We live in a technical world in which few of us have a good understanding of all the technology we encounter. Since I’m talking to a sophisticated aviation crowd, that statement would seem to apply to you folks less than to the general population.
But certainly, all of us have been humbled by a sufficient number of baffling run-ins with opaque and illogical technology to have a modest appreciation of how daunting this world can be to those not so skilled.
Consider, then, the point of view of an average legislator trying to fix a “problem” as perceived and defined by his or her constituents. If that legislator has some degree of understanding, either personally or through staff input, of the technology, including aviation, he or she will make an attempt to shape their efforts to placate the howls for change to conform to what that legislator believes will actually work, assuming an active degree of personal responsibility. Others less involved, knowledgeable or principled will be inclined only to take the advice of the aggrieved, and leave it at that. In the end, the legislator’s goal is to make the problem go away, or at least to be perceived as having made a darn good effort.
And then there are the political acts driven by forces that really have nothing to do with the subject at hand, but end up having unintended consequences.
The flip side of that coin is legislator willingness to ignore technology problems that are not at all hard to see but are difficult to solve and lack any appreciable constituent push.
All this explains why airlines in Europe must pay passengers when flights are canceled for reasons far beyond anyone’s control (volcanic ash, anyone?), why the crash of a regional aircraft largely due to fatigue and poor piloting is “corrected” by raising pilot experience requirements, why a regulator’s funding (and tax-collecting ability) can be shut down due to disconnected budget squabbles and, finally, why the recent crashes of two modern freighters on fire provoke nearly zero interest outside of the industry.
Aside from mounting private and public educational efforts to try to deflect some of these ill-considered and, at times, harmful legislative “remedies,” there’s little we can do. But we can do something about burning freighters.
The question of what constitutes cargo too hazardous to fly has been answered in different ways depending on the type of operation being considered. It is, admittedly, a complex question, but the basic idea that some things that are too dangerous to be carried in the under-floor holds of passenger aircraft are just fine for freighters strains credulity.
Here’s where technology creates a barrier for legislators that, in this case, is good. No one is pushing them for a solution, they know nothing about this issue, they don’t want to know, and for that we can be thankful. However, we know there is a problem and that steps should be taken quickly to reduce the risks that freighter crews face. Lithium batteries are often suspected but rarely confirmed to be the source of aircraft fires. For starters, maybe we should leap to a course of action favoring safety and relegate them to trucks and ships and be done with it.