Better is the Enemy of Good Enough

In the aftermath of Boeing’s failure with its 737MAX, the FAA—and foreign jurisdictions—are on the verge of entering that larger failure regime.

As Boeing Co and safety regulators push to complete long-awaited fixes for 737 MAX jets, testing has expanded to cover increasingly unlikely emergencies including potential computer failures pinpointed by overseas authorities, according to US government officials briefed on the details.
The broader risk analyses and simulator scenarios, some details of which haven’t been reported before, show the lengths to which leaders of the Federal Aviation Administration, in coordination with their foreign counterparts, are going to verify the safety of the MAX fleet before allowing the planes to fly again.

And one thing that is not being addressed in the lengths to which these leaders are going is the adequacy of training that pilots are required to undergo to receive certification.  Instead, excuses are offered.

Ali Bahrami, the FAA’s top safety official, told a Senate subcommittee during a hearing that the June tests “identified a very remote failure case,” adding that FAA pilots decided “the level of proficiency that is required to recover from this event was exceptional” and could overwhelm average airline crews.

Which raises two questions. One is how “very remote,” and when does that criterion cross the Better-Good Enough line?

The other (stipulating that line is not crossed here) is why “average airline crews” would be so inadequately trained?  Where, too, are pilots trained to disconnect from the computers, and disconnect the computers from the aircraft, and go manual? And: what is the adequacy of the manual backups?

In the end, though, demanding Better before going to production too often prevents going to production.  Demanding perfection first—rather than questing after it (or merely after Better) constantly and iteratively while iteratively producing the outcome of those quality iterations—prevents serious efforts to produce.

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