Cyber

Now, where did that word come from? My earliest recollection is the scariest adversary of Dr Who. The cybermen hit the small screen back in 1966. This fiction of an amalgam of machine and human is particularly scary. This was the fabled monster that drove young children to hide behind the sofa. The BBC hasn’t given-up on this character. Somehow, these fictional metal-men are almost certainly going to retrun to run amok and devastate humanity.

Patrick Stewart being assimilated by the Borg is a mega dramatic cliff-hanger. The Cylons[1] obliterating the colonies sent humanity on a runaway across the endless expanse of space. The indestructible killing machine of the Terminator was a huge box office success. There’s a recuring theme. In the popular imagination the combination of machine and human is thought of as fundamental threat. The enemy is the machine that transforms human mind and body into a single-minded demon intent on mischief or destruction.

By this reckoning you might think that “cyber security” was a Robocop like police force committed to routing out bad cyborgs. Yet, that’s nothing like the common usage of the term. There’s a certain threat, and it does involve digital systems and humans. However, in this century they are not yet[2] wandering around doing unpleasant things to all and sundry.

Strangely enough the term “cybernetics” has been around for a long-time. It’s not about robots. It came into being before modern digital systems and the silicon revolution were kicked-off. In part, cyber was coined as a way of expressing the almost magical qualities of feedback processes. It was wide-ranging, in that this term described natural as well as mechanical systems. In the words’ origins there was nothing sinister or chilling implied.

In 2023, “cyber security” is how we reduce the risk of cyber-attack[3]. Not a great description but let’s just say the notion is dealing with a recognised threats in digital systems.

This wasn’t something that was commonplace until the Personal Computer (PC), its software and the INTERNET connected billions of people. The normal human limitations that constrained our sphere of influence have been extended across the globe. Now, bad actors intentionally doing bad things can be based anywhere on the planet.

Since they are human actors, they are mighty creative and inventive. These people are a constant threat, like the Borg[4] that adapts and modifies what they do so as to counter any actions to defeat them. Our defence can’t be as that of the Battleship Galactica, disconnection, we are going to have to find another way. Unlike some threats there’s little chance this one will ever go away.


[1] https://ew.com/gallery/battlestar-galactica-12-things-you-need-know-about-cylons/

[2] https://www.bostondynamics.com/

[3] https://www.ncsc.gov.uk/section/about-ncsc/what-is-cyber-security

[4] https://intl.startrek.com/database_article/borg

Fatal accident in Nepal 2

We are now one week from the fatal accident that occurred on Sunday, 15 January in Nepal. Yeti Airlines Flight 691, an ATR 72-500 aircraft, crashed while on approach at Pokhara International Airport in Nepal

We are now one week from the fatal accident that occurred on Sunday, 15 January in Nepal. Yeti Airlines Flight 691, an ATR 72-500 aircraft, crashed while on approach at Pokhara International Airport in Nepal[1]. Sadly, this accident resulted in 72 fatalities. No one survived. Only one body remains to be discovered[2].

This has been Nepal’s deadliest aviation accident in over 30 years.

After years of pandemic-caused travel disruption this land locked nation was hopeful that their new airport would bring the tourists back. The nation’s second-largest city sits in the shadows of a towering mountain range. It’s a picture postcode setting for this tragedy.

Nepal’s government has set-up a five-member committee to investigate the accident.

As stated in the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) Annex 13, Aircraft Accident, and Incident Investigation[3], it’s the responsibility of the State of Occurrence to lead an investigation. The objective of that investigation should be prevention of future accidents and incidents. It’s not the purpose of a technical activity to apportion blame or liability.

Nepal is the State of Registry and the State of the Operator, but they must notify the State of Design, the State of Manufacture (France) of the aircraft and ICAO in Montreal.

There are numerous speculations concerning the cause of this accident. The scant evidence available on social media does suggest that this aircraft accident fits into the category of Loss of Control in Flight. However, that suggestion is purely informed conjecture at this time.

I agree with David Learmount[4] in that it’s likely that this will be found to be a preventable accident. That said, once the accident flight recorders have been replayed there should be a substantially better indication of what really happened on that fateful day.

Whereas it was previously reported the accident recoders were going to France it’s now reported that they are going to Singapotre for replay Black boxes from Nepal plane crash to be sent to Singapore – ABC News (go.com)

Based on the experience of the analysis of numerous accidents it’s unlikely to be a simple single cause. Such fatal aircraft accidents are often combinations of factors that come together. Approach to a new airport plus an unexpected event or error plus aspects of organisational culture can be enough to tip the balance.

