In the aftermath of a horrific accident involving an Air India aircraft at the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, the Air Accident Investigation Board has constituted a team to investigate the cause of the mishap.
A routine formal investigation will be conducted, at the end of which an individual or two will be blamed. While this may bring closure to the case, which involved the violent death of a technician, it will do precious little to prevent further accidents.
While the International Civil Aviation Organisation, a UN agency that codifies the principles and techniques of international air navigation, has promulgated through Annexe 13 that the purpose of any accident or incident investigation is not to apportion blame but to prevent future accidents, most accident probes in India have concluded with laying the blame on an individual.
It is then expected that the airline or operator concerned will take the necessary steps, but unfortunately this is very often limited to issuing a circular without taking into perspective the larger picture. While this sort of knee-jerk reaction may prevent an accident of exactly the same nature, it may create other problems of its own.
The solution lies in operators ensuring strict compliance of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and not permitting any deviation whatsoever from the procedure laid down in SOPs.
Though aircraft manufacturers publish their SOPs in the flight manuals of aircraft, it is common for operators to deviate from these procedures. Very often this is due to the myopic vision of the individuals heading the Operations or Training department of airlines.
Experts agree that if the manufacturer has the expertise to design and manufacture an aircraft then the job of specifying the procedures should also be left to them.
Non-compliance of SOPs is a direct result of the lack of flight discipline. But it is worth noting that though flight discipline ends in the cockpit, it begins with the organisation the pilot flies for. In order to provide a healthy environment, organisations must establish conditions conducive to uncompromising flight discipline.
Two-way communication must be encouraged within the organisation on all issues that concern regulations, procedures and company policy. Another key area is the selection of personnel. This should apply to initial hires as well as internal transfers.
Another approach that many operators have taken is to shoot the messenger when bad news is uncovered. A solution can be to address problems that have been identified by the lower echelons. We have to accept that man and machine are strange bedfellows, and understand that it is better to prevent accidents than constituting investigation boards.