Airline safety and medical safety

The Wall Street Journal (Reducing Goofs to Make Flights Safer) describes how the airlines are trying to reduce pilot error. Apparently about 60 percent of flights have some sort of error, and half of those cause “undesired aircraft states,” meaning wrong speed, heading, or configuration of flaps.

According to U of TX researcher Robert L. Helmerich:

You can’t eliminate human error, but you can minimize the consequences.

The approach isn’t far off from the attempts in health care to reduce errors and their impact in hospitals. What’s funny is that the airline researchers refer to health care to explain what they’re doing:

“What we do is like a health check. We measure the airline’s cholesterol,” says James Klinect, chief developer for the Line Operations Safety Audit team.

I don’t think he’s got the analogy quite right, but it’s the thought that counts.

September 13, 2005

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