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Commercial Pressure on Engineering

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Commercial Pressure on Engineering

Old 28th Apr 2009, 23:02
  #21 (permalink)  
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Fact checking, not trawling.


You do no favours to the "PRESS" that you represent by trawling here for stories.

When I read a news story about aviation, I find that a lot of the information put forward as fact is incorrect. (It's not difficult to check facts, use Google)
You complain about a journalist researching a story, then in the next breath complain that journalists do not check facts.

What better place to come than PPRuNe to ask professionals for facts and opinion before writing an aviation story if, as a professional journalist, you want to get your facts right?

The industry has learned it needs open reporting, why not adopt more open media relations? Simply clamming up achieves at best nothing, at worst allows falsehoods and errors to gain momentum.

Real communication is two way, so next time you spot an error in a story, let the journalist know, explaining why it matters.
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Old 29th Apr 2009, 00:36
  #22 (permalink)  
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There are some touchy people out there.

It is not a ‘non story’ but a story that has been going on as long as I can remember. It is a fact of aviation life and is borne of the conflict between safety and commercial interest that affects decisions in aviation every day. If a journalist wants to investigate, then he is simply doing his job. As it happens, like others, I think there will be little to be found and that current regulation and reporting systems work very well. It is neither desirable, nor within our power to keep the media out of technical areas of aviation which it seems some here would like. It may be difficult for a lay person to get a handle on certain aspects such as the tendency for tech logs to be fuller on return to base or complex engineering regulations. However that is an opportunity to educate and explain instead of getting all defensive - which might even make the guy wonder where the bodies are hidden (journalists being necessarily even more cynical than pilots). And if,by chance, there were a body (which I doubt as much as anyone) the egg will be running down some faces here.

If you want the media to look at MP’s expenses, the banking crisis or whatever, then we have no right to clam up when it comes to our patch. Like it or not, there is less deference and less trust in the expert and the professional nowadays. We won’t win it back by slamming the flight deck or engineering office door.
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Old 29th Apr 2009, 00:36
  #23 (permalink)  
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Chasing the wrong animal

Like previous commentators I would suggest turning your attention to the appalling treatment aircrew are receiving from UK airport security.

Last week I was subjected to what would be termed physical assault, anywhere else in the civilized world, whilst passing through Heathrow airport terminal 3 security.

I was completely humiliated, left fuming and mentally stressed prior to a operating a long haul flight.

How much more of this do we have to endure before this sort of treatment leads to an incident; ending the lives of those people the security system is supposed to be protecting!
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Old 29th Apr 2009, 01:01
  #24 (permalink)  
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as an Engineer for a major UK carrier based at an "Outstation" I think I am well qualified to respond. Put simply there is no substantive grounds for your story. Personally I have never dispatched an aircraft with any of the type of defects you mention, unless I can legally do so under the MEL or our comapny in house dispensation procedures. Worn out tyres is simply a no-go. I grounded a aircraft of another carrier only 10 days ago due to a tyre problem and had no qualms about doing so. Due to the growing litageous nature of the aviation world it is simply not worth it, and on a personal level it is all about pride in the work you produce. Engineers have a reputation for being cynical and beligerent and this maybe comes from the fact in general we do not bow to commercial pressure, although we are of course mindful of the current economic climate. In fact, I think it is more likely the case that if we did come under any pressure from someone, we would more likely dig our heels in. No one can over ride my decision. It is under my hard earned Licence that I dispatch aircraft, I'm not going to throw it away at the behest of some bean counter who wants the aircraft back no matter what.
There are problems with the actually legislative side of aircraft maintenance, and you maybe worth discussing these with the ALAE who fight long and hard on our behalf to maintain the status of Licensed Aircraft Engineers. They are currently investigating one such situation, but it is to do with Licensing and not actual aircraft defects.
Personally, I'd rather you approach the story from the angle of the degradation of our status. To obtain an UK CAA B1 Licence these days is a long and difficult journey, approximatley 7 years. Once you hold that licence you have proved yourself to degree level. We value it, and the industry needs it (and should recognise that) to maintain and improve high levels of safety we already have.
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Old 29th Apr 2009, 01:40
  #25 (permalink)  
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You complain about a journalist researching a story, then in the next breath complain that journalists do not check facts.