Aviation, in itself, is not inherently dangerous. But to an even greater degree than the sea, it is terribly unforgiving of any carelessness, incapacity or neglect.

A quote of Captain A. G. Lamplugh, British Aviation Insurance Group, London. c. early 1930’s. This famous phrase has been reproduced on posters many times.

POST: Here’s some examples of what can happen again and again. Lessons learned from business aviation accidents maybe equally applicable to this case. Lessons Learned from Business Aviation Accidents | NBAA – National Business Aviation Association


[1] https://aviation-safety.net/database/record.php?id=20230115-0

[2] https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/nepal-plane-crash-search-continues-for-lone-missing-person/article66415303.ece

[3] https://store.icao.int/en/annexes/annex-13

[4] https://davidlearmount.com/2023/01/21/regional-airline-safety-really-doesnt-have-to-be-this-bad/

Still learning leasons

Mobility has transformed society. By land, by sea or by air the world we see around us has been shaped by the technology that has enabled us to move people, goods, and services. Aviation, the youngest means of everyday transport, has radically transformed society in just over a century.

Demand for air transport is linked to economic development and at the same time air transport is a driver in an economy. Nearly all States work to encourage the growth of aviation in one form or another. All States acknowledge the need for the stringent regulation of activities in their airspace.

4.5 billion people moved around the globe by air. Well, that is until the COVID pandemic struck[1]. Even so, there’s an expectation that global air traffic levels will start to exceed those of 2019 when we start to get into 2025 and beyond.

One quote, among many, sums up the reason for the safety regulation of flying, and it is:

“Aviation in itself is not inherently dangerous. But to an even greater degree than the sea, it is terribly unforgiving of any carelessness, incapacity or neglect.”

[Captain A. G. Lamplugh, British Aviation Insurance Group, London. 1930.]

Here the emphasis is on aviation safety and security as the top considerations. In fact, ask an airline CEO of the number one priority of their business and that’s likely how they will answer, if on the record. Much of that open expression will be sincere but additionally it’s linked to the need to maintain public confidence in the air transport system.

We need to remember that aviation had a shaky start. Those magnificent men, and women in their flying machines were adventurous spirits and born risk takers. That is calculated risk takers. Few of them lasted long unless they mastered both the skill and science of flying.

In the post war era, improvements in aviation safety have been dramatic. As the number of hours flown and the complexity of aircraft has grown so has the level of flight safety. Aviation has been an uncompromising learning machine. A partnership between States and industry.

Sadly, in part, the framework of international regulation we may now take for granted has been developed because of lessons learned from accidents and incidents, many of which were fatal.


[1] https://www.icao.int/sustainability/Documents/COVID-19/ICAO_Coronavirus_Econ_Impact.pdf

Fatal accident in Nepal

My condolences to all those people who have been affected by the catastrophic aircraft accident in Nepal. On-board the ATR 72 aircraft operated by Nepal’s Yeti Airlines were 72 people – 4 crew members and 68 passengers.

The aircraft took off from Kathmandu at 10:33 (local time) on Sunday. At around 11:00, while on approach to the airport the twin-engine ATR 72 crashed into a riverbed gorge located between the former airport (VNPK) and new international airport (VNPR). Nepal’s Civil Aviation Authority said the aircraft last contacted the airport at 10:50. There are no reports of distress calls from the aircraft before the accident.

As only a short time has elapsed, it’s good to hear that the accident flight recorders have been discovered[1]. It is reported that they are to be sent to France for replay and analysis.

Sadly, Nepal has a grim record in respect of fatal air accidents. There have been 42 fatal air accidents since 1946[2]. Poor weather and hazardous terrain can often be a problem in this nation. However, in the case of this tragic flight, video circulating on social media indicates clear skies at the time of the accident.

Nepal became a member of International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) back in 1960. Nepal’s improvement in safety measures and compliance with international standards was recognised by ICAO in 2018. However, Nepal remains on the EU Air Safety List.

Prior to the accident, Yeti Airlines has 6 ATR 72 aircrafts, aged between 11 and 15 years old.

The new international Pokhara Airport[3], was inaugurated on the 1st January, this year by Nepal’s Prime Minister. This was seen as a significant step to boost tourism in the region. The airport project was a cooperation as part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)[4]. The new international airport was built to replace the city’s former airport, located 1.6 nm to the West. Flights were gradually being transferring to the new airport facility[5].

The Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) has checked the airworthiness of the ATR aircraft on its register. No technical faults have been found[6].

