Tag Archives: safety

2017, the safest year in aviation history

In the last days, I have seen a wave of news and headlines mentioning that 2017 was the safest year in aviation history. The source of the information is the release of 2017 accidents figures made by the Aviation Safety Network a private initiative from the Flight Safety Foundation which curates an extensive database with aviation incidents, hijackings and accidents, from 1946 to nowadays.

The release of the figures can be found here: “ASN data show 2017 was safest year in aviation history“.

The tweet with which they made the announcement is below:

Following that publication, several specialized and generalist media echoed the information. Many of them went to say that there had not been any deaths in commercial aviation in 2017, which is not accurate. A few correctly reported the figures, e.g. Jon Ostrower from CNN. Some headlines reported that there had not been any death in “commercial passenger jet flights”, which is accurate, but misses the accidents and deaths of commercial aviation based on other aircraft than jets. Most of the headlines in the media that I have see in Spanish quickly copied the message but failed to note the word “jet”, and simply stated that there had not been any death in commercial aviation (the opposite would be private or military) or commercial passenger flights (this category would exclude cargo flights but not flights on turbo propellers for instance).


If we take a look at the source of the information, we can have a quick look at the accidents:

  • there were 10 accidents in commercial aviation: 5 on passenger flights and 5 on cargo flights.
  • 44 occupants died as a consequence of those accidents. Moreover, 35 people died on ground as a consequence of those accidents.
  • there was 1 accident that involved what would be referred to as a “jet” aircraft, a Boeing 747, but this was on a cargo service. Involving four deaths.
  • there were several accidents involving commercial passenger aircraft, in this case turbo propellers, e.g. 4 Cessna 208 Caravan and Grand Caravan, or an ATR-42.

It is true that most of us rarely fly on those Cessnas, but about 2,500 have been built and they are operated by dozens of operators, including passenger commercial aviation (or FedEx, which flies over 200 of them), especially in regional aviation and inter-island flights.

ATR aircraft are also very successful in regional aviation, with over 400 ATR-42 built, and operated for example by the Air France subsidiary HOP! In this case, the ATR-42 that crashed, was operated by West Wind Aviation in Canada. After the crash investigation, Transport Canada removed the licence to the operator.

To conclude, yes, 2017 was the safest year in aviation history, but unfortunately there were 44 plus 35 fatal victims of commercial aviation.


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“A good landing” (speech)

Over a year ago, I wrote a post about a speech I gave at the then prospective Toastmasters club that some colleagues were pushing to set up within Airbus in Toulouse. Yesterday, we had the 48th session of the club. And yesterday, the club president (Sarah) announced that the club, Airbus Speakers Toulouse, is now a chartered club (1). For this achievement, I wanted to congratulate our colleague Eduardo, who a few months ago left Toulouse for Seville:

Coincidentally, yesterday I was giving a speech at the club. It was the second project of the advanced manual “Speeches by Management” (2), that is “The Technical Speech”. I had to convert a technical paper into a speech, use a technique called “inverted-pyramid” and effectively read out the speech. This was a challenge in the sense that, since long time ago, I don’t use notes for the speeches I prepare. I don’t like it. And this time, I didn’t need them either. But as part of the exercise I forced myself to use them, in order to practice for a situation in which I might need them. That is Toastmasters: practice, practice, practice. (3)

In order to read out the speech, the manual gave tips on how to write the speech in paper: large fonts, short sentences, bottom of each page blank, etc., very useful tips. See below how for a 10-minute speech, about 1,000 words (4), it took 7 pages, instead of about 2 that it would have normally taken (find here the speech) [PDF, 623 KB].

A good landing

Above you can see how I made some grammar corrections, how I deleted some sentences which did not sound well, how I annotated some instructions (e.g. to distribute copies of the paper), how I emphasized some words and… how I introduced some last-minute adaptations. In Toastmasters’ meetings we normally have a word of the day which speakers should strive to introduce in their speech. Yesterday’s one was split. You can see how upon discovering it at the beginning of the meeting, I scanned my speech and located the 3 places in which I would insert it (which I did in the delivery). 🙂

In our club, we not only have a word of the day but we have a theme of the day, picked by the Toastmaster of the day (5). Yesterday’s theme was Hollywood. You can see how, as soon as I learned about the theme, I decided to make reference of a movie which featured Chuck Yeager (6) as I was quoting a couple of sentences from him. Funny enough, I had learned about that movie thanks to my brother Jaime just a couple of days before.