What better place to come than PPRuNe to ask professionals for facts and opinion before writing an aviation story if, as a professional journalist, you want to get your facts right?
as an Engineer for a major UK carrier based at an "Outstation" I think I am well qualified to respond. Put simply there is no substantive grounds for your story. Personally I have never dispatched an aircraft with any of the type of defects you mention, unless I can legally do so
Above we have the opinions of two separate posters.

Do any of us expect a balance story or will it be just a reciting of selected opinions some good and some bad without any qualified measurement system of "acceptable risk"

As a Ppruner I don't have an opinion on this since insufficient facts have been presented by the sources. PPRuNe is not the place to develop a factual data base since most of what is offered are selected opinions based on only a smattering of visible facts.
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Old 29th Apr 2009, 04:09
  #26 (permalink)  
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Crew/Cockpit Resource Management

I would suggest you get comfortable with this concept and practice, Ian. Then, if you want to do a real service to humanity, investigate and report why CRM isn't being put to extensive use in hospitals everywhere. CRM is the pride of much of our industry, and it transfers readily to other disciplines.

Reportedly, some 80,000 people die from mistakes in US hospitals every year. Visualize that number of fatalities in airline accidents.

The order of command in the cockpit in some cultures is:
the Captain,
then God,
then whoever else.

It's said to be even more so in operating rooms.

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Old 29th Apr 2009, 04:53
  #27 (permalink)  
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Ian, as an Engineer of over 30 years standing, the phrase about Pilots puting pressure on Engineers is frankly ridiculous, never once has any pilot(Capt.or FO) ever even hinted to me that I should sign off a defective aircraft so that they can fly it! it really just shows what you and your fellow journos know or indeed think of our industry and may I suggest that you ditch your "source" as they obviously have about as much knowledge of the industry as you have, further you try to justify your enquiry by informing us of your previous programs I would assume by the initial question that they would be as ill informed as this one looks likely to be.
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Old 29th Apr 2009, 08:18
  #28 (permalink)  
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UK, A Plus and Minus

In the UK, aircraft maintenance is generally of a high standard when compared to other non-EASA and certain (not all) other EASA states.
I have worked in many countries to recognise and appreciate that fact.

Here is one very real outstanding UK aircraft maintenance standards issue.
To quote Tom Sawyer::: 'To obtain an UK CAA B1 Licence these days is a long and difficult journey, approximatley 7 years. Once you hold that licence you have proved yourself to degree level. We value it, and the industry needs it (and should recognise that) to maintain and improve high levels of safety we already have.'
Of course there are exceptions. The UKCAA converted 20+ approved
mechanics to EASA Part 66 status in September 2006 in less than a week for the largest UK airline. There was a deadline to meet in September 2006 and the all powerful commercial requirement was there. The UKCAA also converted at least one individual for the 'bearded one's' airline. These conversions are permitted as long as the regulatory conversion procedure is followed.

Personnel have to meet the minimum training & experience criteria, therefore they would all need thorough assessment. No assessments were carried out and the individuals concerned did not perform any examinations. EASA Part 66 Licences were then issued by the UKCAA incorrectly. Many thousands of UK/EASA registered aircraft at various European line stations (& Beardy's guy at KJFK) have been and continue to be certified by these individuals daily since then.

EASA have since proven upon a standardisation inspection at the UKCAA that the required conversion procedure was not followed. There is an outstanding and uncorrected EASA finding on these conversions.

With respect to the above, what EASA/EC will actually enforce remains to be seen. EASA/EC were 'forced' into taking action with INAC of Portugal only recently.

This '20+ approved mechanics-to-part 66' issue remains an open case pursued by the ALAE (1981). The UKCAA remain convinced the licences are legal but evidence collected externally and retrieved by the FOI act so far by the ALAE (1981) would suggest otherwise.

The UKCAA 's poor comparison 'Its only 20 or so out of 14,000 Licences issued' doesn't work well with those that have worked hard on courses, with long study and final examination to attain the Part 66 licence correctly.

There has to be consequences for Competent Authorities, Organisations AND Individuals when it comes to wrongful interpretation of regulations & deliberate violations (for mere convenience) in the MRO industry.
One word. Standards.

Licenced Avionics Technician

Last edited by BAe146s make me cry; 29th Apr 2009 at 10:40.
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Old 29th Apr 2009, 09:09
  #29 (permalink)  
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Whenever a defect or comment is written into the Tech Log it is transfered, along with the rectification action taken, into the airline's maintenance organistion computer system. Each defect is given a specific ATA code, for example Air Conditioning defects are chaper 21, hydraulic are chapter 29. The codes are further broken down to indicate a more specfic area of the system.

