Opinion: Stop blaming pilots – bypassing the rules can save lives
This article was written by authors Kartikeya Tripathi, Teaching Fellow, Security and Crime Science, at UCL, and Hervé Borrion, Associate Professor in Security and Crime Science, UCL, and was first published on The Conversation. Read the original article here. The opinion of the authors does not necessarily correspond with that of the editorial team. Want your opinion to be featured on AeroTime? Send us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The denouement of the recent Hollywood blockbuster Sully  is a courtroom drama with a difference. On trial is the eponymous Captain Chesley Sullenberger (Sully), based on the real pilot who saved the lives of 155 passengers and crew by successfully landing his plane on the river Hudson in January 2009 after a bird hit stalled both engines.
Sully (played by Tom Hanks) faces an air crash investigation committee. But why was a man widely recognised as an all-American hero, whose quick thinking prevented a major airline disaster, facing punishment for his actions?
Every major aviation incident is followed by a full investigation, with the aim of fixing responsibility and making recommendations for prevention in the future. Research shows that in more than 80% of cases, human error by pilots is found to have played at least some part in the mishap.
This narrative of finding blame in the actions of individual pilots is portrayed quite well in Sully. But it has also been challenged in recent times by those thinkers who argue we should look at the word as a series of complex systems.
In the film, the investigators argue that Sully had risked lives by not turning the aeroplane around and making a potentially safer and far more comfortable landing at La Guardia airport. But Captain Sully destroys their arguments by asking the crash investigators to place themselves in the reality of the situation.
He successfully demonstrates that, given the stress under which he operated and the reaction time of the human brain in an emergency, there was no possibility that he could have glided the plane back to the airport. The computer simulations of the incident had failed to take these factors into account and so they, and not the human pilot, were wrong.
Captain Chesley Sullenberger played by Tom Hanks in Sully (2016). (Image source: BagoGames)
There has been controversy over the veracity of the story depicted by the film. Nevertheless, the director did a good job of popularising key concepts in air crash investigations that have now been recognised widely by complex systems theorists as basic flaws in the process. Research by academics like Sydney Dekker, Eric Hollnagel and James Rasmussen has pointed to the inability of investigators to fully appreciate the conditions in which airline pilots take critical decisions during emergencies.
Ramping up demand: European airlines in the post COVID-19 world
The current pandemic has sent passenger demand for air travel into a nosedive and many airlines are fighting for surviva...
Top 7 Must-Follow Pilot podcasts in 2020
With a rapid spread of digital technologies, people went from reading paper newsletters and books to listening to podcas...
Boeing 777 fuel indicator discrepancies prompt FAA directive
The Federal Aviation Administration issued an airworthiness directive regarding the fuel quantity indicating system of t...
Wizzair receives its first A320neo
On May 29, 2020 Hungarian low-cost carrier Wizzair accepted its first A320neo aircraft. The next generation aircraft bea...
American Airlines A319 declares Mayday over engine loss
American Airlines flight AA387 from Guadalajara to Dallas, United States, declared Mayday after losing one of the aircra...