The last weekend in January of 2020 was a terrible one for aviation in the United States.
Many people know of the helicopter crash on Sunday, January 26th that claimed the lives of NBA Hall-of-Famer Kobe Bryant, his thirteen-year-old daughter, and seven others. Most are unaware, however, of the other 26 aviation incidents that went into the FAA books the very next day. Of the 26 accidents in addition to the crash that claimed the 9 victims in Calabasas, California, fatal accidents also took place in Florida (Saturday), Arizona (Friday), and another crash in California (Friday). In total, the FAA logged 13 aviation deaths from that weekend.Despite incredible advances in technology and safety over the past 25 years, flying remains inherently dangerous, with crashes being dramatic, headline-grabbing events, and understandably so. Click To Tweet
Yet, every day, multiple aviation incidents occur that largely go unnoticed, and though they rarely lead to fatalities, injuries still occur. These accidents will never grab the headlines because they occur on the ground, after the plane has already touched down. Losing control of the aircraft and driving off the runway, ground loops, running into various objects, and hitting the runway with the landing gear up are just a few of the typical incidents from the last weekend in January alone.
“They stop flying the plane,” responds veteran pilot and flight instructor Zac Armstrong of Freedom Jets and Allegiance Aviation. “Despite the fact that they’re instructed from day one to keep flying the plane until the wheels are chocked and the engine is off, they let their guard down once the perceived danger has passed. And that’s where the trouble starts.”
Complacency is the danger that arrives after THE danger passes. It creeps in during the moments after the most apparent and obvious hazards of the job are in the rear-view mirror.
It’s a trend that’s not confined to the airline industry.
In construction, the last half of the last day on any multi-day job can be a particularly dangerous time. The build is largely over and as the crew handles any last-minute items, cleanup, and the disassembly and storage of tools, complacency appears like an unwanted guest. The tragic crane collapse that claimed 4 lives in Seattle, Washington in 2019 occurred after the crane’s work was completed and it was being disassembled.
Once a fire has been extinguished, the danger is not over, and the work of the firefighter is not yet complete. The firefighter must first finish the overhaul process, searching for any hidden fire extension inside of the walls, ceilings, and other spaces not readily visible. While the obvious and apparent fire may be extinguished, its children may be concealed, waiting for a chance to grow and finish the job. A complacent approach to overhaul provides all the opportunity a spark needs to reignite an inferno. A lesson which residents in my hometown of New Braunfels, Texas learned during the fall of 2019 when one of the most beloved buildings in town, the Wurstfest Marketplatz, was engulfed in flames and destroyed the day after a small fire inside the building had been extinguished.
Though the intensity and scale vary greatly, all companies and organizations have those moments in their processes that are considered the most dangerous; the time when, if something went wrong, it would result in outsized and perhaps even tragic consequences. A lot of attention and an abundance of caution is naturally given to these moments to ensure they are as incident-free as humanly possible.
But what is the organization’s approach to the moments immediately following the danger?
While the yoke is firmly in your grasp, will you let up when the wheels come down or will you continue to fly the plane until it comes to a full and complete stop?