Is UPS Airlines now joining the ranks of so many previously safe FAR Part 121 airlines whose safety program looks good on paper, but in the field is no longer functioning to prevent fatal mishaps?
Since 1982, UPS has run UPS Airlines free of fatal mishaps. In fact the few mishaps that have occurred in the operation by and large have not been attributed to flight crew error at all. This has been a substantially safe operation, most markedly from the pilots’ seat. In my opinion, this is a valid reflection of the training program and the safety program that have been working hand in hand successfully.
Now, however, in the space of 3 years, two fatal mishap events have occurred. The two events involved the deaths of four pilots. Additionally the events involved the total destruction of two jumbo jets fully laden with cargo and express packages have brought tragedy and disaster to the front door of this fairly large global shipping company. Has the airline safety program, a program that had been working so well, now failed to prevent two major financial disasters in three years? Are top UPS executives asking the question, “Does the safety program look good on paper but then fail to prevent aviation disasters and the accompanying hundreds of millions of dollars in financial losses?”
The airlines and the pilot union have just completed a three year process involving the GCAA (Dubai civil aviation authority) mishap investigation of the September 2010 fatal air tragedy of UPS Flight 6, a B747-400 freighter, that caught fire inside the cargo area and crashed after takeoff in Dubai, despite the heroic efforts of the crew. (See the article below concerning the report recently released on UPS 6 by GCAA.)
Now UPS once again is visited by tragedy and disaster in Birmingham, Alabama, with the crash of UPS 1354. By all early and outward reports this mishap appears to have been completely preventable. Many people may ask both, “Why and why now?”
Here is the most difficult questions of all for UPS Airlines and its Joint Safety Program with the FAA and its pilot union: Has the safety program been working to prevent mishaps from occurring? Has the Safety Program been serving the safety purpose? Or has the Joint Safety Program become a legal avenue to find blame for the tragedies and losses that are now occurring regularly, without really delineating concrete steps to prevent the mishap from recurring? Is the safety program now serving the legal purpose instead of the safety purpose?”
UPS, its pilot union and its FAA partners are now party to another massive NTSB investigation that will attempt to answer the safety question, “How did the UPS Flight 1354 tragedy at Birmingham’s airport happen and what can UPS, the FAA and its pilot union do jointly to prevent this mishap from occurring again?”
But then the line flight crew member may ask these questions: “Wasn’t the purpose of the Safety Program originally, to prevent this mishap from ever occurring in the first place? Why did that program not work, where was the failure and what can be done now to prevent another fatal mishap from occurring?”
So again the crew member may be wondering, “Has the Safety Program now shifted towards reacting to tragedy and disaster instead of preventing tragedy and disaster? What good is all this attention to the disasters, when at the end of the day two fellow crew members are once again dead?”
Airline operations had been safe between 1982 and 2010. Now losses are occurring. Where has the safety program failed, if in fact it has, and how does UPS return to safe operations?
Perhaps a safety forecast may be useful now in order to develop a new safety plan? Perhaps looking ahead to the safety hazards that the airline faces in the future will allow the airline safety department to create a safety plan to return the airline to mishap free operations.
Mishaps are terribly costly in both human terms and financial terms. The losses from these two mishaps at this time have most likely surpassed half a billion dollars. From a financial perspective alone, a safety forecast and a safety plan would be a wise strategy.