Outliers by Malcom Gladwell was released in 2008 to a bevy of success. The book shines a light on the factors that contribute to success. If you have ever heard of the 10,000-hour rule, then you have heard of Outliers. Aviation enthusiast and aircraft dispatchers may find chapter 7 interesting.
Chapter 7 of Outliers focuses on airlines safety, a topic that all aircraft dispatchers love, specifically of Korean airways in the 1980’s. Gladwell talks about the history of the airline up to that point. The airline had been plagued by series of crashes and it was in danger of being disbanded. There was a disconnect in safety protocol and communication, but no one was sure where. Any aircraft dispatcher will tell you that communication is key. Something was wrong.
Gladwell focuses on one crash in particular: Korean Air Flight 801. The disaster is used the focal point of the story because of how telling it was about safety in the aviation industry.
Gladwell correctly suggests that it is not major catastrophes that cause plane crashes, but rather a series of small missteps and mistakes that all add up to a dramatic failure. Again, as any aircraft dispatcher will tell you, these small steps and procedures are so vital to safety.
Korean Airways was plagued not by bad machinery, but by poor communication inherent in cultural norms.
Airlines function as teams, and there are three parts of a successful airline team. The pilots, the flight controller, and the aircraft dispatcher. Without one, the other will not work. The team must remain in constant, effective communication or suffer the consequences.
Here is what we have learned and what we know about the crashes:
- Cultural norms in Korea make it difficult for subordinates to question their bosses. Technically, the first officer reports to the captain as if he were his boss. In a culture that values subtlety and unconfrontational posturing, this can cause issues.
- Gladwell found that because there was a hesitation to question those in authority, first officers were not forceful enough to correct their captains, often leading to crashes.
Since then, Korean Airways has fixed the issue. Chapter 7 of Outliers is a must read for all aviation enthusiasts!