After two tragic airplane accidents, Boeing is in the news. Possible liability has depressed its stock price and shaved tens of billions of dollars off the company’s valuation. I covered troubling questions of cut corners in the design of the latest generation of the 50-year-old 737 and the disturbing relationship between government and one of its largest military contractors in my podcast here. However, today let’s look at the approximately 2,000 Boeing 737s in the air at any given time every day and the fifteen normal take-offs made by a 737 every single minute of every day.
Before each 737 starts to taxi away from the gate, the pilot in the left seat and the first officer in the right work their way down a printed check list that each could recite by heart. “Navigation lights” calls out one and the other glancing at the panel responds, “On.” Then comes “Taxi Lights.” “On.” This is followed by altimeter, radios and autopilot and the correct response for each is “Set.” Not until the long check list has been completed does the airplane begin its pushback.
The repetitive routine could anesthetize ordinary people into robotic compliance. But commercial pilots are not ordinary people, they’re professionals and they’ve trained themselves to view each and every run down the check list as if it was the first time. They might have asked one another those same questions on three earlier flights that day but on the fourth, their eyes still scan each switch and gauge with the same alert focus they did on the first. Their confirmations are still precise and accurate.