Coming election

A moment of pure speculation. Barring a military take over, there will be a UK General Election before January 2025. When we have such national elections about 70% of the voting population get sufficiently motivated to put a cross in a box on a ballot paper. Yes, a few doodle or write “none of the above” on their papers but it’s a tiny number that go as far as to protest their frustration.

It’s always a good time for public relations agencies, tabloid newspapers and political gurus. The potential for appallingly cringemaking headlines and earworm like slogans is manifold. Some of these folks will be writing pages of forthcoming books on “how it was won” long before it was won.

Today, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has taken the role of caretaker to a new extreme. He’s more of a couldn’t care less taker of the p*** PM. The forthcoming election will be a race between at least three horses and maybe even four. Conservatives, Labourites, Liberal Democrats and one or two Greens will be trying to capture the high ground and launch themselves on the doorsteps of the UK. 

The issues will be stark. Armageddon isn’t on the cards, yet, but there will be dire circumstances as a background to the future campaign. Each party will be saying the other is an incompetent bunch of nincompoops. Each party will be stressing their unique qualities and indisputable solutions to all and sundry. A daily routine of shifting news stories will be a bombardment of severe intensity.

Free speech is a first principle of democracy. That said, I’ll bet that there will be an acute reluctance amongst competing politicians to mention one six-letter word. I almost wrote competing “pelicans”. Now, that conjures up an image of huge birds fighting over an unfortunate fish.

In the idea world candidates will be engaging in polite discussions with those who hold different views and hoping to persuade them of a view they hold dear. In the idea world candidates would avoid denigrating or insulting those who hold views that are difficult to understand.

The six-letter word is – Brexit. All the objective evidence points to the failure of this project. It’s clear the current Conservative Government is frightened of people saying Brexit has failed. In complete antithesis to free speech, they are clamping down on civil servants and those who work with Government to ensure they don’t highlight Brexit facts.

Come the next General Election the inevitability of tribalism and short termism will kick in. The UK’s voting system encourages polarisation. There’re absolutely no nuances. Debate on Brexit is likely to get squeezed to the side-lines as Conservatives and Labourites pretend it can still work.  

To unlock a better future for everyone we do need Proportional Representation. Otherwise, the same old, same old will haunt the country for years to come. The fight needs to be for honesty.

Was I right, or was I right? Fishy parrot


Grammar schools. Don’t talk to me about grammar schools. I hear one of the Tory leadership contenders is touting the return of grammar schools[1]. Ironically, he’s also talking as if he believes in meritocracy. Apparently, he didn’t mean a universal return of selection in education but only expansion in areas where selection already exists. Maybe his double-take was because there remains evidence that selective education entrenches the divisions in our society. There’s a vestige of community snobbery that is served by dividing school children at age 11 years. This has always been popular amongst committed Tory voters.

The false narrative that grammar schools create social mobility is for the birds. Much of the entrenched views on this subject are the result of stereotypes that portray images of comprehensive schools and grammar schools as being like a comparison between Grange Hill[2] and Hogwarts[3].

Now, I will not get trapped in the myth that all grammar schools are bad, and all comprehensive schools are good on some higher ethical level. In most situations parents are going to seek the best state school opportunities, in their area, for their children. Those children will thrive in well-funded and well-run schools of either kind.

The circular argument that the grammar school experience “worked for me” is often a way society’s divisions are perpetuated through the generations. It’s self-fulfilling. We must ask – Should the children of doctors be more likely to become doctors? Should the children of teachers be more likely to become teachers? Should the children of politicians be more likely to become politicians?

My plea is that we don’t run headlong back to the pigeonholes of the 1970s. We need to give the best education we can to all pupils. Wherever they are from, and whatever the situation of their parents. The talent the country needs will not come solely from selective or private schools.

Yes, not everyone has been gifted with academic ability or for that matter craft or creative ability. Degrees of specialisation do make sense but not by selective partition at age 11 years. Remember that partition was conceived when children left formal education at an age less than 15 years.

One Tory leadership contender has hooked onto the campaigning value of virtue-signalling of having been to an ordinary school. She tells of seeing: “children who failed and were let down by low expectations”[4]. Thus, highlighting a perception of early disadvantage to heighten her projection of later accomplishments.

