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Why Airplanes Crash — book review

4 October 2011

Why Airplanes Crash — book review

Why Airplanes Crash: an accident investigator’s fight for safe skies, David Soucie and Ozzie Cheek, 2011, ISBN 978-61608-426-4, 221 pp.

Published by Skyhorse Publishing

Why Airplanes Crash: an accident investigator's fight for safe skies by David Soucie and Ozzie Cheek, jacket Jane Sheppard

Why Airplanes Crash: an accident investigator’s fight for safe skies by David Soucie and Ozzie Cheek, jacket Jane Sheppard

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As is the publishing business custom, I have been provided a copy of this book for which to read and with which to provide a review. No additional compensation has been offered, expected or requested — nor would compensation be accepted.

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There is nothing more accurate as local knowledge when trying to find ones way or otherwise searching for a specific answer. One must be careful — ask the local mail person for the best way to an address in the neighborhood but not a barber if a haircut is required. Who better to learn from about the FAA and accident investigations than a person who worked there and developed overview born of experience and intelligence?

The author searched for answers in aviation accidents while working for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). He found them and found more — describing his experience in this new book as well as delivering a message to those willing to listen about enabling the FAA’s to greatly improve its role in aviation safety. He began with a tragic mistake and carries the effects of that blowback to this day. We are the results of our choices and what we do about them. The author has done well with his career in public service toward making his amends. Once you read this book I believe that you will, too.

The book is well written and flows like a conversation in a comfortable den of sitting area of a posh hotel. There are names of people, some with black stars attached but with no explanation of their significance. It is easy to discern that this geometrical design signifies the name is a pseudonym in order to protect them or their families. Disappointingly, for a book that is full of information, there is no index but there is an impressive bibliography — making this text excellent reference material on the subject of both airplane crashes as well as the FAA.

Some standout points are:

  • Incredible stories, like that of “Tic Tac Man” — who seemingly could not avoid his fate.
  • Significant, though perhaps morbid, information about impact dynamics and at what speeds limbs separate from the body.
  • The stories behind many general aviation crashes are told.
  • The airline disasters of Flight 243 with the explosive decompression of Queen Liliuokalani (Aloha Airlines Boeing B-737) as well as ValuJet’s Flight 592 DC-9 crash into the Everglades National Park are recalled.
  • There are stories, also, of people — quiet, faithful and professional civil servants — who toil against the impediments that bureaucracy too often provides to  make the world better for us all. Then there are stories of people the author has termed either as TINA (That Is Not Approved) or TOM (Totally Obstinate Male).   Stories of FAA success are described as are those of failure, mostly due to politics or Congressional policies. This and the above give a first person insight to the working environment of the FAA.

As a bureaucrat myself, I inwardly applauded when he observed that bureaucracy rewards those who continue it, not those who attempt to improve it. This leads to another salient observation by Soucie, that of the FAA’s twin mandates — providing for aviation safety and promoting aviation as a business enterprise. Like a dog with two masters — each with a leash — on a walk, it goes in the direction the stranger master wishes. Between promoting business interests and safety, would you care to select which mandate is promoted over the other? Would it perhaps be surprising to learn that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has laid significant portions of accident blame at the doorstep of the FAA?

Stories abound about FAA failures to prevent disaster though warnings were apparent. Employees performing their jobs were pigeon-holed in an effort to not provide additional costs to an airline of the industry. People subsequently died. At times, many people perished. Congress and the FAA investigate as a public relations measure (though many individuals in the FAA struggled to complete the stated FAA mission of aviation safety) so that the population is led to believe the problem has been adequately addressed. Usually it has, been but the mechanism that allows the process to iterate continues.

For those desiring a better understanding of aircraft crashes, or the FAA, they would be well served in reading this book.

Soucie left the FAA to continue his mission of improving public safety by becoming a private consultant in aviation safety, serving on prestigious aviation safety committees and running a firm in the disaster recovery service.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. David "Mac" McLay permalink
    4 October 2011 11:52

    Good review, Joe! I hope to read the book at some point, but your insights confirm what professional aviators have always believed: (Thanks to Flight Safety, Inc.) “The best safety device in any aircraft is a well-trained crew…”

    That the NTSB operates independently, and is not beholden to the DOT or the FAA, is a good thing. As you point out, the FAA has been faulted many times for not implementing recommendations from the NTSB that came as a result of aviation accident investigations. Government bureaucrats – including those at the FAA – are well-known for not wishing to disturb the status quo in their personal bailiwicks, and sometimes appear to be intimidated by airline CEOs/Boards. The new head of the FAA is a former ALPA President and we are hoping he will fight this trend. “Safety First.”

    The Air France 447 accident in the South Atlantic is a classic example of Airbus computer systems cascade failures that overwhelmed an experienced cockpit crew, causing them to react improperly to a compound emergency. Had USAirways Capt Sullenberger been flying a Boeing airliner there is widespread belief that he would have had partial engine thrust and been able to land at a nearby airport. “If it ain’t a Boeing, I ain’t going” has been appended to many e-mails in recent months…

    While recognising certain common elements in all accident investigations, I find it curious that some NTSB investigators have zero background in aviation, and come from positions in road/rail/maritime accident investigations…

    • travelforaircraft permalink*
      4 October 2011 17:25

      Dave,

      Thanks so much! You are a fount of knowledge and experience. You’ve illustrated points I had not known (e.g., about engine selection) and piqued my interests regarding the NTSB.

      Much appreciative,

      Joe

  2. 28 November 2011 01:32

    Thank you for your honest review of Why Planes Crash. Today the book was on the best seller list in the Denver Post. http://www.denverpost.com/books/ci_19402180

    • travelforaircraft permalink*
      28 November 2011 06:57

      Congratulations regarding making the bestsellers list on the Denver Post. You write well and I learned much from this book, I’m also glad to have it in my library.

      Joe

  3. John O'Connor permalink
    16 June 2015 14:21

    Disappointing. A whole lot of autobiography and very little about “Why Planes Crash”!

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