This information (PIREPS - Pilot Reports) is used by maintenance organisations to monitor aircraft reliability, recurring/repetative defects, rogue components etc.

However, I suspect that if you ran a PIREP report against home reported 'defects' compared to defects raised at outstations, you may well see an 80/20 split. However you need to be very carefull the way you interpret this - it does not mean that pilots are carrying derects to home base. Many 'defects' are observations to give engineers a heads-up of a developing problem e.g. "no1 pneumatic pressure is reading 50 psi lower than no.2". Not in itself a defect - the pressures may be in limits - but a possible indicatiion of a Pressure Reducing Valve about to give trouble.

You know what they say about statistics!

Hope this helps
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Old 29th Apr 2009, 09:24
  #30 (permalink)  
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BizDev and about 90% of the rest have told it to you straight. We pride our industry and the professional standards of the people in it (CAA, EASA, Pilots, engineers, dispatchers and all). We have expensive and time consuming practices that make our industry as safe as possible. Every "journo" article about avaition I have read is invariably full of misquotes. innaccuracies and simple untruthes. So back off this one
I would hate to read another similar article.
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Old 29th Apr 2009, 09:52
  #31 (permalink)  
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In my experience, as pretty much everyone else has stated, I have never been under pressure from pilots to just sign off defects or management for that matter. If there is a defect I and the crew work together so I get a full understanding of the defect, even this involves the crew bus waiting outside while I get a full Q&A session with the Captain (after it has been written in the tech log).

As people have said look at the security issue, especially as Capot pointed out with regards moving aircraft, that is an absolute farce, anybody involved with it knows how flawed it is.
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Old 29th Apr 2009, 10:57
  #32 (permalink)  
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Commercial Pressures?

Ian, your aim is a tad off.

Commercial pressures exist but they never manifest themselves through the Flt Crew.

30 yrs on the job, 20+ as a certifying Engineer and I have never had a Captain ask me to "Pen off" a defect.

Pressures come from a much more subtle direction. The people who know nothing or very little about what makes an aircraft tick or what hoops engineers and flt crew have to jump through to gain the privelage of doing their job. It is they, the station managers and gound staff, with 400 passengers all demanding why their holiday is delayed, they who ask the (to us) stupid questions and direct their stress levels upon us who are trying our damndest to fix whatever happens to be delaying them. They have a drip, drip effect on, especially line engineers, as they want the aircraft two hours ago, the crew are going out of hours, there's a 'jet ban' at *** after midnight etc, etc.
I could give examples but I know they would be used out of context and without reservation.
Yes, commercial pressures exist and can be cause for concern, but it is not through sensational journalism that an answer will be found. It is through the constant vigilance and professional attitude of Licenced Engineers, Flt Crew, Dispatchers etc that will stop the smoking holes in the ground.

I trust the media about as far as I could comfortably spit a rat, I never buy newspapers and take TV news with a pinch of salt. The wild speculation and panic surrounding Swine Flu being the latest prime example.
If you want facts Shoey, get access to CHIRP.

Good Luck.
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Old 29th Apr 2009, 11:52
  #33 (permalink)  
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re: previous posts

Dear all
Thanks to everybody for taking the time to respond to my questions, both on PPRuNe forum and in PMs.
From experience using PPRuNe, a good proportion of what is written here must be taken with a pinch of salt (as with all sources!). But there are a number of gems which have led me to question my starting premise (as did an experienced captain contact of mine, when we spoke recently).
Bashing the media is very easy to do, and indeed we do collectively deserve it. I'm not immune from that, but like 99% of people working in the aviation industry, I do take a great deal of pride in my work: in getting things right; in being balanced. I hope my track record in aviation matters backs this up.
Finally thanks for suggesting other potential stories eg the effect of increased security. Will certainly take a further look whenever I can get time away from my day-job as a producer on Radio 5 Live.
Cheers, and feel free to get in touch any time...
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Old 29th Apr 2009, 12:27
  #34 (permalink)  
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I'm a journalist, reporter and a Pilot. I've been working in commercial news radio (IRN/LBC) for over 20 years. Flying is my first love and I now combine radio broadcasting and flying in my current job.

I'd also like to see Ian pick up on the issues regarding pilot fatigue in commercial flight operations. There is definitely a story there which needs reporting to a wider audience before a major accident happens.