Debates on education never stray far from recounts of personal experience. Each of us are so impacted by our school years that it’s impossible to remain entirely objective. My father went to the local grammar school, but I did not. Although this fact never seemed to matter much at home, in the background, maybe in my own mind, there was an implication of failure.

What I value, on reflection, is the board range of experiences that an “ordinary” secondary modern schools afforded me. We had a wonderful cross section small town and rural life. A generation of school staff that ranged from young student teachers making their first idealist mark on the world, to grumpy escapees from the cities who treated everyone as backward laggards, to hardened eccentrics who regaled us with their collection of war stories.

Variety is the spice of life.





The past

What’s disheartening about the current political debate in the UK is that it’s so backward looking. Now, I appreciate the real impact of demographics. Yes, we have an aging population and the trend for population ageing is continuing[1]. So, the audience of voters that existing politicians are trying to seduce is predominantly over 50 years old. This shapes the message that they send out.

If I go on about how much the world has changed since my school days, I’ll bore your paints off. I have endured such stories from local Councillors, relatives, and work colleagues for many a year. Nevertheless, perspective can be lost if I don’t make a few points on this subject.

I was surprised to read that the world’s first e-mail is over 50 years old. So, that medium that has taken over our lives and practically displaced post office delivered mail and that ancient artifact, the letter, is a decade younger than me. Of course, the use of e-mails took a while to get going and so it’s the time since Windows 95 when the greatest change has taken place. The first website is just over 30 years old. Now, it’s impossible to imagine a world where everyday information is not displayed on a screen of one size or another.

The transition has been from a predominantly analogue world to an almost exclusively digital one.

What I find amusing is occasionally having to explain analogue technology. Although some long-standing devices have endured. Mechanical wristwatches continue to be valued and vinyl records are making a resurgence.

Before I get side-tracked the core of my argument is that we have been through a monumental transition in my working life. It’s happened at pace. It’s happened well ahead of political thinking. OK, savvy political operators have populated social media. Although, many campaigning efforts are derisory and ineffective. We are in an era when about 242 million iPhones are sold annually. Not doing social media is not an option.

If it’s worth engaging in political debate it should be about what happens next. What’s behind us can teach us but it’s not a pattern for the future: “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.[2]” Endlessly raking over the past can be a huge distraction. Thatcher, Blair, and Ashdown were of their time. The global issues they faced were of their time.

Instagram is 12 years old; Snapchat is a year younger, and we have only had TikTok for 5 years. These social media platforms are the places where younger people get their daily news. On that basis they form opinions and may act on those opinion.

The further monumental transitions that are coming our way ought to occupy, at least, a part of contemporary political thinking. That doesn’t seem to be happening. If the UK wants to play a leading role on world stage our traditional myopic attitudes need a good shake up. If we intervene on global issues promoting 19th century views the results will be disastrous. Be warned.


[2] Leslie P. Hartley (1895-1972) British novelist and short story writer

Safety Performance Indicators

What’s happening? Two words, and what seems like the easiest question in the world. Open your phone, look at the screen and a myriad of different sources of information are screaming for your immediate attention. They are all saying – look at me, look now, this is vital and don’t miss out. Naturally, most of us will tune out a big percentage of this attention-grabbing noise. If we didn’t life would be intolerable. The art of living sanely is identifying what matters from the clutter.

So, what happens in aviation when a Chief Executive or Director turns to a Safety Manager and askes – what’s happening? It’s a test of whether that manager’s finger is on the pulse, and they know what’s happening in the real world as it happens.

This is a place I’ve been. It’s a good place to be if you have done your homework. It’s the way trust is built between the key players who carry the safety responsibility within an organisation.

One of the tools in the aviation safety manager’s toolbox is that of Safety Performance Indicators (SPIs). In fact, it’s part of an international standard[1] as part of a package for conducting safety assurance. Technically, we are talking about data-based parameters used for monitoring and assessing safety performance.

The ideas are simple. It’s to create a dashboard that displays up-to-date results of safety analysis so that they can be viewed and discussed. Like your car’s dashboard, it’s not a random set of numbers, bar-charts, and dials. It should be a carefully designed selection of those parameters that are most useful in answering the question that started this short blog.

