Page 8 - World Airshow Mar 2017
P. 8


             Revisiting the Culture of Safety

                              A    few years back, I was doing the   ing more shows, the flow of their act was slowly changing, chang-
                                                                 I felt it as Jim told me about their act. He said as they were do-
                                   airshow at the Onion Festival in
                                   southern Georgia. It was Sat-
                              urday evening, and a local pilot had   ing almost unnoticeably as the performance tightened up. They
                                                               had a basic script, but the act was a flurry of three aircraft, a jet
                              opened up his hangar for some cold   truck, and giant pyro. Unlike formation flying, there was no way
                              beer and southern BBQ. This guy had   to always have the aircraft in the same places in the sky from per-
                              one of those “man cave” hangars with   formance to performance. They had a general script that outlined
                              leather furniture, big screen TV, the   what they were going to do, and the rest was just adjusted as they
                              works. He kept the invitations low-  go. 
                              key to control the attendance to a   But as Jim was saying, the act was changing. At a perfor-
                              manageable level, so it was a nice in-  mance in Fayetteville, Arkansas Bobby Younkin’s father, Jim, had
                              timate gathering of performers and   approached Bobby about how they seemed to be cutting things
                              friends.                         closer. Bobby assured him they had it covered. It was soon after
                                 After tanking up on ribs, I found   that the worst happened. Jim LeRoy went back and studied the
                              myself outside using someone’s soft   past performances and had concluded the disaster had crept up
         seat in a parked golf cart for a place to enjoy a little quiet after a   on them, all in a pattern that stood out clear in hindsight.
         loud day. It must have been a good idea, because I was soon joined   This year at the annual ICAS Convention, I attended lectures
         in my dark hideout by Jim LeRoy (or Bulldog if you like). Jim was   and forums every minute I could. Each year the members of our
         always a busy guy, not letting much time go unused, so it was rare   organization work to progress what has been called the Culture of
         to have a talk. We talked about him forcing my son and I to hug   Safety. This time, I saw a new twist that left me thinking like none
         the ground with a low buzz while we were on the runway holding   before. They called it the Normalization of Deviance. A concept
         his ribbon poles. Not exactly what you would normally see some-  that studies how even small mistakes can begin to seem accept-
         one do, but that was at a show in El Salvador where the whole   able as we get away with them. It could even be interpreted as
         safety briefing (back then) was “try not to hit anybody.”  narrowing your margins as you become more comfortable with a
           Sipping a cold beer and enjoying the quiet time by ourselves,   maneuver. This could be setting out with a minimum altitude you
         Jim and I took that story to the next level and got to talking about   decide to never go below, but as your confidence increases, you
         safety. Just the year before, Jim was the survivor of an airshow act   decrease the altitude until finally you have unwittingly eliminated
         called the Masters of Disaster. The act had suffered a terrible trag-  any safe margin for error. It is unfortunate that, in the end, that
         edy when Bobby Younkin and Jimmy Franklin died in a devastat-  probably was a contributing factor in the accident that also took
         ing mid-air. Like many events in your life, I’ll never forget how I   Jim’s life a short time after our conversation in Georgia.
         found out about the loss of two good friends. Ashley Battles (the   This fresh concept seems to me to be the most constructive
         wing-walker) called me on a Sunday morning crying so much she   idea so far in the quest for a culture of safety. It, more than any-
         could hardly be understood. It was a hurt like I had never experi-  thing before, has caused me to take a serious look at myself. It has
         enced in this business, at least up until then.       disrupted some of the fog caused by complacency.
           Believe me, I was sitting next to a man who was hurt far more
         and wanted to see some changes. Jim carried a persona of the   Greg Koontz is a full-time airshow performer and teaches basic
         tough Marine. But to know him was to know a much more sen-  aerobatics at his Flight School/Bed & Breakfast called Sky Coun-
         sitive person. I listened to his take on that accident, being a bit   try Lodge. Greg is a former chairman of the ICAS ACE Commit-
         surprised that he felt like opening up about it. Jim was the kind   tee, holds an unlimited aerobatic waiver, and has been designated a
         of person not to admit guilt easily, and he didn’t that night, but   Master Certified Flight Instructor-Aerobatics by the National Asso-
         there was tone in his voice that rang of remorse or sadness or   ciation of Flight Instructors. Please send your comments/questions
         something. I think he just wished he could go back and change   to
         something so it would not have ever happened.

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