To see

It’s the most difficult of challenges. Trying to see things as they are rather than how you would wish them to be. I came to that conclusion much because of my work on aviation safety management. Collecting data, doing analysis, and trying to distil what’s important and what’s not.

Data speaks. It tells you things about what has happened in the past. That gives a clue to what might happen in the future. Although, estimates and forecasts are derided by some people they are essential in a technocratic society like ours. Results can be inconvenient and embarrassing. Not paying heed to them can compound any difficulties a thousand-fold.

It’s not sane to use complex technology without doing some projections into the future as to its possible implications. I know there’s a contradiction in that we have adopted digital interconnections without a great deal of thought as to what can happen. That proved to be a very bad move in at least one fictional depiction of the future[1]. The possibility that Artificial Intelligence (AI) could move against our general interests is real.

That aside, my general point was on the more unemotional and objective view that can be taken of evidence gathered for a purpose. Taking that and then imposing dogma and prejudice on what has been learnt can be down right dangerous.

I found a backup for this view coming from British philosopher Bertrand Russell. He provided advice when he was interviewed in 1959 by John Freeman for the BBC’s Face to Face programme[2]. The great man came up with this message to future generations a year before I was born. Russell having been born in 1872 had seen so much change in his life he was well placed to conclude as he did.

Good advice “ask yourself only what are the facts” and what they show. He’s not saying we must be automatons. Judgements must still be made in relation to the facts. There will always be an ethical dimension to those judgments. There are most often multiple choices.

Russell foresaw more societal interconnection and interdependency but left us before the world wide web took-off. In social media venues like Facebook and Twitter tolerance and care for the facts are often found to be lacking. This does have a profound impact on political thinking. It gives legitimacy to complete folly. Dare I bring up the subject of Brexit?

My advice – Try to see things as they are rather than how you would wish them to be.



Blah Blah Blah

To comment on British politics, Twitter maybe the perfect platform. It’s one of the ways commentary and observations can keep up with the pace of change. So febrile is the current landscape of British politics that it’s almost impossible to predict what will happen next. Naturally, there’s thousands who will volunteer their views. It’s a wonderful entertainment but probably not terribly helpful.

What makes a good politician, or at least what makes an effective politician in 2022? Let’s forget what makes a great politician because that category is only ever seen in the story books.

Setting our situation in the context: however good a person maybe they will make errors and have failures. Let’s not get hooked on the ridiculous idea that perfection is out there to be found. That’s the territory of ideology and fanatics. There’s too many of them in Twitter-land.

What makes a good politician? I think it does come down to fundamentals. There is a big word that stands out in any community. It has done throughout history. It’s that simple but sometimes illusive quality of TRUST.

It’s not enough to stand in front of a group of citizens and espouse trustworthiness. It’s not enough to say – trust me, I know what I’m doing. There must be believability built on sound evidence. That’s a record of saying things and doing things that are correct, consistent, and coherent.

Not easy to do. The frenetic speed of News is like a hungry monster wanting to be feed minute by minute. Say too much and arguments are pulled apart ruthlessly. Say too little and the vacant space is filled with speculation.

Getting beyond the blah blah blah of ephemeral commentary is not so easy. Trust and communication can’t be separated. Saying what you mean and meaning what you say must run through every message.

Am I being naively contradictory? To start, I emphasised that it’s human to get thing wrong now and then. If public communications must meet unobtainable standards what hope does any politician have in this new media world?

Well, there’s a balance to be struck. That’s where we are – way off balance. Like a wobbly wheel spinning on a worn out axal. Both the wheel and the axel need replacing.

Social media and aviation safety. Part 2.

Reports of aviation accidents and incidents and occurrence reports vary greatly in quantity and quality. Improvements have been made, as legislation has demanded basic data be recorded and retained.

Nevertheless, the one-line narrative is still with us. These reports are frustrating for safety analysts. If a bland statement about an aviation occurrence is received a couple of weeks after an event it can be almost impossible to classify. The good that social media can do is to supplement official information.