That information display design requires great care and forethought. Especially if there’s a likelihood that serious actions will be predicated on the information displayed. Seems common sense. Trouble is that there are plenty of examples of how not to do this running around. Here’s a few of the dangers to look out for:

Telling people what the want to hear. A dashboard that glows green all the time it’s useless. If the indicators become a way of showing off what a great job the safety department is doing the whole effort loses its meaning. If the dashboard is linked to the boss’s bonus, the danger is that pressure will be applied to make the indicators green.

Excessive volatility. It’s hard to take indicators seriously if they are changing at such a rate that no series of actions are likely to have an impact. Confidence can be destroyed by constantly changing the tune. New information should be presented if it arises rapidly, but a Christmas tree of flashing lights often causes the viewer to disbelieve.

Hardy perennials. There are indicators, like say; the number of reported occurrences, which are broad brush and frequently used. They are useful, if interpreted correctly. Unfortunately, there’s a risk of overreliance upon such general abstractions. They can mask more interesting phenomena. Each operational organisation has a uniqueness that should be reflected in the data gathered, analysed, and displayed.

For each SPI there should be an alert level. It can be a switch from a traffic light indication of green to amber. Then for the more critical parameters there should be a level that is deemed to be unacceptable. Now, that might be a red indicator that triggers a specific set of significant actions. The unscheduled removal or shutdown of a system or equipment may be tolerable up to a certain point. Beyond that threshold there’s serious safety concerns to be urgently addressed.

The situation to avoid is ending up with many indicators that make seeing the “wood from the trees” more difficult than it would otherwise be. Afterall, this important safety tool is intended to focus minds on the riskiest parts of an operation.

[1] ICAO Annex 19 – Safety Management. Appendix 2. Framework for a Safety Management System (SMS). 3. Safety assurance. 3.1 Safety performance monitoring and measurement.

Everyday Brexit

We can look at social media. We can follow the News. We can read literate articles. However much we do all three of these there’s not much new to say about Brexit. Every fact, every option, every prejudice has been stripped bare. Themes have been regurgitated. Mantras bombard each other like artillery fire. Billions of words have been written and spoken over the last 6-years.

In consequence, the British political dial has shifted but not as much as might have been expected. In a purely rational world, the dial should be bouncing off the end stop by now. The human capacity to dig in despite facts, evidence and experience is what makes us such strange political animals.

I’ve found, revealing, and likely more insightful are the unprompted conversations that touch on the subject matter. Now and then, disclosures, often unintentionally open true feelings, and emotions.

Like last evening, a casual conversation starts off in one direction and then stumbles into the swamp that is Brexit. Passing the time of day, I got talking to a woman doing a part-time job. She was retired. She had got fed up with her profession and was now working freelance for a bit of extra cash. Likewise, I told her my story. We moved on to how the world has changed. It was an inquisitive good-natured chat. I mentioned Brexit. Not in an overtly political way but simply as one of the changes that has upset the way people work. Within a second our friendly chat ended. It was clear that she would not tolerate any criticism of Brexit, whatsoever. I was left feeling that such an unnatural gulf in understanding is a heavy burden to bear. Deep entrenchment cannot be healthy.

It must be said that I’ve had the opposite conversation too. Social gatherings are good places to catch-up. At a recent funeral reception, chatting with someone I hadn’t seen for several years, we went through the topics of family and holidays. Then – how’s business? Immediately, there was an opening-up as to how awful Brexit had been and the impact on exporting to Europe. There was no prompt needed. Not only feelings but real lived experience poured out in this exchange. Time, money, energy, and opportunity had all be wasted climbing new mountains of paperwork.

So, in August 2022, we are still in British Brexit’s first world war trenches. Each national camp is not making a move. Every day, bombastic slogans, and simplistic rhetoric are hurtled over the top. It’s a zombie like ritual.

Now, I’m sure this sharp polarisation is not entirely universal. There are, believe it or not, some people who are ambivalent. Bored with the topic. Disengaged and positively avoiding any step near these deep trenches. What’s distressing. What’s truly unhealthy for the country. What continues to set us back is the pandering of Conservative politicians to only one of these camps. The on-going party leadership race is pitted with appeals to their hard-core Brexit minded membership. I’d go as far to say the Conservative party, as it was known for decades, no longer exists. The UKIP party has been absorbed and integrated. There is no such thing as a broad church, or one-nation Conservatism. That traditional political formula simply doesn’t exist anymore.

