"...do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic..."

"For the good of the Air Force, for the good of the armed services and for the good of our country, I urge you to reject convention and careerism..."
- Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Maxwell AFB, April 21, 2008

"You will need to challenge conventional wisdom and call things like you see them to subordinates and superiors alike."
- Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, United States Air Force Academy, March 4, 2011

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Flying Cheap

I just watched the documentary, PBS FrontLine: Flying Cheap, which is available on Netflix streaming. It outlines the corporate and cultural problems with regional carriers that led to the crash of Colgan Air Flight 3407. What I found not surprising was that those who saw the problems, who warned of those problems, were punished and silenced. One FAA regulator mentioned the red flags concerning a "corporate culture that needed to be looked at." There were signs, as there always are.

All passengers and crew on that flight died due to pilot error. Americans paid for a service, and they expected competence rather than a blurb from a public affairs staff. But they died, not just from an excusable pilot error, but from gross pilot error from two pilots who induced a problem from nothing, and then should have easily corrected the problem once recognized. Instead of correcting the problem, they continued to apply the exact wrong response. The enormity of the mistake appears to be on the same level as a driver who sees he is heading towards an obstruction because he let the car drift to the left, and then recognizes the problem, and fails to turn right to avoid it.

Reminds me of a warning I gave to an Air Force commander about flying operations. A commander who was part of a similar corporate culture in the Air Force, who then presided over a Class A mishap for pure pilot error weeks later.

The Air Force has its own corporate culture without a doubt. It is characterized by the ladder that marks any corporation, and which fogs the minds of those who are more interested in climbing it for themselves, than meeting the business mandate of the shareholders and customers. Somehow they confuse their progression up that ladder with the progression of those who pay their salaries to deliver a product.

Cost cutting at the expense of safety. This lesson doesn't bode well for the Air Force as it kicks out its experienced pilots to meet projections on a slide, while already being severely undermanned. What will be the Flight 3407 of the United States Air Force? I shudder to imagine it.

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