In the aftermath of a tragedy it is unavoidable – and necessary – to take a closer look at the industry from all angles. The questions and answers regarding the low-cost carriers crash in the Java sea lately will eventually be straightened out, since what the industry does best is to find out, to the extent possible, no resources saved, what went wrong. Then actions are taken to rectify all factors contributing to the accident, to make sure it never happens again. One major reason for todays extremely high level of flight safety is that almost everything possible has happened – and been rectified. So far so good.
What has not happened is still to come, and there are threats ahead, mainly because issues that needs rectifying are not receiving funds, because why worry, and spend money, when things are going so great. Almost always. Below please find a list of a few dangers, brought on by the economic plight the airline industry has endured, since someone made people believe that you can fly for peanuts in billion-dollar aircraft, without any change in the overall condition of things;
- extended duty-times, causing fatigue – contributing factor in some fatal accidents.
- reduced – and outsourced – maintenance, increasing risk for non-airworthy aircraft.
- banning of pilots unions, giving total control over flight safety to economically oriented managements.
- reduced fuel reserves, causing emergencies and at least one fatal accident.
- reduced pilot training, causing several fatal accidents.
among other things….
On the issue of pilot unions, there is a previous article in this blog.
The four other issues could be instantly reduced to less important factors, should authorities decide to change all parameters one or two step towards more safety – across the board, i.e. airlines not following stricter rules wouldn’t even get fuel. Cost-driven competition in those areas would cease to exist. (Utopia is sometimes fun to ponder.)
Fatigue has been discussed in previous articles, as has pilot training.
On the matter on maintenance a few things have to be mentioned. One airline after another made decades ago rid of mechanics on destinations in a cost-cutting effort, followed later by a (PFI) preflight inspection performed by one of the pilots also at departure station, making the technical status of the aircraft evaluated by a pilot with limited mech understanding, in lieu of a mechanic with years of training. One consequence emerged immediately, where a technical remark, that would possibly ground the aircraft on the destination, could repair not been made, was saved for entry in the aircraft log on the homebound flight, especially by a Captain not backed by a pilot union.
Further, many airlines have started outsourcing aircraft maintenance to low-cost countries. They might not loose quality, but they definitely loose some control, much like when you employ pilots from the internet instead of having your pilot corps – and mechanics corps – close. Not to forego any investigations, it is still possible to state that Southwests compressor failure, causing the first US fatality in years, would most likely not have happened, had a more thorough inspection of the engine been performed, a check that has now been ordered on all similar engines. (After the accident.)
Further still, maintenance departments reduced in manpower and recourses are constantly strained when needed badly. The Lion Air aircraft, that crashed shortly after take-off, had experienced problems on the previous flight. Again, not to forego any investigation results, there is no pilot today who has not seen a logbook entry being signed of by a mechanic with ”Checked on ground without remarks”. What Captain will not accept taking off with that assurance.
Coming articles will address fuel reserves, more on pilot training, and also the flight safety issues in Asia, where CRM (Crew Resource Management) has a hard time surviving ancient cultural norms, as mentioned in some scary detail in Olle Sjöberg’s comments.