POST 1: Unwise. Let’s keep Brexit safe. Playing to the in-crowd without a care for the outcome

POST 2: Unworkable. There’s party members votes in bashing the EU.

In praise of the BBC Proms

I’ve only done three, so far this year. That’s two in the arena and one in the gallery. The Royal Albert Hall is the place to go for the BBC Proms[1]. I’m an amateur. I stand at the Proms. This is my 4th year.

I say, I’m an amateur because the guy I was standing next to, a couple of evenings ago, has been Promming since 1967. It seems to be a bug that once it’s bitten you escape becomes impossible. Promming tickets are released on-line on the morning of the day of a concert.

Music has a power that transforms this Victorian citadel of culture into a centre of magical experience. It’s as if the world ceases to exits and all there is becomes engulfed in that wraparound auditorium. As if it were the centre of the universe. It’s the impact of the soundscape, the people, and the building that produces a mysterious combination. It’s a unique mix.

Live performance has a transformative effect. Post-COVID it’s one of those experiences that was most missed during the pandemic. It’s so evident how dull and grey the world becomes without it.

Acoustically the hall is flawed. Nevertheless, wherever I’m standing, or occasionally seated, there’s a special feeling as oceans of sound flood over the audience. Yes, there are superior concert halls. I was lucky to live within walking distance of the Koelner Philharmonie[2] when in Germany.

The Royal Albert Hall is in a league of its own. It has a heritage and creates an atmosphere that is unmatched both for the things that work and those that don’t. Yes, you need a bank loan to buy a beer and the wiring looks as if its 150 years old.

I’m not musically knowledgeable, or did my education point me in that direction. Our dishevelled music teacher desperately tried to interest my cohort of 1970s kids, but he was pushing a rock uphill the whole way. He knew his unfashionable message, dusty texts and scent of smoke and alcohol were way out of sync with his students. Discipline wasn’t his speciality either.

In fact, I discovered a lot in the school music room by it was nothing to do with music, or its history. Ironically, at the time, music was a huge part of our lives as T-Rex, Bowie, The Who, Slade, glam rock, and disco hit their peak. If I could advise my younger self, it would be to say; learn an instrument. Anyone would do. It really doesn’t matter which one. It really doesn’t matter how well. A skill acquired as a teenager carries throughout life.

By the way, I’d recommend the tour of the hall[3].




Is Airworthiness Dead? 2/

Where I left the discussion there was a question mark. What does conformity mean when constant change is part of the way an aircraft system works?

It’s reasonable to say – that’s nothing new. Every time, I boot up this computer it will go through a series of states that can be different from any that it has been through before. Cumulative operating system updates are regularly installed. I depend on the configuration management practices of the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM). That’s the way it is with aviation too. The more safety critical the aircraft system the more rigorous the configuration management processes.

Here comes the – yes, but. Classical complex systems are open to verification and validation. They can be decomposed and reconstructed and shown to be in conformance with a specification.

Now, we are going beyond that situation where levels of complexity prohibit deconstruction. Often, we are stuck with viewing a system as a “black box[1]. This is because the internal workings of a system are opaque or “black.” This abstraction is not new. The treatment of engineered systems as black boxes dates from the 1960s. However, this has not been the approach used for safety critical systems. Conformity to an approved design remains at the core of our current safety processes. 

It’s as well to take an example to illustrate where a change in thinking is needed. In many ways the automotive industry is already wrestling with these issues. Hands free motoring means that a car takes over from a driver and act as a driver does. A vehicle may be semi or fully autonomous. Vehicles use image processing technologies that take vast amounts of data from multiple sensors and mix it up in a “black box” to arrive at the control outputs needed to safely drive.

Neural networking or heuristic algorithms may be the tools used to make sense of a vast amount of constantly changing real world data. The machine learns as it goes. As technology advances, particularly in machine learning ability, it becomes harder and harder to say that a vehicle system will always conform to an understandable set of rules. Although my example is automotive the same challenges are faced by aviation.

