Commentary: A Silver Lining for 2003

 - January 7, 2008, 6:50 AM

As anyone who cares anything about aviation no doubt already knows, this year will witness the 100th anniversary of the first flight of a manned and powered, heavier-than-air aircraft, on Dec. 17, 1903, by the Brothers Wright. It should be a happy occasion. But ironically, 2003 dawns with the threat of being one of the most tumultuous years in the history of aviation.

Some 16 months ago, on the emotion-charged afternoon of Sept. 11, 2001, the editors of AIN sat down together to determine how we would cover that horrendous day and the days to come. For the short term, our collective compass proved to be fairly accurate, plus or minus a few degrees, but it wasn’t very good for more than a few “klicks” out.

There was no way that any of us, or anyone for that matter, could have foreseen security letters of authorization; the Transportation Security Agency; reinforced cockpit doors; the Department of Homeland Security; the Transportation Security Administration Access Protocol; the 12-5 and 95K security requirements; the prolonged economic recession; general aviation still barred from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport; the bankruptcies of US Airways, Midway and United Airlines; mandatory checking of all baggage; decreased sales across the board of new aircraft; the glut of pre-owned aircraft; widespread layoffs in aerospace; the serious possibility of war with Iraq; the sharp rise in insurance premiums; and many other things. Add to these previously mandated equipment requirements meant to improve safety or increase capacity, such as TAWS, RVSM, ELTs, upgraded mode-S and TCAS, and it’s easy to see why the expense-to-earnings ratio of operating aircraft keeps going the wrong way.

When the going gets tough financially, the bean counters, God bless ’em, sharpen their pencils. And then pilots really need to watch out. Required maintenance starts being deferred. Minimum equipment lists become dusty. Bogus parts start looking more attractive. The subtle and not-so-subtle pressure to complete trips increases from chief executives (“You know, John, we really need this contract”), chief pilots (“If you don’t like the schedule, Frank, I can easily find someone to take your place”) and chief customers (“Dahling, I simply must make the opening by eight o’clock”).

The pressure is unavoidable in times like these, but the essentials of professional airmanship remain unaffected by the state of the economy. What makes flying safe or unsafe does not change with fluctuations in the stock market. The importance of a meeting to a company’s bottom line won’t melt ice on the wings; the life-threatening injuries of a child won’t cleave a path through a thunderstorm; and the promise of on-time delivery won’t put fuel in the tanks. As safety consultants like to point out, “If you can’t afford the cost of operating safely, how will you afford the cost of an accident?”

So here’s a new year’s resolution for you. As the economic and regulatory storm clouds build on the horizon, let’s give this 100th year of aviation a real silver lining and make it the safest year ever. Resist the pressure to cut corners and do things you know you shouldn’t do. Don’t let yourself get to the point where you must rely on your superior skill to save your butt from a situation that a lapse in your usually superior judgment got you into. Let’s do it right this year, so that when things do turn around in 2004 or 2005, or whenever, we’ll all be around to see it.

(P.S. You are invited to copy this commentary and pass it around your flight department, give it to your boss and hand-deliver a copy to your accounting office.)

Saluting Aviation’s Centennial, 1903-2003

Notwithstanding the current state of the industry, AIN intends to make the best of the 100 years since Orville made that first successful, 120-ft flight in the 600-lb Flyer from level ground at Kill Devil Hills, N.C., with Wilbur running alongside. Starting with this issue on page 14, AIN monthly editor Nigel Moll will each month recount by decade highlights from aviation’s history in “A Century in Review,” and conclude with a Centennial of Flight Special Report in the December issue. We’ll also keep you apprised of special events relating to aviation’s first century throughout the year.

So, Happy Centennial, everyone. May you walk away unscathed from all your landings this year and for the years to come.

What makes an AIN Newsmaker?

Some publications honor outstanding achievements every year, which is certainly laudable. AIN, on the other hand, selects newsmakers, which may not necessarily be an honor. By its very nature, news is not always good; in fact, it can often be bad for someone, or a lot of someones, which likely makes it of even greater import to those it affects. So it is quite possible that some of the AIN Newsmakers selected for 2002 (page 20), will be less than happy to see their stories again in print. We make no apologies. We don’t make the news; we just try to report it fairly, accurately and without bias.

As conceived by AIN founding editor Jim Holahan, the rules for selecting newsmakers are simple. One, the person or event must be newsworthy; and two, the person or event must relate directly to our editorial focus on business and commercial aviation, regional airline operations or helicopters. In addition, people or events only indirectly related to our editorial focus, but of great national or international interest, can also be judged newsmakers.

AIN Newsmakers are selected by the editors in consultation together and with no consideration given to possible backlash from advertisers. Furthermore, Newsmakers receive no recognition from us other than what they get in the article itself.