.

Downtown PDX and SEA layovers

Burritos from El Paso

Prime Rib, Ceasar Salad and Pies in First Class

The A300

Flying Air Mike

“Flaps 25, Gear Down, Landing Check, 30 with the green”

Takeoff Data Cards

CTRs  (Crew Time Report)

Colored Boarding Passes with seat number tabs

The “Junk Jet”



Being a Second Officer, Really

No Security Checkpoints

The IAH train before Disney fixed it

The Noodle Shop

Cooling Doors

My Captain Checkride to ORD

Charlie McKeevers

Rick Watkins

The Taj Mahal

Changing the Age 60 rule

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

It's Time To Be Great

We need to create some “good old days”.  The Beatles, the ’69 Mets, landing on the Moon, winning the Olympic gold medal in hockey, and the list goes on and on.  We need some new stuff. Not that the old stuff isn’t great, but the next generation needs their own iconic moments.  It’s been 50 years since someone asked us what we could do for our country instead of what our country could do for us.
Tim Tebow may be a philosopher as well as an exciting quarterback.  When asked what he said to his team in the huddle with 5:00 minutes to go and 95 yards from the end zone, behind 13 to 10 he said “we haven’t been great so far, but we can be great now”.  
This country is up to its eyeballs in debt and the unemployment rate is obscene.  We need to be great now.  It’s time for the young people in this country to show their stuff.  I know they have it in them.  We’ve seen it on the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq.  My 20 year old daughter is so much more savvy than I was at her age.  It’s time for us to step back and let them take over responsibility for leading this country.  It will be hard, but, they can handle it.  Us geezers need to just let go.  It’s not like we are really doing anything productive anyway.  They can do it, but not if we define everything in our terms.  It’s not good enough for them to be like us.
It’s time for a the new Bill Gates or Steve Jobs to take us to the next level.  Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus are yesterdays news.  Where are the icons of this new generation?   Not the self absorbed likes of Paris Hilton or Lindsay Lohan.  I’m talking about real leaders.
It’s time to take the training wheels off.  Let’s find a cure for AIDS and cancer.  Let’s find a practical source of renewable energy.  How about if we find a way to end corruption in government.  What if we created good jobs for people to take care of their families, not just loan them money they con’t repay.  How many people could we care for each year with the $100 billion that is stolen by Medicare frauds? We haven’t been great so far, but you can be great now.
Ok, back to aviation.  It’s time for the “youngsters” to teach us how to stop running off slippery runways.  Show us how to stay engaged so that we don’t lose radio contact for an hour and a half.  Show us how to fly the airplane when the autopilot disconnects.  Show us how to mange the airplane and not just ride in it. 
Here’s a place to start.  How about if we don’t crash any airliners in 2012.  It might take some leadership, but I think this new generation can do it.  My generation can’t let go of the past.  We want everything to stay the way it was in 1972.  That just isn’t going to happen.  I think there are some young “techno geeks” that can teach us how to use all this aviation automation and not screw it up.  I think they will be the ones to show us how to integrate humans in automation, not try to replace them.  The smartest generation that ever lived is in college right now.  What are they going to do with that knowledge?  Will they let it evolve into wisdom?
My generation thought that gender equality was the answer.  We now have fewer effective families than at anytime in history.  Now is the time for greatness.  It is not important how we define family, but it is important that the family works.  Imagine if every child knew their parents and that they were in their lives to care for them.
You are our future and now is the time.  We won’t be here much longer.  You need to take control while we are still here if you need us.  I know you can do it.  It’s time for you to be great.  It’s Tebow Time!!!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

What Did You Know and When Did You Know It?

The iconic office complex, Watergate, has come to symbolize scandal.  Ever since the 1970’s when political hijinks erupted into a constitutional crisis and the collapse of a presidency, “gate” has become the suffix to describe shame and disgrace.  In most cases, the label comes not for the initial transgression, but for the cover up or failure to take action.   It is no surprise that politics is fertile ground for this behavior.  The very public scandals of President Bill Clinton and Senator Edward Kennedy are clear examples.  Inappropriate trysts are commonplace and usually tolerated among the powerful.  Deception or failure to accept the consequences of the events is where it all comes apart.  Sometimes the victims are only the loved ones exemplified by the infidelity of Tiger Woods and Governor Schwarzenegger.  Other times, as in the case of Michael Vick, it’s the vulnerable and innocent that are exploited.  Those are the hardest to accept.

This week the career and reputation of one of the most revered college football coaches of all time came to and end.  Penn State’s Joe Paterno, or JoePa left his position in disgrace as Head Coach of the Nittany Lions after 46 years and 409 victories.  His biggest loss and the one that ended his career was when he forfeited against “doing the right thing”.  JoePa will have to answer the most feared question a person in a position of responsibility will ever be asked, “What did you know and when did you know it?”  That question, with its implied follow-up, “What did you do about it?”  has ended many high level careers.

Why is that such a powerful question?  It is powerful because the question gets to the essence of responsibility, leadership and trust.  Individuals in positions of authority and leadership must be held to a higher standard.  They are the decision makers.  They have the power to influence outcomes.  What they do matters.  In Joe Paterno’s case, a grown man he knew well and had authority over was exploiting a young boy.  When it was made known to Coach Paterno that there was inappropriate touching of a boy, whether consensual or forced, on University property, he had to act decisively.  However, he chose to pass the buck.  That’s not good enough when the innocent are involved.  Anyone in Joe Paterno’s position would be required to ensure that there was a thorough and open investigation. 

What does all this have to do with aviation?  Everything.  Most Captains who find themselves passing the buck instead of doing the right thing never live to personally answer what they knew and when then knew it.  The answer is found in the cockpit voice recorder transcript.  Did they know the runway was slippery?   Did they know there were mountains?   Did they know the weather was bad? 

One difference between airline pilots and other decision makers is that they seldom get the recognition they deserve for doing the right thing.  Their victories are commonplace and uncelebrated.  Most would probably like to keep it that way.  They get their reward from successfully delivering their airplane and its precious cargo safe and sound to the destination.  They know it is better to be extra cautious than to risk the well being of those whose trust they have accepted. 

Another thing that is different between airline pilots and other decision makers is that the stakes are much higher.  Airline pilots risk losing more than a commission, a promotion, fame and recognition. Fortunately Joe Paterno will survive to regret his mistakes. 

A description by Gerry Bruggink, which I have referenced before, very perceptibly describes “passing the buck” by pilots, “uncritical acceptance of easily verifiable assumptions”.  What did they know and when did they know it?

Post Script

I wrote this blog a few days ago, but did not post it.  I do not want to offend anyone or appear judgmental.  I only want to share my thoughts and give others the opportunity to agree or offer a different viewpoint.