POST: Teams of aviation experts, including those from ATR and EASA are on their way to Nepal to help in the accident investigation French team starts probe into Nepal plane crash (msn.com)


[1] https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/search-resumes-four-people-missing-nepal-after-deadly-air-crash-2023-01-16/

[2] according to Flight Safety Foundation data

[3] http://pokharaairport.com.np/

[4] https://www.telegraphindia.com/world/nepals-pokhara-airport-was-inaugurated-two-weeks-ago-and-built-with-chinese-assistance/cid/1910031

[5] https://aviationweek.com/air-transport/safety-ops-regulation/yeti-airlines-atr-72-crash-nepal-kills-least-68

[6] https://nepalnews.com/s/nation/caan-carries-out-technical-tests-on-all-atr-aircraft-operational

AI2

There’s not just one form of Artificial Intelligence (AI). This group term hides a great panoply of different configurations, shapes, and forms of applications.

One of the most impactful applications is that of machine learning or expert systems. It’s where we go beyond a conventional computer’s ability to store and manipulate information against set rules. It’s where the machine has the capability to learn new ways of interpreting information and thus becomes different every day of operation from the day it was switched on. That’s a bit vague but it captures the essence of moving from deterministic to non-deterministic systems.

In all this we do presuppose that such complex systems are in the hands of able and highly illiterate users who understand what they are doing in training that learning machine. There’s debate about how bias in algorithms can produce unintended consequences. In addition, a reliable and trustworthy machine can be trained in a way that embeds errors and biases too[1].

Just as a child picks up the bad habits of a parent, so “intelligent” machines can learn from pilots, controllers and engineers who may have less than optimal ways of undertaking tasks. This Human-AI interplay is likely to become a major area of study. As the topic of Human Factors is itself a large body of material.

Already with the debate on social media it is all too obvious that the aviation community has a wide range of views on the use of AI. All the way from utter rejection, or scepticism deeming such systems as “unsafe” to advocates who profess only the benefits and merits of such systems.

Clearly, both extreme ends of the spectrum of professional views don’t help much. I don’t think that the promoters of AI want to see blind overreliance on it. Equally, surly even ardent sceptics can see virtue in making the best use of the accumulated knowledge that is available.

I can foresee a system of systems approach. With my parent and child analogy, from time to time a child will ask a question that is blunt and to the point. A question that demands a straightforward answer. This can be uncomfortable but hits out at biases and bad habits.

In aircraft systems there are boundaries that must be respected. The physics of flight dictate that going beyond those boundaries is generally not good for life and limb. So, a system programmed to question an expert system, one AI questioning another AI, or even question its trainer, is not beyond the realms of possibility. It might even be a good idea.


[1] https://www.nature.com/articles/s41746-022-00737-z

Artificial Intelligence

In an on-line event, I listened to Professor Dr. Saskia Nagel of Aachen University[1] speak on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Ethics last evening. It’s a topic that arouses a lot of interest amongst engineers and just about every other profession.

The talk was a round robin of the subject touching on points of debate that are far from resolved. Her talk provided an overview of key present ethical questions spanning the development and uses of “AI” technologies. It’s interesting that even the title of the talk was questionable. The debate rages as to what is encompassed in the commonly used term “AI”.

Scientific and technological advances have consequences that are best anticipated, in so much as we can. Far too often, as in the case of mobile phones, a capability has been launched onto humanity because of its great utility without much thinking through of potential impacts.

In a way, our collective mindset remains stone age. We do things because we can rather than asking the question as to whether we should or not. The Australian movie and musical Muriel’s Wedding captures this nicely[2]. “You Can’t Stop Progress” was the election billboard slogan of politician Bill Heslop in the story. The same theme might be posted as “Growth, growth, growth” in the current economic climate.

To an extent that’s what’s happening in the more audacious parts of aviation innovation. Different ways in which AI technologies can be used to facilitate autonomous flight are being explored and promoted. There’s no doubt such technology can process massive amounts of information in no time at all when compared with you or me. That advantage is only one side of the story.

Investigating questions of autonomy quickly leads to discussions on accountability and responsibility. In flight, there’s inevitably complex interactions between people and machines. On the normally rare occasions when this results in harm it’s essential to be able to say what or who was responsible.

It goes further than that too. Even to persuade a passenger to ride on an autonomous vehicle a good deal of confidence must be built-up. A fear of flying is often counteracted by arguments based on the long history of safe flight and the trustworthiness of those operating a transport system.

A question is: how do we trust something we don’t understand? Not a new question. Few members of the flying public may understand how a modern transport aircraft works. We put our faith in independent knowledgeable professionals asking difficult questions of the designers and builders of aircraft. We put our faith in rigorous controls and processes. If the internal workings of a complex machine are not explainable to those independent professionals, we have a problem. Thus, another key topic of explainability.