In most cases, mobile phone video taken by a passenger or onlooker can be checked for veracity. It needs to have the characteristics that confirm that it was taken at the time and place of the event it depicts. Photographs often have location, picture size, resolution, and device information.

It’s as well to recognise that this work can’t be taken for granted. There is work for aviation safety analysts to do verifying information. Images can be edited by effects that create an exagerated sense of drama.

Image copywrite does have to be considered. Professional photographers make it clear that their work is protected. This is often stamped on the material in some manner.

Impromptu videoing of an aviation incident, that may involve the person taking the video changes its status once its launched on social media. At least that is my understanding of the legal paperwork that few people ever read, namely the common clauses of End-User License Agreements. 

So, advice might be, to try to avoid copyright infringement it’s always a good idea to credit the source of the material used. Using copyed material in good faith is no defence for ignoring ownership.

The pursuit of aviation safety can be argued to be the pursuit of the greater public good. Unfortunately, the lawyers of some newsgathering organisations will not give the time of day to anyone who argues that they are in pursuit of the greater good.

Suprisingly, the subject of who is a press reporter or newsgathering organisation is vague in a lot of national legal frameworks. Protecting free speech is a strong case for not drawing too many boundaries but a complete free for all has a downside as “truth” goes out the window.

On another subject, privacy is a sticky one. Where people are identifiable in randomly taken pcitures or video of accidents and incidents there is currently no protection.

Again, there are questions to be answered in relation to use of social media derived safety information.


Example: Dramatic footage shows firefighters tackling fire on British Airways passenger plane at Copenhagen airport. [Dailymotion embeded video].

An Online Safety Bill in the UK will shake up the regulation of material on-line even if its not designed to address the issue raised in my blog. Online Safety Bill: factsheet – GOV.UK (

Social media is changing aviation safety

You may ask, how do I sustain that statement? Well, it’s not so difficult. My perspective that of one who spent years, decades in-fact, digging through accident, incident, and occurrence reports, following them up and trying to make sense of the direction aviation safety was taking.

In the 1990s, the growth of digital technology was seen as a huge boon that would help safety professionals in every way. It was difficult to see a downside. Really comprehensive databases, search capabilities and computational tools made generating safety analysis reports much faster and simpler. Getting better information to key decision-makers surely contributed to an improvement in global aviation safety. It started the ball rolling on a move to a more performance-based form of safety regulation. That ball continues to roll slowly forward but the subject has proved to be not without difficulties.

Digging through paper-based reports, that overfilled in-trays, no longer stresses-out technical specialist quite the same as it did. Answers are more accessible and can reflect the real world of daily aircraft operations. Well, that is the theory, at least. As is often the case with an expansion of a technical capability, this can lead to more questions and higher demands for accuracy, coverage, and veracity. It’s a dynamic situation.

Where data becomes public, media attention is always drawn to passenger aircraft accidents and incidents. The first questions are always about what and where it happened. A descriptive narrative. Not long after those questions comes: how and why it happened. The speed at which questions arise often depends on the severity of the event. Unlike road traffic accidents, fatal aviation accidents always command newsprint column inches, airtime, and internet flurries.

Anyone trying to answer such urgent public questions will look for context. Even in the heat of the hottest moments, perspective matters. This is because, thankfully, fatal aviation accidents remain rare. When rare events occur, there can be a reasonable unfamiliarity with their characteristic and implications. We know that knee-jerk reactions can create havoc and often not address real causes.

In the past, access to the safety data needed to construct a context was not immediately available to all commers. Yes, the media often has its “go-to” people that can provide a quick but reliable analysis, but they were few and far between.

This puts the finger on one of the biggest changes in aviation safety in the 2020s. Now, everyone is an expert. The immediacy and speed at which information flows is entirely new. That can be photography and video content from a live event. Because of the compelling nature of pictures, this fuels speculation and theorising. A lot of this is purely ephemeral but it does catch the eye of news makers, politicians, and decision-makers.

So, has anyone studied the impact of social media on developments in aviation safety? Now, there’s a good topic for a thesis.