david soucie ps: What inspired your book




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DAVID SOUCIE


PS: What inspired your book, Why Planes Crash?


DS: Aviation Safety is very personal for me. As a young executive with Air Methods, an emergency medical helicopter service, I was asked to purchases wire-strike protection kits for our helicopters by the pilots in the company. I made a choice based on financial situations not to purchase them. A short time later on Christmas Eve, Mike Myers, one of my friends, a devoted father of two and a very good pilot flew into a power line and crashed. He died the next day from his injuries. The outcome would have been different if the helicopter was equipped with a wire-strike protection kit. Mike would still be alive. It’s something you never forget; when you’ve made a choice or a decision that could’ve saved a life but you chose not to. I changed my career to become a safety inspector with the FAA in hopes of making a difference. This book describes what it feels like to make safety decisions, and how difficult it is to weigh safety against dollars and people’s livelihoods. It encourages safety professionals to make choices based on safety rather than letting the dollar signs make the decisions for them.


PS: You’ve worked in the cockpit, as a mechanic, an FAA inspector and an aviation executive? Which position gave you the most insight for this book?


DS: I think that as far as lessons learned, being an aviation executive gave me the most insight. However, the book is mostly written from the perspective of when I was a safety inspector for the FAA. Being a mechanic also gave me a different kind of insight. As a mechanic, I would take things apart and try to rebuild them. In my book, I really take the events of each accident apart and try to get to the bottom of what people were thinking when they made choices about safety.


PS: You say that the trend you have seen is that as the airlines become bigger, the people who make the decisions are further removed from the operations and less aware of what safety improvements are necessary. What can airlines do to curb this issue?


DS: Two or three weeks ago I was asked to speak at the Research Innovation and Technology Administration in Cambridge about this very subject. I spoke to them about how difficult it is to make safety choices. Safety choices are always about balancing lives against financial liabilities, jobs and livelihoods. Scientists and engineers provide airline executives with mathematical equations that will provide the “right” answer or choice. I want them to know that while it is necessary to analyze the information, it is equally important to understand the way they think about those choices and how their thinking drives their decision making.


My next book, Dare to R.E.P.A.I.R. Your Thinking, really examines this issue. Anyone that works in the industry must examine the way they subconsciously respond to any kind of threat or hazard. Our minds have a way of convincing us threats don’t exist when they do. I call this dilemma the internal conspiracy of inaction. The system I have designed to address the internal conspiracy of inaction is R.E.P.A.I.R., a mnemonic for Recognize, Environmentalize, Prioritize, Analyze, Institutionalize and Realize. Before using REPAIR. I found myself asking why I seemed to be going to the same accident twice – same mistakes made, the accident site didn’t provide me with a lot of answers. I realized that I needed to look up the chain of safety decision-making to look for the faulty decisions that created the opportunity for the accident in the first place. Airline executives need to do the same thing. They need to examine not only the facts of the decisions they make but the way they think about the decision making process itself.


PS: What can an average person do to protect himself/herself? What can pilots do? What about other employees who are not making the decisions?


DS: They can improve their ability to recognize and acknowledge potential hazards and threats. If hazards and threats are not recognized and acknowledged, Safety Management Systems have no information to analyze. My new book provides tools to measure and improve each of the REPAIR elements which are critical for threat and hazard identification. In looking forward, we want to try to predict and prevent accidents before they happen. We need to be very vigilant about our ability to recognize hidden hazards and threats and not minimize them. We have to REPAIR our thinking.


PS: What was the biggest challenge you faced as an FAA inspector?


DS: The FAA implemented an ISO 9000 registration for their aviation oversight processes. The intention is that everything will be standardized and in black and white, there was no gray area. The challenge with that if the FAA becomes over reliant on the black and white answer, institutionalized thinking. The FAA was inflexible and could not see that we needed to respond to new technologies and new cultures differently than we had in the past. The problem is that when things change, which they do all the time, you have to change the way you think about safety oversight as well, or you’re going to end up in trouble. We relied too much on our institutionalized thinking.