This is a fascinating research area. I’ve no doubt there are workable solutions, but we are some ways from having them to hand at the moment. Applied ethics are part of the toolbox needed.


[1] https://www.ethics.rwth-aachen.de/cms/ETHICS/Das-Lehr-und-Forschungsgebiet/Team/~fcnwz/Saskia-Nagel/

[2] https://fb.watch/h-uoLokeaY/

Poor law making

If you thought the Truss era was an aberration, and that the UK’s Conservative Party had learned a lesson, then please think again. Wheels set in motion by the ideologue Jacob Rees-Mogg MP are still spinning.

The Retained European Union Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill is trundling its way through the UK Parliament. The Government Bill will next be prepared for its 3rd reading in the House of Commons[1]. The Conservative Government has brought forward this Bill to revoke, reform or revise all the remaining law in the UK that was formerly derived from the UK’s membership of the EU. This turns on its head the normal approach to changing UK legislation. Revocation is automatic unless there’s an intervention by a Minister.

UK civil aviation depends on several thousand pages of legislation derived from EU law[2]. Much of this law was created with considerable contributions from the UK. There’s hardly any if any advocates for automatic revocation of current aviation legislation. Even the thought of this action sends a shiver down the spin of aviation professionals. Generations of them have worked to harmonise rules and regulations to ensure that this most international of industries works efficiently.

Unless amended, the Government’s EU Retained Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill[3] could turn out to be an absolute disaster. Even those who have an irrational wish to eliminate any and every past, present, or future link to Europe must come up with a practical alternative and do this in an incredibly short time. Without a consistent, stable, and effective framework civil aviation in the UK will grind to a halt. Again, even those who have an unsound need to change for change’s sake will be hitting a vital industry hard, as it is only just getting back on its feet after the COVID pandemic and now setting out to meet tough environmental standards.

It’s going to be interesting to see what happens when this poor Bill reaches the House of Lords. Once again, the country will be relying on the upper house to add some common sense to this draft law.  

POST 1: The 3rd reading debate makes it clear that the Government is unsure which laws are covered by the Bill. If the Ministers responsible for this legislation do not themselves know its extent, how can anyone expect civil servants working on this legislation to know the full extent of change? A most strange state of affairs Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill (Third si – Hansard – UK Parliament

POST 2: Retained EU law lays down rules for the airworthiness and environmental certification of aircraft and related products, parts and appliances, as well as for the certification of design and production organisations in the UK Commission Regulation (EU) No 748/2012 of 3 August 2012 laying down implementing rules for the airworthiness and environmental certification of aircraft and related products, parts and appliances, as well as for the certification of design and production organisations (recast) (Text with EEA relevance) (legislation.gov.uk)


[1] https://bills.parliament.uk/bills/3340

[2] https://www.eiag.org.uk/paper/future-retained-eu-law/

[3] https://www.gov.uk/government/news/the-retained-eu-law-revocation-and-reform-bill-2022

Crisis in Health

It’s difficult to think of a more inappropriate person to be Secretary of State for Health and Social Care[1]. He has all the bedside manner of Dracula. Prime Minister (PM) Rishi Sunak re-installed him in that vital Government post. So far, he’s achieved nothing but distress and mismanagement[2].

I shouldn’t joke. The seriousness of the situation in the National Health Service (NHS) isn’t a joking matter. Winter is testing the service to breaking point. Both the statistics and the experience of patients are not acceptable by any reasonable measure.

What’s intolerable is the general Ministerial response. Hard-line rhetoric about not budging on negotiations is callous. Dismissing every call for support by rattling-off lists of figures about Government spending is no help at all. Trying to redirect attention away from the things that need fixing. The shabby politics of avoidance is not what’s needed.

As a personal note, I find the situation indicative of broader failures too. My one term as a Surrey Country Councillor, between 1993 and 1997 is more history than anything else. The problem is that it’s not. I remember papers coming to full council meetings with a title that is pertinent and recognisable today. The subject being “bed blocking[3]”.

That’s 30-years ago, our institutions struggled with making the transition between hospital care and social care. It was clear that there was going to be a growing problem. The demographics pointed to a rising aging population. There was no ambiguity about the facts.

Ministers have come and gone. Quite rapidly over the last year. Each with the responsibility for NHS service delivery, performance, and social care policy. Some like incoherent gad flies, some who span like windmills in a storm, some like patrician overseers but none with the managerial skills needed to address the challenge that stares them in the face.

Most local authorities are dealing with cuts to their budgets, financial constraints and the cost of living demands we all confront. In some cases, they are tittering on the brink of bankruptcy[4]. Many local authorities have been forced to reduce their funding of social care at a time of rising demand. 

