Centers of Gravity (Living Ones)
By Tony Kern, Ed.D
Chief Executive Officer, Convergent Performance
Pilots are all familiar with the concept of center of gravity (CG), the fulcrum point around which thrust, drag, lift and gravity work. We know that if this point moves, whether too far forward or too far aft, the aircraft won’t fly right. I’d like to take this concept and apply it to our people; not only those who sit in the left and right seats of our aircraft, but also those in maintenance, dispatch and other areas where precision is important.
There is a lot of enthusiasm in our industry right now. Pilots and other aviation professionals are being hired at rates not seen in decades, moving up the seniority list, changing seats and equipment. There is a positive energy and vision for our future. Simultaneously, our technology is evolving at a breakneck pace, and this combination has some potentially serious challenges. According to an Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) report entitled, Take-off performance calculation and entry errors: A global perspective,
“Everyday errors such as incorrectly transcribing or inadvertently dialing a wrong telephone number normally have minimal consequences. For high capacity aircraft operation, the consequence of such errors can be significant. There have been numerous take-off accidents worldwide that were the result of a simple data calculation or entry error by the flight crew. This report documents 20 international and 11 Australian accidents and incidents (occurrences) identified between 1 January 1989 and 30 June 2009 where the calculation and entry of erroneous take-off performance parameters, such as aircraft weights and ‘V speeds’, were involved.”
One of the areas safety experts have identified as critical to improving safety and success in the industry is the VVM process – verbalize, verify and monitor. A little background on VVM is in order here. As modern aircraft and their support systems have evolved to higher levels of automation, the skills necessary to operate them have also evolved. The VVM process is a countermeasure to errors that naturally occur in data entry in many industries.
For example, in the software development industry, there is a process known as “double keying,” where the data must be entered by a second individual who cannot see the initial entry. Any discrepancy is immediately flagged with an alert that takes the data entry team back to step one of the process. Of course, in our industry, data must be entered literally “on the fly” so this is not a viable option. Therefore we have developed the VVM process to capture and correct errors that can be serious if not discovered. Here are a couple of techniques you might want to try:
Break long data entries into small chunks. Often, we are tasked with transcribing long data strings into our automated systems. Breaking the string into three elements, or chunks, has been shown to reduce input errors. On the verification step, assume the initial entry was wrong. We know from multiple studies that many errors occur in the data entry stage, and that these are often missed during the verification stage. So, set a personal challenge. How many data input errors can you catch in the next month? By keeping score and taking personal and professional pride in your verification efforts, you are providing your peers and passengers with an insurance policy that can prevent an embarrassing situation, or worse.
There is an undeniable irony to our current state of affairs. The more that automation controls our systems and aircraft, the more critical the human element becomes to ensure their reliability. People will always be the centers of gravity in any system where they are the critical quality and safety hubs.
Come to work every day with a healthy skepticism of our automated partners, and remember that nothing is bigger than the little things.
Convergent Performance is uniquely dedicated to reducing human error in high risk environments.
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