Maritime safety - lessons from FAA

I read your interview in Atlantic (on-line). I was Chief Engineer at the FAA for commercial space line of business. During that time I prepared a speech for the commercial space industry to enlighten them about exactly how the FAA achieved their high safety performance and what lessons should be applied the space industry. The core of the speech is that the FAA installed technologies into the aircraft and established operations (plus training) that were all to augment the human performance in the total system. The safety enhancements were essentially to compensate for human error and human variability in the system operation. Airline safety is not about reliability, it is about human error and human variability. (variability meaning variations in how well/fast/accurately/… a person performs their task). The system’s ability to respond safely to such variability/error in the human performance is what led to the high overall airline safety we see today. This is quite likely the direction your efforts to improve maritime safety should be headed.


I appreciate your post and your service to airline safety. I had several dealings with the FAA during my aviation career, such as it was, none of them very pleasant. The best source of safety approach, in my opinion, is the Navy school in Pensacola, where ever they stage their advanced traing and the NATOPS bunch that constantly review procedures and recommend changes. The Naval Air also published a montly magazine by the name of “Approach” I think to discuss events where the pooch was screwed so all crews could read and hopefully learn not to repeat.

I cannot speak for the merchants other my contact with a few that went Navy were pretty sharp and I learned something from all of them. The Navy, in all its “wisdom” has no recognizable deck officer training other than brief (very brief) exposure at the Academy and OCS in YP type craft. My opinion is if the Navy were serious they would have a training program like the Air Wing. Additionally, they would have a syllabus generated by the very best real shiphandlers which include several Chief Petty Officers (E-7, 8 & 9) who operated harbor service craft like yard oilers, fuelers and cargo small ships.

There are sections of the FAA which are useful such as the TERPS or whatever they are called today. The bunch that produces the approach minimums and graphic procedures. The aero charts are the best. The two that I think are of value are overshadowed by several that are burdonsome and of marginal value. Medical for one of the prime wastes of money and time since they never have prevented any airborne medical emergency involving flight crew. Airframe certification has been compromised more than once by bribes that resulted in disasters. That division is also responsible for a dismal lack of innovation by endless testing costing millions that stifles new ideas. Flight safety has missed the point on numerous occasions of drunks and dopers remaining on flight status. FAR’s are written by lawyers or official government language experts to make the “rules” incomprehensible and hugely numerous.

Marine safety could be improved no doubt. I just don’t think the FAA is the agency that can properly advise the improvements.

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