CAL, the moron lottery and the 50/50 rule

I love the term "Aviation Safety" as it is actually an oxi-moron. Although, statistically, aviation is by far the safest way to get around- if you talk to anyone at the NTSB (which oversees safety and investigates accidents involving highway, railway, marine, aviation and pipeline) and ask what the safest way to travel is, they'll answer by saying simply- "pipeline."

The simple fact of physics is that anytime you accelerate the human animal to speeds greater than 50 knots or loft the human animal higher than 50 feet you have banked enough potential energy to kill it...period. So simply by entering into any mode that does either of those two things, you are in danger of death. I call it my 50/50 rule and have taught it to all of my flight students- not to worry them, but to scare the living crap out of them. The 50/50 rule is a reality pill that anyone who does other than sitting on the fence and watching the birds, should take.

You see, we who have been steeped in the profession of aviation, know well that we are only as safe as we keep ourselves. That, along with the 50/50 rule is another lesson that the public at large should learn. That lesson is that aviation is the most inherently dangerous for those who forget that it is inherently dangerous. Such was the case recently with the CAL flight that hit turbulence and had passengers flinging around the cabin like a maraca. The captain had had the seat belt sign on for over an hour at the time of the incident. You see when the captain has had the seat belt sign illuminated for over an hour and then the aircraft hits turbulence while some passenger is slobing around with their belt off- and thus finds his or her head stuck through a fresh hole in the overhead and ends up examining the wiring for the reading lights- we in professional aviation know that person has earned their new position on the aircraft. Aviation safety is that simple- follow the rules, listen to the instructions and you'll be as safe as you can make yourself- which is the best that you can do. Yet still the public won't get it. I watched a ton of coverage of the CAL turbulence encounter and the reporters focused on the injured passengers- zooming in on bandages on their faces and braces on their necks while ignoring the seat belts they failed keep fastened.

Of course CAL will end up paying a ton to these morons who can't understand the light-up sign that shows fasten your seat belts, or the announcement made by the flight attendants. Unfortunately, these dim-wits have, in fact, now won the moron lottery. Yes they'll get lawyers (who'll get most of the cash in fees) and they'll file and collect plenty from the airline. The moron lottery has no regard for how much sense a passenger failed to use, it only applies to how safe flying is supposed to be in spite of their non-efforts in the process of making it safe. No one will ask the questions "Were you going faster than 50 knots?" "Were you higher up higher than 50 feet?" "Why didn't you have your FU%$ING seat belt on!?" The answer, of course, would be "Duhhh... I donno." DING! DING! DING! You win the moron's lottery! Johny Donnavin, tell 'em what they win!

One of the paradoxes of the aviation industry is that in order for us to sell it to the public we have to convince them that it is "perfectly safe." A long time ago I recall someone at one of the small airports I was flying out of telling a perspective customer, "Flying for me is just as common as getting into my car and driving... it's that safe." He was killed in a car accident a few years later... wasn't wearing a seat belt. Odds are that if he had told that person the facts, like the 50/50 rule, they'd have never signed up for flying lessons. Odds also are if he'd have learned the 50/50 rule himself and obeyed the law about seat belts, he'd be alive today too.

We have to go along showing the public the big yellow smiley face from the 70s while only sharing among ourselves the honest stories of just how close the close calls can be. Perhaps with every commercial pilot's certificate there should come a big paper sack with a big yellow smiley face painted on it and eye-holes cut into it... ya' know... to be worn while in public.

Although when traveling, I feel the most safe when I'm above 18,000 feet- in pro. land- I never think of flying as perfectly safe. As an ATP and professional aviator I always keep in mind the 50/50 rule and the fact that no matter if I'm in the nose or in the back, I'm still in a huge hunk of metal that is a complex machine that is cheating the law of gravity. The bottom line is that aviation is the most inherently dangerous for those who forget that it is inherently dangerous. Of course it would be really hard to sell tickets if that motto is written across the ticket jacket.

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