It’s mad that, after all this time, we have still not come up with an integrated health service. Pitching the NHS and local authorities against each other for funding is absolutely ludicrous. It’s costing lives.

Today, we must recover from a crisis. Tomorrow, real change must be implemented to prevent a future crisis. It isn’t as if we don’t know what to do!  


[1] https://www.gov.uk/government/people/stephen-barclay

[2] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/nhs-strikes-barclay-cooper-libdems-b2244466.html

[3] https://fullfact.org/health/bed-blocking-what-it-and-it-paralysing-nhs/

[4] https://www.kentonline.co.uk/kent/news/what-it-means-for-kent-residents-if-kcc-goes-bust-277075/

Strikes

Impossible to listen to the burbling of UK Minister Stephen Barclay. After a while the listener sinks into an overwhelming feeling of despondency. His words are strung together as if he was on a brain teasing quiz show run by Victoria Coren Mitchell. Barclay exudes a fear of making sense.

For one, please, please, please will he not keep saying the same thing about rigidly adhering to the results of a pay review body. Results which are widely known to be out-of-date. Afterall, if Ministers have any purpose at all, it goes way beyond rubber stamping the work of others.

Given his previous party-political roles it’s astonishing to see him in a serious government job like Health Secretary. A job where playing party-politics can cost lives. I think we all know that the crisis of the moment is not just about pay. However, to pretend that staffing levels and pay are not so important is beyond the understanding of most normal people.

This suited grey-haired man in his early 50s would be better employed on the London stage. I can see him as Marley’s ghost in a Westminster adaptation of A Christmas Carol[1]. Recounting the day when he had the opportunity to fix the problems of Health and Social Care but looked the other way and played for time.

The many strikes that are hitting Britain are avoidable. British politicians are failing to engage with the problem. What’s disheartening about this situation is that everyone knows there will be a settlement at some time. Recognising that fact, it’s about time the groups involved got together and talked long and hard. That is talking with no subject taken off the table.

The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care has a leadership role. It’s time for him, not to excuse the government at every media opportunity, but to engage, roll up his sleeves and meet the unions. Playing party-politics and courting right-wing public opinion was fine as he did in his Brexit job but now Barclay has a real job with real responsibility. It’s winter. This is tragic.

He needs to step up or ship out.

POST: Making a bad situation worse International nurses considering leaving UK if pay does not improve | Nursing Times


[1] https://youtu.be/ReprQS03ZM4

SPO 3

Now, there’s an activity with two humans in the loop. Given the physics involved the goalkeeper should be beaten every time. Well, I’m saying that assuming a high level of expected performance on the part of the footballer taking the penalty. I guess that’s why we are often critical when they miss. In the last few weeks there have been more than a few examples to watch.

What we know is that football penalties are much more than mechanical actions and reactions. However, there’s a degree of mythology about the inevitability of human factors taking control of the outcome: goal or no goal. I’d like to think that there’s an ever-shifting blend of what physics does to the ball and what the human does. Is it always possible to predict the slipperiness of a spinning ball traveling at speed that is then touched by the fingertip of a goalkeeper?

What if the footballer taking the penalty, was an “intelligent” machine. That is a machine with a sensor array and computational capability that far exceeded normal human performance. Such advance automation could calculate the most probable reaction of a goalkeeper based on history and the immediate movements they make right up to the last millisecond before the ball is struck.

Assuming the machine was limited in term of the force it can apply to the ball, it could still adjust its actions as soon as any new information was available. I’m not saying the outcome will always be better for the machine football striker. However, it could reduce the scope for error and randomness to dictate what finally happens.

So, with that argument, in aviation, I’m saying it’s not right to say that Single Pilot Operation will always be worse than two crew operations. Don’t get me wrong, those people aggressively advancing the idea that the intelligent machine will always be better than a human are missing something too.

One thing that highly capable automation could have to bring to the party is not only early detection and diagnosis of problems but a massive library of stored experience. How we embed and constantly update that flight experience is an almighty challenge.

Afterall, the dread in aviation is knowledge with hindsight. It takes the form: “You should have known. Why did you let this incident happen?”

I’m now tempted to think of a Star Trek analogy. Every second an aircraft of a type is flying, experience of its operation is being accumulated. If there are hundreds of a type flying at any moment across the globe, that’s a lot of data to collect and absorb and think about before acting. 

The fictional and scarry Borg are cybernetic creatures linked by a hive mind and they know a thing or two about assimilation. Granted that’s farfetched as analogies go but my point is that I believe we are generations away from that kind of capability. Not only that, just as humans fail so any such “intelligence” designed by humans will fail to.