Revisiting Germanwings Flight 9525

Perhaps it is ironic that I spend so much time on a plane flying to and from the US to some far land, following up on aviation crises. Now I am again heading home. After a trip like this, there is much that weighs heavily on my mind. Reflection is important, but I try not to dwell uselessly on matters that can not be changed, and focus on what can be done. There is agony all around. There are never winners and losers. Everyone loses. After an accident, everyone struggles to recover what used to be normal.

After any crisis, hindsight is always perfect vision. It isn't as if this concept is new. No one has said it better than Benjamin Franklin:

“For want of a nail the shoe was lost,

For want of a shoe the horse was lost,

For want of a horse the rider was lost,

For want of a rider the battle was lost,

For want of a battle the kingdom was lost,

And all for the want of a horseshoe-nail.”

The agencies involved, in this case, the BEA plus all the cooperating agencies, spend a year looking for that corrupted horseshoe nail to make sure it will be corrected for every future flight. The horse's nail in this Germanwings flight is a big one: a suicidal pilot. Now that the report is made public, it will feel as if everything remains the same, because many will do nothing to change the status quo. Change is hard. Those in power that do make changes, follow rules and live by committee, so they move slower than a herd of geriatric snails dragging the rock of Gibraltar through peanut butter; but there will be some momentum to fix things that are fixable: making pilot's private records less private so little things like suicidal tendencies can be spotted in time; engineering cockpit doors that are safe against terrorists and the rare self-destructive pilot. Events past have had their own critical triggers that led to improvements: freezing pitot tubes on AF447; CRM (Crew Resource Management) on Ethiopian Airlines Flight 409; thrust reverser and uncured pavement on Tam Flight 3054.

Superficially, the cause of an aviation disaster may be designated as being due to weather, mechanical failure/error, or pilot/ATC error, but those labels are immense. Look behind the door called human error and you find everything from simple mistakes to sleeping on the job, bad flight schools and fake licensing (India) to medical inevitabilities like hypoxia and fatal spatial disorientation. Ultimately, accidents are rarely the result of one thing alone. They are usually a convergence of multiple small disasters that alone would do nothing, but combined add up to make the perfect storm.

We are all humans trying to protect against the big unknown.

When the next crisis comes down the pike another day, we will again go through the process of examining what happened, and doing whatever is humanly possible to guard against its repetition.

Every day, more than eight million people fly. Millions of passengers will benefit from the studies of these horrific events, and will never know they are safer because of it. I am glad that the majority will be, if not perfectly safe, than at least they will be safer than before because hard lessons have been learned. But I cannot forget how many kingdoms have been lost. I can not excuse those who cause destruction because they know what repairs——and reparations——should be made, and looked away.