Re: WS Journal and SR 111

From:         spagiola@my-dejanews.com
Date:         18 Dec 1998 07:56:17 EDT
Organization: Deja News - The Leader in Internet Discussion
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riverline@aol.com (Riverline) wrote:
> The Wall Street Journal has an article on SR 111 in its DC16 edition. It is
> very disturbing. [....]
> the focus of the article is SR trained its pilots to go by a checklist, and
> ignore items not on the checklist. [....]
> My sense in reading the article was the SR pilots were trained and precise,
> following the checklist perfectly, but failed to understand the gravity of
> their situation.

It's easy to second-guess after the fact. After all, we know how things
turned out. The question is: with the information available to them at the
time, did the pilots react in a reasonable way? From what we know of on-board
conditions, it does seem that the problem seemed rather minor for some time,
and then suddenly flared. Unless that sudden flaring was predictable, is it
not reasonable for the pilots to try to minimize the danger of running an
airplane full of passengers and fuel off the end of the runway by coming in
too fast and too heavy?

Now, checklists exist for a reason. It's easy to forget crucial items,
especially when you're under stress. Take a look at the chapter on the BOAC
707 engine fire in McArthur Job's book on aviation disasters, for instance
(Vol.1). You can't predict the forms that all problems will take, and so you
can't write checklists for everything. But you can take advantage of past
experience and detailed knowledge of aircraft systems to come up with
checklists for many situations. Yes, pilots should deviate from checklists if
the situation warrants it.

Having said all that, one can certainly question whether the current approach
to trouble-shooting potential fire-on-board situations is wise. Methodically
switching off circuits and waiting to see if the smoke abates strikes me as
very time consuming and prone to error. And indeed, some airlines have
switched to a "get on the ground ASAP and then we'll talk" policy. But even
that approach -- perhaps especially that -- would require checklists.

So frankly, it seems to me that the WSJ is focusing on the wrong aspect.
Especially since it's a safe bet that if the pilots had ignored the
checklists and something had gone wrong, they'd be soberly discussing the
dangers posed by cowboy pilots that don't follow industry-recognized
procedures.


Stefano Pagiola
--
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