Friday, December 30, 2005


Risk and Honesty

I arrived at the helicopter school about fifteen minutes early for my discovery flight, so I had some time to kill. This school is also a Robinson dealership, so the waiting room had a lot of marketing material scattered around. I picked up a reprint of an article from Flying magazine about the history of the R22 helicopter.

The R22 was originally designed as a low-cost personal helicopter, but was quickly snatched up by flight schools shortly after it was introduced. The combination of student-pilot use and low-experience instructors resulted in an appalling fatal accident rate. Robinson made some changes to the helicopter design, and also insisted on changes to training procedures and regulations, and the result has been increased safety.

This article was being reprinted and distributed by Robinson. They were rightfully proud of the fact that they had identified problems and improved their product, and believed that potential customers would find it reassuring. As a pilot, I really like that approach, but I was amazed to see a company using it.

In contrast, can you imagine going into a car dealership and seeing a pamphlet that says, essentially "A bunch of people died in this model of car, but don't worry, we've fixed it." No. The car industry doesn't work like that. They would deny that any serious problems ever existed, and if the evidence is impossible to ignore, then they would either stop making the product or re-market it under a different name.

Pilots are different from most people. Pilots understand that there is always risk. Pilots actually want to know what might go wrong. They aren't interested in being able to deny that they knew about problems, and they aren't interested in finding someone else to blame.

I wish there were more people like that in my line of work.

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