I was intrigued to read about an airline safety issue caused by different cultures and the assumptions they produced. In this case, no accident resulted, but it highlights an important conflict.
Investigators have traced a take-off weight error on a TUI Airways Boeing 737-800 to a flaw introduced to a reservations system by international differences in the manner that female passengers are addressed.
. . .
… the programming upgrade had been carried out in a country where the title ‘Ms’ was used for adult women while ‘Miss’ referred to a female child.
When adult female passengers in the UK checked in for the flight from Birmingham using the term ‘Miss’, they were automatically classified as a child and allocated the standard child weight of 35kg rather than the standard female weight of 69kg.
The UK Air Accidents Investigation Branch says 38 female passengers were misidentified as children and this meant the loadsheet generated for the flight to Palma de Mallorca, on 21 July last year, was more than 1.2t below the actual aircraft weight.
. . .
Although incorrect take-off weights were used, the thrust level employed was slightly higher than that required for the conditions.
“This meant the safe operation of the aircraft was not compromised,” says the inquiry.
But it states that the 737 involved (G-TAWG) was the first of three aircraft to depart from the UK on the same date with inaccurate loadsheets caused by the same issue.
There’s more at the link.
This isn’t the first time that differences between countries, standards and cultures have produced airline safety issues. Perhaps the best known happened in Canada in 1983.
On July 23, 1983, Air Canada Flight 143, a Boeing 767–233 jet, ran out of fuel at an altitude of 12,500 metres (41,000 ft) above MSL, about halfway through its Montreal to Edmonton flight. The flight crew was able to glide the aircraft safely to an emergency landing at an auto racing track that was previously RCAF Station Gimli, a Royal Canadian Air Force base in Gimli, Manitoba.
The subsequent investigation revealed a combination of company failures and a chain of human errors that defeated built-in safeguards. The amount of fuel that had been loaded was miscalculated because of a confusion as to the calculation of the weight of fuel using the metric system which had recently replaced the imperial system for use with the 767.
Again, more at the link. For aviation fans, here’s a 30th anniversary retrospective video about the so-called “Gimli Glider”.
I’m glad to hear the most recent issue has been resolved without incident, but it highlights an ongoing problem. If software is outsourced to and coded in nations with different cultures, what impact might those cultures have on consumers in the nation using the completed system?