There’s a tendance to see such issues as over the horizon. They are not. Whereas the research, design and development communities are up to speed there are large parts of the aviation community that are not ready for a step beyond inspection and conformity checking in the time honoured way.

Yes, Airworthiness is alive and kicking. As a subject, it now must head into unfamiliar territory. Assumptions held and reinforced over decades must be revisited. Checking conformity to an approved design may no longer be sufficient to assure safety.

There are more questions than answers but a lot of smart people seeking answers.

POST 1: Explainability is going to be one of the answers – I’m sure. Explained: How to tell if artificial intelligence is working the way we want it to | MIT News | Massachusetts Institute of Technology

POST 2: Legislation, known as the Artificial Intelligence Act ‘Risks posed by AI are real’: EU moves to beat the algorithms that ruin lives | Artificial intelligence (AI) | The Guardian

POST 3: The world of the smart phone and the cockpit are here How HUE Shaped the Groundbreaking Honeywell Anthem Cockpit

[1] In science, computing, and engineering, a black box is a device, system, or object which produces useful information without revealing information about its internal workings.

Is Airworthiness dead?

Now, there’s a provocative proposition. Is Airworthiness dead? How you answer may depend somewhat on what you take to be the definition of airworthiness.

I think the place to start is the internationally agreed definition in the ICAO Annexes[1] and associated manuals[2]. Here “Airworthy” is defined as: The status of an aircraft, engine, propeller or part when it conforms to its approved design and is in a condition for safe operation.

Right away we start with a two-part definition. There’s a need for conformity and safety. Some might say that they are one and the same. That is, that conformity with an approved design equals safety. That statement always makes me uneasy given that, however hard we work, we know approved designs are not perfect, and can’t be perfect.

The connection between airworthiness and safety seems obvious. An aircraft deemed unsafe is unlikely to be considered airworthy. However, the caveat there is that centred around the degree of safety. Say, an aircraft maybe considered airworthy enough to make a ferry flight but not to carry passengers on that flight. Safety, that freedom from danger is a particular level of freedom.

At one end is that which is thought to be absolutely safe, and at the other end is a boundary beyond which an aircraft is unsafe. When evaluating what is designated as “unsafe” a whole set of detailed criteria are called into action[3].

Dictionaries often give a simpler definition of airworthiness as “fit to fly.” This is a common definition that is comforting and explainable. Anyone might ask: is a vehicle fit to make a journey through air or across sea[4] or land[5]? That is “fit” in the sense of providing an acceptable means of travel. Acceptable in terms of risk to the vehicle, and any person or cargo travelling or 3rd parties on route. In fact, “worthiness” itself is a question of suitability.

My provocative proposition isn’t aimed at the fundamental need for safety. The part of Airworthiness meaning in a condition for safe operation is universal and indisputable. The part that needs exploring is the part that equates of safety and conformity.

A great deal of my engineering career has been accepting the importance of configuration management[6]. Always ensuring that the intended configuration of systems, equipment or components is exactly what is need for a given activity or situation. Significant resources can be expended ensuing that the given configuration meets a defined specification.

The assumption has always been that once a marker has been set down and proven, then repeating a process will produce a good (safe) outcome. Reproducibility becomes fundamental. When dealing with physical products this works well. It’s the foundation of approved designs.

But what happens when the function and characteristics of a product change as it is used? For example, an expert system learns from experience. On day one, a given set of inputs may produce predicable outputs. On day one hundred, when subject to the same stimulus those outputs may have changed significantly. No longer do we experience steadfast repeatable.

So, what does conformity mean in such situations? There’s the crux of the matter.

[1] ICAO Annex 8, Airworthiness of Aircraft. ISBN 978-92-9231-518-4

[2] ICAO Doc 9760, Airworthiness Manual. ISBN 978-92-9265-135-0


[4] Seaworthiness: the fact that a ship is in a good enough condition to travel safely on the sea.

[5] Roadworthy: (of a vehicle) in good enough condition to be driven without danger.


Safety Research

I’ve always found Patrick Hudson’s[1] graphic, that maps safety improvements to factors, like technology, systems, and culture an engaging summary. Unfortunately, it’s wrong or at least that’s my experience. I mean not wholly wrong but the reality of achieving safety performance improvement doesn’t look like this graph. Figure 1[2].