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Old 29th Apr 2009, 16:06
  #35 (permalink)  
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I am glad to see an ethical journalists, researching their facts on a valuable Website, and not attempting to disguise himself. It's a good thing to be able to educate the media,...so that less sensationalism appears

Ian did the right thing IMHO

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Old 29th Apr 2009, 16:17
  #36 (permalink)  
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The tyres/brakes thing could be a red herring.
Several airlines (indeed most that I have dealt with in the UK) have differing criteria for tyre/brake removal at home base rather than outstation.
The criteria for outstation is the approved limit (e.g. worn to base of groove), with the criteria for home base being slightly less (e.g. for tyres it might be 1mm groove depth and under)
This is to ensure that there is enough rubber/carbon to last the day's operation, so that wheel/tyre changes (= delays) are greatly reduced during the day, and the logistics are better as there is less to ship back from outstations.

A well run outfit will have varying criteria for outstation/home base for such items with a soft limit for home base and a hard limit (approved minima) for outstations. This saves money for the airline, making best use of materiel and manpower, but without affecting safety/airworthiness.
The amber zone/red zone philosophy is something that 'good' airlines use.
To the uninitiated, it would look suspicious (bulk of servicing/component changes conveniently done at home).

The anology would be topping up the oil/water on your car at the start of a trip before it hits the low level mark, rather than just waiting for the red warning light to come on the dashboard.
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Old 29th Apr 2009, 16:35
  #37 (permalink)  
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FWIW, and there are so many very good contributions which express thoughts very well on this issue, specifically I think the contributions by Capot and TURIN are well worth considering in terms of pointing where you might look, and possible take the story you're working on. There are others here too who provide solid grains of truth but I think these two posts are good advice. I agree wholeheartedly with posters who highlight the issues with security and the attitude towards and the inappropriate treatment of crews - at times it is about power, not effective security measures - at other times it is simply about processes which assume the guilt of professional airline crews sometimes combined with the occasional opportunity to embarass or even harass crews - 'nuf said.

Specifically to both TURIN's and Capot's post in terms of the issues raised, in the U. S. and Canada the FAA and Transport Canada are handing over the responsibility of flight safety to the airlines and stepping back from their traditional regulatory and oversight roles. This is called "SMS" - Safety Management Systems". Most airline managements are still badly confused about how it works. Essentially, airline managements from the CEO down must, under the current business model, keep both commercial and safety priorities balanced. This is not always successful as the experience in the United States reveals; - there have already been a number of high profile incidents where airlines were caught not doing the safety job when no regulator was looking. You might examine this phenomenon in relation to American Airlines, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines. In my view it is only a matter of time before the same issues emerge in Canada. Whether "SMS" and the regulator's approach to safety oversight is the same in Britain I cannot say - you'll have to determine that for yourself. That said, where they obtain at all, the principles are the same regardless.

I strongly agree with other posters, especially the engineers and maintenance people who have offered their important view. I see enormous integrity within the dispatch, maintenance and middle flight ops management ranks - the notion of commercial compromise at those levels within most organizations does not have either broad or solid foundation. What I see in senior and executive management ranks is an inability to "talk safety" or to "talk technical" - the processes which keep the enterprise that they are leading, safe, are not the least bit understood, nor in my experience do they seem even mildly interested, leading one to ponder if these leaders know that they're in the aviation business first and all the rest, second.

The question you raise is an important one but you might consider stepping back from the specific aspect of "dispatching with bald tires" etc, (which, see above), to what is perhaps a less sexy, less easily conveyed, less easily understood perspective of organizational accidents - those kinds of accidents which occur when everyone is doing what they think is exactly the right thing - accidents/incidents which occur not because people are negligent, careless or lacking in professional or personal integrity but which occur because of a social/organizational phenomenon known as the "normalization of deviance" - legitimating a violation of what had been heretofor an established normality within an organization.

It is these kinds of factors which make possible the fact that good people with the highest/best intentions can make poor decisions when circumstances permit. A simple example can be reducing standards of safety because such reduction 'has been demonstrated by studies, etc' to have nil effect upon levels of safety, (ie, no recorded incidents) but has a measurably positive effect upon 'the bottom line' - ergo, the process is normalized, (instituionalized within the organization) and soon becomes "invisible" because of it's normalcy, until an accident occurs. A specific example might be the use of a fork-lift to raise an engine into te mounting bolts when the AMM (Aircraft Maintenance Manual) specifies special tools/machinery. The thinking is, 'the process worked many times without failure or result', so it becomes "normal". - Until an engine breaks away from the wing, breaking hydraulic lines causing the retraction of the LEDs, the crew follows legitimate SOPs and reduces speed to V2 and the slatless wing stalls, rolling the aircraft to 90degrees right after takeoff. Of course many will recognize this accident as the 1979 American Airlines DC10 at Chicago.