PS: What are some ways in which the FAA can take a more proactive approach to discovering unreported safety issues?

DS: They’ve got a good start on it. They’re using voluntary disclosure and quite a few other programs they’ve gone forward with. As the industry expands, it becomes a more and more difficult to implement programs and important changes to these programs. I think that these voluntary programs are valuable but they need to be reassessed or adapted to our evolving cultures. Companies and individuals participate in these programs because it’s a good initiative but they don’t report everything that they should for fear of getting in trouble. The FAA needs to accept and understand their role in safety. They really don’t need to be a data storage place. Their role should be to ensure that the entire industry has a way to share information about safety together and analyze how to improve safety as a whole not just as an individual operator. The FAA is not alone in this dilemma. Healthcare is also facing exactly the same issues. How do you share health information when it’s so entirely protected and private that if you share it you can end up jail?


PS: What prompted you to retire from the FAA?


DS: My main reason for leaving was that government wasn’t responding quickly enough to the public’s needs. Funding was pulled on an FAA project I worked on for four years. It was a program that would have allowed an anonymous forum for operators and repair stations to freely voice and discuss their safety concerns. Even if it had been implemented, it would’ve fallen short of my expectations because I saw no way for us to truly protect that information completely. I had to look for another way outside the government to accomplish this goal. These issues need to be discussed and addressed. It is the only way to assure that an already incredibly safe aviation system can continue to be safe as we rely more and more on aviation and space travel, and travel systems become more and more technologically advanced.


PS: You serve on the Safety Management Systems Focus Group in Washington D.C. What is your role and has this position changed your outlook on safety?


DS: When two large airlines merge, it forces the decision making executive further away from the operations of the air carrier. My role as I see it is to provide insight about how we can continue to assure that the senior executive fully understands the need for safety investment and that his view does not become diluted by his separation from the actual operations. If we can increase our ability to recognize hazards and get them into a Safety Management System, then I’m confident we can maintain a vigilant hazard and threat awareness, even at the highest level of a large organization. Without having that constant stream of input, we are at risk. I’m really encouraged by this group, and it’s amazing to see that the industry is driving a lot of this. It’s no longer the FAA putting their foot down for compliance, now the airlines, the pilots and the mechanics are all working together to make it better. The FAA can no longer take exclusive credit for the low accident rate because it’s really a result of everyone working together to get there.


PS: Can you explain your role with NextGen and why this program is important for safety?


DS: My role exists mostly around the information sharing systems, voluntary information versus non-voluntary, and how that information is necessary for a good safety management system. I’m mostly involved in getting systems in place where people can share information. As you look forward in 25 years, it’s critical that there be a way of sharing information that we don’t share now


PS: You’re a tireless safety advocate. What motivates you?


DS: Tireless may not be the best word because I’ve got to tell you, it does get tiring. What keeps me motivated is having gone to airplane accidents, having spoken to survivors and to victims’ families. The looks on their faces when they find out how easily the accident could’ve been prevented, that keeps me motivated. With my knowledge, experience, insight and those faces in my mind, it would be a travesty to not continue to use what I know to prevent the next aviation disaster.


PS: If you could pick only one person to read this book, who would it be and why?


DS: If there was one person, it would be Mike Myers. But that’s not possible since he died as a result of my inability to evaluate the wire-strike hazard. I think anyone who’s faced with making a decision or choice between money and safety investments will make the right decision after reading this book. If only one person who reads the book is in that position and saves lives because of it, then the book would’ve served its purpose.


Bio:

David Soucie is the author of “Why Planes Crash – An Accident Investigator Fights for Safe Skies.” He is owner of Sans Souci Enterprises, LLC, a disaster recovery company based in Silverthorne, Colorado. He also works with the Federal Aviation Administration as a member of the Safety Management Implementation (SMI) Committee, and serves on the Safety Management Systems Focus Group in Washington D.C. Previously, he was an aviation safety inspector at the FAA and before that, served as the senior director of technical services for Air Methods Inc., now one of the largest helicopter emergency medical operations in the world.



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