Time Bomb

There has been a dramatic and alarming rise in the number of near-catastrophic collisions in what has been for 22 years the single great miracle of the modern age: the US Commercial Air Transport System, which has seen some 40,000 flights per day without a single fatality in twenty-two years among US carriers domestically. But true to form, the government is now insisting on lowering those hard-earned standards in order to promote diversity and inclusion… and unless tings change, and soon, we will once again start including diversely horrific airline crashes into our lives once again.

UPDATE: Here is the incident I mentioned from the absolutely top-notch The Flight Channel: 

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December 19, 2023 9:18 AM

One of the interim steps between now and the coming airplane crashes is that the definition of “significant lapses” will be altered.

Tim Scott
December 17, 2023 3:18 PM

Until recently, I flew a lot for work (as a passenger getting to clients). On probably 3 flights, I remember us aborting the landing as there was something wrong–mainly, I think it was another plane either taking off or sitting in the way. A bit disconcerting feeling the plane landing and suddenly powering up, rising, and going off to the left or right. But fortunately, we did and I lived to tell about it. If I remember correctly, these mainly happened at Chicago O’Hare (ORD); once I switched to flying Southwest in and out of Chicago Midway (MDW), I don’t… Read more »

James Garbett
December 16, 2023 11:32 AM

As a Right Angle Member and a Retired Airline Pilot, I was interested in the content of this piece, when I saw it in my email inbox. Having finished 37 years of Part 121 (Airline Flying) in 2021, I’d be very interested in hearing a piece that addressees the DEI issue in the airline world. The three of you did a sufficient job of being talking about it in Time Bomb. However, if you ONLY KNEW how airlines like American Airlines are focusing on it now, you’d be appalled. When I got hired in 1984 at my first airline, flying… Read more »

John Staley
December 16, 2023 8:17 AM

I am very familiar with the term “near miss” but in a very different context. I spent 30+ years supervising blood banks and transfusion services in Level II Trauma centers. Our near miss did not potentially kill hundreds of people but they certainly could have killed 1 or 2 depending on the situation. Every investigation of those near misses showed that the primary cause was either poor training, abbreviated training, or simply a relaxing of the process at one or more points because people had become too complacent having not experienced a truly horrific transfusion reaction because of the process… Read more »

Wesley Bruce
December 14, 2023 11:22 PM

There is software in games and in factory operations that track and coordinate aircraft and aircraft like things in real time without error. While you don’t want to take the human out of the loop this software could reduce the workload and check for operator error. It’s possible to add checking tools to the systems used by controllers to detect miss placed aircraft markers. That’s a big part on the problem. In some cases aircraft are manually marked or placed as cards (real or digital) in a frame and that system does not detect conflicts. I once was on an… Read more »

David Slosson
December 14, 2023 7:50 PM

Retired controller, 31 years in tower, TRACON, center and flight service and private pilot. I would submit to you that it’s not a DEI issue so much as a training issue. It didn’t matter who the FAA initially hired, the person never made it to full performance level controller unless they were qualified. However, what happened during the pandemic? Training stopped, and the traffic was minimal. Once the pandemic was over, the training resumed but with minimal traffic. So the controllers were checked out on lesser amounts of traffic and then the traffic ramped back up. A controller learns to… Read more »

David Slosson
Reply to  Bill Whittle
December 15, 2023 6:33 PM

Bill, I read Bob’s comments. That was true pre-strike but wasn’t prevalent post. If you failed at a facility, you might get one retry with a different team if the training committee felt your training was inadequate or your team was biased, but fail a second time and you had to move to a lower rated facility or quit the FAA. Didn’t matter your race or background, procedures were in place to protect the individual as well as the safety of the public. Saw it at two of the three facilities I worked and knew of plenty of others at… Read more »

Bob Kribs
December 14, 2023 4:34 PM

I was an air traffic controller at Chicago Midway Airport from about 1977 until August of 1981 when I made the stupidest decision of my life and that was to follow th PATCO union’s advice and stay on strike although the president of the United Sates gave us a deadline to come back to work or be fired. Of course I take small solace in the fact that around 11,000 out of 14,000 controllers made the same mitake. Regardless, I was damn good at being a cntroller and to this day am proud of it. Back then we saw the… Read more »

Mark Hunn
December 14, 2023 1:22 PM

If software were to replace or do too much of a ATC’s thinking, the effects of bugs would be greatly amplified. The reason being that such software would be in use nationwide, in all likelihood worldwide. We already have airliners designed to keep people safe when 3rd world goofballs fly them. Planes with computer systems designed to overrule substandard pilots and defer to a presumably competent ATC system are way too plausible. ATC software would have to be tested as thoroughly as a vaccine. 

David Pimentel
Reply to  Mark Hunn
December 14, 2023 2:57 PM

Given the latest “vaccine” testing boondoggle, I suggest that all ATC software testing should far exceed that threshold.

Mark Hunn
Reply to  David Pimentel
December 14, 2023 3:51 PM

Done correctly, vaccine testing takes decades. The point I was trying to make was that we can’t trust that it will be done right anymore.

Karl Schweitzer
Reply to  Mark Hunn
December 14, 2023 3:55 PM

Hopefully it would not be AI directing planes but doing more of the data management behind the scenes and presenting information in a clearer or more useful manner. With the example given, a red flashing box of POTENTIAL COLLISION alerting ATC that a runway in use for incoming traffic was just assigned to outgoing and ATC would have to override that with a note that one or the other was cancelled or the data is wrong.

Mark Hunn
Reply to  Karl Schweitzer
December 14, 2023 4:45 PM

The “collision mitigation” systems on my last two eighteen wheelers were so bad that they trained me to override the system by mashing the accelerator whenever they went off. I view such things as complacency traps, a distraction at best. At a particularly busy airport, I suspect that runways are constantly being assigned to incoming and outgoing traffic at the same time with the air traffic controller relying on timing to prevent collisions. If things aren’t dialed in just right the software will increase a good ATC’s workload, while giving a bad ATC an out when he screws up. In… Read more »

Reply to  Mark Hunn
December 16, 2023 1:47 PM

I think you make a very good point with advanced software giving the human ATCs an excuse. They would come to rely on the software too much and when it failed, as software inevitably will, they’d shirk the blame off on the software. It would become a fatal combination of complacency married to an easy excuse.

Rich Ouellette
December 14, 2023 12:10 PM

Atlas Shrugged scenerio