There are dozens of other examples; we might examine recent accidents such as the Spanair MD83 at Madrid, where everyone normalized the abberant behaviour of the TAT probe and resultant cockpit indications, ostensibly under the usual time pressures we all experience in this industry, (iow, I'm not saying time/commercial pressures caused the accident - but such were part of the circumstances we experience in every departure, not just that one).

The Challenger and Columbia space shuttle accidents are precise cases in point, and are well worth studying (lots of literature available) to bring this point home - and these accidents (other than the shuttle) occured in a far more robust regulatory environment than we have today - we have today the "privatization of flight safety" where the government is stepping back from it's normal role.

I understand you're not researching for a paper but for perhaps an article or a series of articles. I think the public in general, would be interested in these processes because they occur to them in everyday life - we all normalize deviance to some extent and think nothing of it - that is why such processes can have such serious consequences in high-risk environments but not, usually, in everyday life.

Anyway - just some thoughts...thanks for coming here to consult.


Last edited by PJ2; 29th Apr 2009 at 17:45.
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Old 29th Apr 2009, 19:04
  #38 (permalink)  
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That is possibly the best constructed post I have ever read.
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Old 29th Apr 2009, 19:46
  #39 (permalink)  
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Also put into context 'bald tyres ' , 747 classic AMM stated 'worn tyres are a maintenance issue not a safety issue' , very useful with FE's trying to get wheels changed down route !!! Both airlines under FAA , also station handling manual for A340 and 777 permitted rtb from outstation with worn tyres , from a large european carrier . Note this is for wear , not for damage which is a different , i.e safety issue. The point i'm making is some defects may appear to be kept until return to base , but is perfectly safe . I think the relevant question is where crews are put under pressure where they dont have a routine turn round done by engineering , i.e they're doing it themselves very commonly esp on shorthaul and charter. Any problem then requires a call to MCC , calling out a locally based engineer then is a cost , if available , so putting 'pressure ' on crews to carry on .
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Old 29th Apr 2009, 20:04
  #40 (permalink)  
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lost thread

Seems to mee the point of the original has been lost. As a concerned Experienced LAE i am going to bring in back into line. I can confirm that several airlines i have carried out maintenance for on, both customer and own fleet have caused me to review my position at these airlines. The first one gave me cause to live because my conscience couldn't take it the second one asked me to leave as i had highlighted real safety cultural issues. I went down every avenue to address my concerns and due to the plain ignorance and lack of understanding of the role of an LAE and the of holding a CRS they shoo-shooed me and told me to wind my neck in.

The final nail or event which caused me to leave the first airline luckily enough didnt turn into the potential nightmare that it could have, but as the flight crew that day will tell you if it wasn't for me standing up and saying "i don't care what the procedures say" a major incident was averted.

This was down to flight crew making wrong decisions about systems they have limited knowledge on. And this is the issue Crews are not qualified to make decisions about aircraft servicability on thier own.

Yes arguments could be made that Maintrol were consulted. Well As seems to be the case more maintrol's are being brought into the realms of the sub part M (Airline) side and not under the part 145 (maintenance) side. This smells of commercial riding roughshot over safety and having dealt with a lot of airline maintrols ( one who even decided the aircraft with a major hydraulic leak should be given a CRS as the leak was such that it could just about make the sector with the current leak rate) most of them are there to get the aircraft home rather than get the aircraft serviceable.

I can give you lots more personal examples of issues which have given me cause for concern. Some may say have you followed the SMS/ Error reporting route? well let me tell you no one is more qualified to understand the aspects of engineering and these Error reporting processes. They are paid lip service to both by the airlines and the NAA's. They are processes that just are there to give the public the perception that "we take safety seriously".

You take the LAE away from the safety equation then watch things crumble. The LAE is the last line of defence he is the one that has hopefully been trained to the highest levels for the previous 7 years and then jump through hoops before he can sign to say that that multi-million pound machine carrying hundreds of passengers is fit to fly.
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