Thursday, October 6, 2011


Experience pays


In a very short AP article picked up by AdvisenFPN, a lawyer is claiming that the cause of the crash of Air France Flight 447 from Rio to Paris was faulty data fed to the air crew by the Airbus' computers.

Both the airline and the aircraft maker are charged in France with involuntary homicide for the crash that killed all 228 on board.

According to French accident investigators the accident occurred when poorly trained pilots reacted exactly as they should not have by pointing the plane's nose up instead of down when it stalled over the Atlantic.

However, the report also noted that the aircrew was dealing with bad weather, faulty sensors, incoherent speed readings, and a cacophony of alarms.

Compare the fatal Air France crash with the US Airways crash into the Hudson.

The difference, if the French government agency is to be believed, can be summed up in one word:


The difference between an efficient and expeditious recovery and an over-budget, over-time recovery can be summed up in the same word.

Training - exercises - cannot be emphasized enough.

The problem is that a person knowing how to perform day-to-day operations may not - indeed, probably will not - know how to perform "similar" functions when responding to an event.

I discovered while working for a former top-tier defense contractor that things taken for granted can sometimes foul up the works.

For example, rebuilding a computer.

    Where is the media?

    Where are the licenses if needed?

    Where are the installation instructions? (They should be in the Plan document, but . . .)

By the way, if restoration depends on Internet-accessible information, how can the Internet be accessed if the data center is ash? Run to Starbucks for WiFi connectivity?

Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger and his US Airways crew drilled and drilled and drilled some more on emergency situations to the point that the flight deck crew knew when to believe or ignore instrumentation.

Granted, the US Airways flight was not well off-shore over an ocean and not at altitude - had those conditions been the case, the flight might have ended tragically, but perhaps not.

When Canada moved from Imperial gallons to liters, there was a foul-up on a Boeing's fuel capacity.

On a cross-country flight, the jet's tanks ran dry.

But because the pilot was well trained, he managed to glide the aircraft safely to the ground from its normal altitude of 30-plus thousand feet. (Its glide ratio of 17:1 is about 17 feet forward for every 1 foot in altitude.)

Actually that was "no big deal"; the space shuttles glide in from a much higher altitude. (Glide ratio is about 1:1)

In all three cases, US Airways, the Canadian jet, and the space shuttles, the one thing that these crews had that, apparently, the Air France crew lacked was TRAINING.

Not training to snooze through a routine, mostly on auto-pilot flight, but training to handle complex and unusual situations.

Not training to come into an office, turn on a computer and use a special phone in a call center, but training to go to an alternate site and perhaps use a pencil and paper to record call activity until IT can restore links to a database.

Exercises can be expensive - they take personnel away from their "real" jobs for the duration - but in the long run, exercises can be the difference between a successful, rapid recovery and no recovery.

After thought. Experience also pays handsome dividends when engaging a risk practitioner, someone who knows where to look for threats to "business as usual."

If I wrote it, you may quote it

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