Picking the lowest hanging fruit of airline safety
U.S. civil airlines move humans with less risk than any transportation mode ever devised. But there’s still room for improvement.
In pursuit of safety we must be careful not to price flying out of reach which would lower overall transportation safety by moving travelers to more methods.
Pilots are just as fallible as anyone else. Great pilots have caused crashes in mundane ways, usually through simple errors compounded unexpectedly, producing unexpected—sometimes tragic—results.
Distraction and complacency may be the two biggest enemies of safety while technology, properly used, its best defense. And it’s not great pilot skill that will prevents most accidents, but rather the far more mundane practice of discipline. For example: actually looking at items on a checklist, not accepting substandard performance on an approach, biting the bullet to write up a broken item on that last leg home, etc. These are the things that would prevent most mishaps.
Safety improvements don’t happen at the wave of someone’s hand—even hands high in the management heap. They happen because someone champions the improvement and convince those in power that the benefit is worth the expense. Don’t be fooled into thinking that just because something is safer it will be done. Expense must be weighed. That is why the unpopular analysis of “cost per life saved” is so important—it ranks safety improvements by their efficacy.
Our aviation system has been ingeniously tweaked over the years to overcome many human failings but there is room for improvement. This section is is devoted to that effort.