The speech talks about safety in general aviation, putting the emphasis on precautionary landings when the situation deteriorates. The idea of the speech comes from a safety note published by my flying instructor, Thierry, some time ago in the internal bulletin of the aeroclub. He referred then, and I do so in my speech, to a couple of studies from the French Bureau d’Enquêtes et d’Analyses (BEA), principally one called “Objective: Destination” [PDF, 318 KB].

Finally, see below the video of the speech.

The recording starts about 30″ after the speech started and the quality is not very good. A good part of the image is taken by the table in which the camera rests and the light is not optimal. The sound is not great either, as neither is my vocalisation. In fact, that was one of the criticisms that I got, as part of a generally good feedback (7): I should vocalise more clearly. Nevertheless, I must say that I enjoyed delivering it.

(1) That is in Toastmasters language that we are an official club within the organization.

(2) From the version of 2009, as I have later learned that manual contents and organization have changed since then.

(3) By the way, for this speech: I had it written 4 days ahead of the meeting. I rehearsed it 8 times. Seven of them having Luca as an attentive mentor.

(4) At my speaking pace.

(5) The master of ceremonies in Toastmasters language.

(6) A NASA flight test pilot.

(7) Feel free to comment and provide feedback below :-).

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Filed under Aerospace & Defence, Movies, Toastmasters

Bean counters turned risk managers

In a previous post I wrote about the Titanic as an example of disaster of project management, drawing from a conference I attended.

At the end of the post I reminded the theory of safety in systems seen as layers of cheese with some holes in them. The speaker did not enter into risk management, but rather in communication, teamwork and leadership, nevertheless she acknowledged the side of risk management to the case.

"What management is", by Joan Magretta.

“What management is”, by Joan Magretta.

While reading the book “What management is”, by Joan Magretta, I recently came across the case of the Ford Pinto which I did not know:

In the 1970s, the Ford Pinto taught the nation the basics of cost-benefit analysis. The car had a design flaw in the gas tank that caused at least fifty-nine deaths. Rubber liners would have fixed the problem at a cost of $137 million. But careful calculations of the benefits – all costs associated with those burned and killed down to the flowers at the funeral – only added up to $49.5 million. Cost-benefit analysis said it just didn’t pay to redesign the Pinto. The lesson at the time seemed pretty clear, and many baby boomers grew up suspicious about management and its methods. […] (excerpt from “What management is”)

You may see in the article of the Wikipedia here more references to the case, including an apparently famous article at the time, Pinto Madness, which appeared in the Mother Jones magazine. Some excerpts from that article:

Because assembly-line machinery was already tooled when engineers found this defect, top Ford officials decided to manufacture the car anyway […]

For more than eight years afterwards, Ford successfully lobbied, with extraordinary vigor and some blatant lies, against a key government safety standard that would have forced the company to change the Pinto’s fire-prone gas tank. […]

Ford waited eight years because its internal “cost-benefit analysis,” which places a dollar value on human life, said it wasn’t profitable to make the changes sooner. […]

I place myself the same question again: Have we progressed since then?

And again: Today we like to think that yes. More requirements regarding safety are put into projects. Regulations are passed to ensure safety. Risk management is used as part of project management to ensure that the kind of decisions taken at the time of the Ford Pinto today they are taken without overlooking the risks behind them.

However, I wanted to remark this time the need and criticality of placing safety at the driving seat of cost-benefit analysis, of evaluating risks and mitigations, budget reductions, targets setting, etc. As Charles Munger uses to say all these frameworks and mental models together may create a lollapalloza effect, that is the confluence of incentives and biases acting together may result in the overlooking of serious risks which down the road (after the fact) would seem impossible to have been overlooked (as in the cases of the Titanic or the Ford Pinto).

I believe this takes the utmost importance especially in an industry like aerospace, where the words “safety first” cannot be just a phony industry mantra.


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