What is the biggest lie you once believed was true in aviation? You could probably ask 10 different people this question and get 10 different answers. And that is probably a good thing in this particular scenario. So much of what really goes on or happens in the background is unknown. So we have decided to put this out there, to see what other people see and put the puzzle together.
25 year pilot
Once I believed that airlines were finally tuned machines that operated very carefully because the profit margin is so very slim. If you did not line up all your ducks just right, the machine would fail and you would most likely be out of a job. What I eventually realized is that know one has their hands on the machine. Its so mismanaged and so out of whack that no one even realizes it. I would compare it to driving a car that needs oil. The oil light is on, the check engine light is on, but no one notices. In fact I would even doubt that they know the car has a check engine light or even needs oil to run. Thats how bad it is. Part of it is ownership, a lot of managers really do not take ownership of their little piece of the operation. There is no hustle, no eagerness to be excellent. We have lost that drive here in the United States. We dont realize that these little bits of decay lead to a complete loss over time. That small sliver of margin that exists in the airline industry is very real, and competition more or less controls that. However that small margin is really an enormous sum of money, airlines make huge dollars but are poorly managed. And that poor accountability at the top suffers from no one being hungry for change. Usually new airlines are much more strict. If they succeed they tend to sink back into mediocrity and eventually just become “another airline”. More noise in the space for your dollars. Board members dont know because they dont come to the airport, they just look at the bottom line. Operational integrity is not in their wheel house, so it does not get tweaked on a regular basis. Senior management does not come to the airport either and is more or less out of touch. They focus on the big picture and will not hesitate to tell you so. The problem is that the devil is in the details and he is having a hey day creating chaos.
Part of this can also be cultural. When you fly to other countries, you employ staff from that particular country. Along with that you inherit the culture of that country. I tread lightly when I say this, some countries are known to be in a lower gear which basically means they really dont hustle. Airplanes burn fuel and fuel costs money, if you consistently wait at the arrival gate for ground crews to show up, you burn more fuel and spend more money. The common answer is “well this is the way it is here” and that seems to satisfy the first level inquiry. I can hardly imagine a guy like Herb Kehler from Southwest airlines being satisified with that. Most airlines are afraid to get out of this comfort zone for fear of offending people. The question that begs to be asked is, who’s company is this then? We are too sensitive, we rush into establishing all kinds of new procedures and philosophies to address everyones sexual orientation because we are afraid of getting sued or being offensive. Probably the most fearful objection would be the fact airlines comply so quickly because of social response via media. Whatever would happen if the general public found out that someone was in charge, didn’t put up with any excuses and expected a little hustle and care about the job? So chaos and mediocrity it is, spread that around and call it normal.
30 year pilot
I am not sure what you call it, so I will give it my own name. I call it the firehose mentality. Each day, each shift, someone takes over holding the fire hose. There is a fire over here, and a fire over there. We cant have that, so we put them out and pat ourselves on the back. Problem solved for this shift, I will hand this hose to the next person when my day is over. The problem is no one stands back and says, hey what is causing all of these fires? An even better question would be, how do we create better conditions so we dont have all these fires? The answer to that is, thats not my job.
20 year ground crew
The lie, there are a lot of different third party vendors that provide services to the airline. These companies really work well together. The answer, you might want to ask who owns or gets kick backs from all these third party vendors, then the real truth would be revealed. Its all manipulated for control and money.
I have noticed that there is several times per month where an airline operates in what we call an IROP, which stands for irregular operation. This is usually in regards to inclement weather but can include other things. What ends up happening is a storm will move through and the operation starts to be affected by delays, cancelations, and route changes. The result is chaos to put it mildly and good luck trying to call them to get a response. Even a simple missed approach and fly to an alternate can cause an IROP. The problem is what most airlines calls the solution: software. Software has been developed to run every aspect of the airline. This replaces individual decision making because eventually as airlines grow, they become harder to manage. Software comes to the rescue to solve all this, or does it? The problem is software is just code in a computer, it does not reason, it does not compare solutions, and more importantly it does not look at captain obvious types of options. So many times I would have crew members say, why cant we just do this instead? While that simple solution solves the problem in “your head” and makes sense to you, its not what the software says. We are so constrained by the software that we fail to look outside the box or color outside of the lines. This is what the software says to do, so that is what we will do. Does it waste money? Buckets and buckets full of money are poured out the window. Does it contradict common sense? Sure it does, but just follow the software. Most importantly, isnt there a VP of operations that is supposed to be in charge of all this? Doesn’t that person reevaluate how we do things and figure out if the system is working well or not? Good luck with that.
Line Pilot, 19 Years
The big lie: in order to make the airline run smoother, we as individual employees just need to work harder and do a better job. The truth is no amount of hard work will fix a broken system. Read Dr Edwards Demings, this was established in the 1960’s.
The media makes almost all of it worse