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April 30, 2012 / trajsingh

Too much / too little information

For anyone who travels a lot (like me) the Air France crash a few years ago was a puzzling issue – no-one really knew what had happened. However, since they recovered the flight recorders (a hugely costly miracle to find those little boxes at the bottom of the ocean) we now have more or less all the dope on what happened. And it’s scary. Not scary in the sense of “I’ll never fly again”, but in the very real way the Airbus design philosophy contributed to what happened.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the Airbus design philosophy, and the planes too. But it did bring home just how important these decisions can be. Whenever I’m in a train or a plane, I always find myself looking at the rivets. For me, they remind me that what I am sitting in is not a complete, whole or organic entity, but something that someone has built. Just like a car, a group of people aided by machines have designed and then put together something complex, huge and elegant. I’m constantly amazed that they manage to it it so well, so often.

Such tasks are so daunting, and so difficult to get right, especially repeatedly (interesting New Yorker article on checklists is related to getting these things right – wash your hands, everyone!) for human beings that whenever we do get it right, it’s reason to celebrate. And given air travel’s excellent safety record, it has been done right.

No doubt this particular error will be eliminated. But it does cast light on how every aspect of a product or a service is important, and vitally so in something like an aeroplane.

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