Dassault Aviation’s grounding on May 26 of the entire 112-aircraft Falcon 7X fleet because of a runaway trim incident is extraordinary in many ways. (Dassault didn’t actually ground the 7X fleet, but it did ask the EASA to issue an emergency airworthiness directive; EASA, then the FAA, followed through quickly.)
First, a major aircraft manufacturer made a very quick decision to serve the cause of safety above all else. In a time when large corporations have a reputation for protecting the bottom line first and then thinking about customers, Dassault clearly was far more concerned about the safety of its customers than the effect on the company’s finances. Of course, an accident could have had a worse effect, but this is a rare instance of an aircraft manufacturer making a preemptive strike against chaos before it’s too late.
Second, Dassault didn’t try to blame the incident on the flight crew, which is all too often the case. Maybe it’s because in this technological age, data recorded by the aircraft and possibly transmitted to Dassault during the normal course of business showed that the flight crew had nothing to do with the runaway trim. But I like to think that Dassault was listening carefully to a customer and did not doubt for a second that something went wrong with the aircraft.
I’m reminded of an incident that occurred to a pilot friend, who experienced a runaway trim just after breaking ground during takeoff (it was in a turboprop, but I’m not going to say what kind of airplane). He was in IMC, struggled to keep the airplane from crashing and was barely able to retain control, even after trying every item on the checklist. He is a fastidious, careful pilot and knows the airplane well, but nothing worked. After getting the airplane safely on the ground, he consulted with mechanics and the manufacturer, yet no one could find anything wrong. The upshot was shrugged shoulders and the hope that it wouldn’t happen again. But that was it.
Dassault’s handling of just one runaway trim incident–which had a happy ending, at least as far as the airplane landing safely is concerned–is in marked contrast to what happened to my friend. And I’ve seen plenty more examples in this business, where pilots get blamed for causing almost every single accident, yet few people ask the question, “Well, what is it that led to the pilots doing what they did?” There are also great examples on the maintenance side, too, where mechanics get blamed for engineering problems. And no doubt engineers get blamed for design issues that are the result of bean-counter decisions, etc., etc.
Third, Dassault has shown the rest of aviation what it means to be truly dedicated to safety. (And yes, this is one reason why airplane parts cost so much.) Too often safety is an undefined, nebulous, feel-good goal. Dassault demonstrated with the grounding the 7X that its leaders not only believe in safety, but will do whatever it takes to make sure its products are safe. Please note that I’m not saying other manufacturers don’t do the same, but Dassault deserves plaudits for doing so at such a high cost and in such a public way, without flinching.
Finally, Dassault has a dedicated flight safety directorate, which is similar to a safety management system. This safety directorate, which reports directly to Didier Gondoin, senior vice president of technical affairs, tracks all Falcon and military aircraft events. Its “main job,” according to a spokesman, “is to coordinate the activities of all relevant Dassault Aviation directorates to improve safety of flight of our aircraft.”
This 7X grounding illustrates a safety system working properly, and Dassault deserves recognition for allowing the system to work as intended.