Wednesday, November 19, 2014

We Get Letters: The Seen and the Unseen

From a avid aviation reader:

Article in Vanity Fair on airlines and safety...

On page 2 there a superb section expanding on "Cockpit Resource Management." Studying economics has given me a deeper appreciation of this revolution in aviation. 

Preventing arrogance from disrupting complex systems appears to be a central challenge of economics/political science. The fact that the aviation community did this in an institution famous for attracting arrogant [people, especially pilots] seems like a remarkable achievement. I think it is fair to say this feat was a key contributor to plummeting accident rates the past three decades.  The author does a superb job walking the reader through a very complex/technical mishap. 

Flops at the end, though. "It seems that we are locked into a spiral in which poor human performance begets automation, which worsens human performance, which begets increasing automation. The pattern is common to our time but is acute in aviation." 

So much pessimism. In 2013, there were 224 worldwide commercial aviation fatalities out of 3.1 billion passengers served. We're "locked into a spiral" of safety advancements so spectacular that we've reduced the odds of death down to one in 45 million. 

Hard to imagine a human activity that is more safe. It would make more sense for Vanity Fair to lament the progress of eliminating bathtub hazards. Aviation has something in common with the free society and market economies. Three pure miracles of human achievement, and people obsess on the negatives and totally ignore the miracle. 

An interesting perspective:  Are we done with this safety thing?  Mission accomplished and all that?

1 comment:

Simon Spero said...

One senior retired British ATC officer used to describe the role of air traffic controllers as taking the planes that could be anywhere in the vast skies with minimal chance of collisions, and herding them into narrow corridors where collisions were vastly more likely.

Also, great- now I have to worry about murder-hippos.

Though this site ranks them way down the list at number 5, with only 300 or so victims per year, which is an order of magnitude less than the second article reports. No source listed for either.

Great. Now I have to worry about whether the Internet is being attacked by cyber-hippos.

To make matters worse, there are no hippopotamus specific codes in ICD 10, so the WHO cannot reliably aggregate their foul play at an international level. At least they have killer whales and flaming waterskis covered.