Yes, aviation safety improvement has been as story of continuous improvement, at least if the numbers are aggregated. Yes, a great number of the earlier improvements (1950s-70s) were made by what might be called hard technology improvements. Technical requirements mandated systems and equipment that had to meet higher performance specifications.

For the last two decades, the growth in support for safety management, and the use of risk assessment has made a considerable contribution to aviation safety. Now, safety culture is seen as part of a safety management system. It’s undeniably important[3].

My argument is that aviation’s complex mix of technology, systems, and culture is not of one superseding the other. This is particularly relevant in respect of safety research. Looking at Figure 1, it could be concluded that there’s not much to be gained by spending on technological solutions to problems because most of the issues rest with the human actors in the system. Again, not diminishing the contribution human error makes to accidents and incidents, the physical context within which errors occur is changing dramatically.

Let’s imagine the role of a sponsor of safety related research who has funds to distribute. For one, there are few such entities because most of the available funds go into making something happen in the first place. New products, aircraft, components, propulsion, or control systems always get the lion’s share of funds. Safety related research is way down the order.

The big aviation safety risks haven’t changed much in recent years, namely: controlled flight into terrain (CFIT), loss of control in-flight (LOC-I), mid-air collision (MAC), runway excursion (RE) and runway incursion (RI)[4]. What’s worth noting is that the potential for reducing each one of them is changing as the setting within which aviation operates is changing. Rapid technological innovation is shaping flight and ground operations. The balance between reliance on human activities and automation is changing. Integrated systems are getting more integrated.

As the contribution of human activities reduces so an appeal to culture has less impact. Future errors may be more machine errors rather than human errors.

It’s best to get back to designing in hard safety from day one. Safety related research should focus more on questions like; what does hard safety look like for high levels of automation, including use of artificial intelligence? What does hard safety look like for autonomous flight? What does hard safety look like for dense airspace at low level?

Just a thought.


[2] Achieving a Safety Culture in Aviation (1999).



Red Tape

I know. Why explain? When people only hear what they want to hear? On the scale of right-wing political good or bad there are words that can make a slogan to suite any blank page. Shape any mood. Frame a slogan around “tax cuts” and you are at the happy end of the spectrum (blue). Frame a sentence around “red tape” and unhappy faces will appear (red).

My heart sinks when I see British newspaper headlines like: Truss pledges EU red tape bonfire[1]. It’s a celebration of ignorance and pessimism. The politics is crude. It’s kindergarten. Dam the past and paint a picture of gleaming utopia ahead. Comic book stuff. There’s never been a quicker way to appeal to the Conservative Grumpy[2] family.

In earlier articles, I’ve made it clear that 6-years of Brexit has meant more “red tape” rather than less. That is red tape that greatly impacts UK exports, imports, livelihoods, jobs, and prosperity.

For Leavers, the Brexit project was about cutting so called red tape in the belief that administration, laws and rights are the ultimate problems. However, the post-Brexit UK is presenting more complex bureaucracy, producing poorer results at a greater cost than before.

It’s always peculiar when legislators blame legislation for our ills.

When the UK was a member of the European Union (EU) countries worked together, removing trade barriers, and promoting free movement to create a better future. Now, the UK is determined to continue to reverse that good work much to its own detriment. Plainly, we are a country determined to sanction itself. All because it opens the political convenience of being able to blame others.

These years are the topsy-turvy years. A Government that tables a no-confidence vote and then cheers a discredited Prime Minister[3]. A zombie Government then limps on while a few thousand people mull over our future. Ministers boast of their achievements but then dam everything that has gone in the past.

It’s unfortunate but this generation of uncivilised minnows is in charge. At least for the moment.

POST 1: False words compound the problem of understanding. There is no EU “red tape”. The UK left the EU. What we have is UK law. Law made by the politicians that who are damming that law. Yes, parts of UK law have been derived from EU law. That is law that the UK helped make while in the EU.

POST 2: Concerns about the removal of consumer protection are being raised widely. Believe me, you will miss that red tape once it’s gone | Money | The Sunday Times (

POST 3: The list goes on and on UK chemicals sector hit by £2bn Brexit red tape bill | Financial Times (


[2] My coffee mug is from the Mr Men, Little Miss series (2017).