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The Next Crash

The Next Crash: How Short-Term Profit Seeking Trumps Airline Safety

Amy L. Fraher
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Cornell University Press,
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  • Book Info
    The Next Crash
    Book Description:

    If you are one of over 700 million passengers who will fly in America this year, you need to read this book. The Next Crash offers a shocking perspective on the aviation industry by a former United Airlines pilot. Weaving insider knowledge with hundreds of employee interviews, Amy L. Fraher uncovers the story airline executives and government regulators would rather not tell. While the FAA claims that this is the "Golden Age of Safety," and other aviation researchers assure us the chance of dying in an airline accident is infinitesimal, The Next Crash reports that 70 percent of commercial pilots believe a major airline accident will happen soon. Who should we believe? As one captain explained, "Everybody wants their $99 ticket," but "you don't get [Captain] Sully for ninety-nine bucks"

    Drawing parallels between the 2008 financial industry implosion and the post-9/11 airline industry, The Next Crash explains how aviation industry risk management processes have not kept pace with a rapidly changing environment. To stay safe the system increasingly relies on the experience and professionalism of airline employees who are already stressed, fatigued, and working more while earning less. As one copilot reported, employees are so distracted "it's almost a miracle that there wasn't bent metal and dead people" at his airline. Although opinions like this are pervasive, for reasons discussed in this book, employees' issues do not concern the right people-namely airline executives, aviation industry regulators, politicians, watchdog groups, or even the flying public-in the right way often enough. In contrast to popular notions that airliner accidents are a thing of the past, Fraher makes clear America is entering a period of unprecedented aviation risk.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-7049-3
    Subjects: Transportation Studies, Business

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Prologue: Falling
    (pp. 1-6)

    I remember how clear and blue the sky was as we climbed away from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. I was a United pilot based in San Francisco flying my leg heading homeward. The crisp fall morning made me reminisce about Septembers from my New England childhood and anticipating the start of school. The captain reached over and tore off the paper message that spit out from the cockpit printer: “SECURITY BREACH. LAND ASAP. DON’T ALARM PASSENGERS.” We weren’t too surprised to receive the instructions. We had already heard several Delta airliners diverting. By the time it was our turn, air...

  4. 1 The (Not So) Secret Secrets
    (pp. 7-24)

    Awareness about what is happening in the post–September 11, 2001, airline industry comes to each of us in different ways with varying intensity. One thing is certain: aviation in the United States changed forever after 9/11. Only now, over a decade later, is it becoming apparent how much. And I don’t just mean increased security measures during the flight check-in process. The entire aviation industry has changed radically over the past decade with serious risk and safety implications, and certain sectors continue to hope no one will “alarm the passengers.”

    We knowwhathappened on 9/11. And we also...

  5. 2 The Roots of Turbulence
    (pp. 25-57)

    Even before there was a commercial airline industry, the fledgling field of aviation was already a risky and competitive business where major players, struggling to outdo one another, were not beyond pilfering a profitable idea. For instance, while most any schoolchild can credit Orville and Wilbur Wright for the invention of powered flight in 1903, it is more accurate to say that the Ohio bicycle manufacturers synthesized the best aspects of many inventors’ experimentation and innovation—such as Sir George Cayley, Otto Lilienthal, and Percy Pilcher—to build their WrightFlyer

    In the early 1800s, Sir George Cayley built a...

  6. 3 Riding the Jet Stream
    (pp. 58-73)

    In 1958 the era of commercial jet service began in the United States, changing most everything in the aviation industry. Like the sleek, sexy jetliner itself, air carriers finally began living up to the glamorous image of modern air travel they had been trying to sell for decades. Besides the increased speed, travel distance, and reliability of jet aircraft, the comfort, romance, and intrigue of jet travel permeated American culture as well.The Jetsons, an animated television sitcom about a futuristic family reliant on jet cars, robots, and other automations, ran in prime time from 1962 to 1963;Lost in...

  7. 4 A New Solution: Deregulation
    (pp. 74-99)

    With the US government controlling nearly every aspect of airline industry operations through the CAB in the post–World War II period, one of the only ways air carriers could compete for passenger loyalty was by providing a level of customer service difficult to comprehend in today’s austere travel environment.¹ Airline “fare wars” of the 1930s, before the CAB took over, gave way to wide-body “lounge wars” of the 1960s as air carriers battled it out over the best in-flight experience. Mimicking ocean liners’ premier services, airlines offered chef-prepared meals and fine wines served in fancy restaurant style and famous...

  8. 5 Escalating Risks
    (pp. 100-120)

    Although neither the airline industry nor the financial sector would welcome the characterization today, both industries were originally intended to operate as public utilities of a sort. By providing an intermediary function for Main Street America, both industries took people places they wanted to go: air carriers moved passengers and cargo around the world, and Wall Street matched investors seeking profits with companies needing capital. The purposes and goals of both industries initially seemed straightforward enough. So how then did managing and regulating aviation and finance become so complex?

    What the parallel histories of these two boom-or-bust industries reveals is...

  9. 6 Strapped In for the Ride
    (pp. 121-143)

    What are some of the implications of the post-9/11 airline industry changes? A 2009 white paper by the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), the world’s largest pilots’ union, noted how industry decisions made after 9/11 significantly altered the business models of major air carriers, encouraging them to cut costs by parking larger airplanes and furloughing their more experienced—and therefore more expensive—pilots, shifting flying to commuter affiliates and their regional jets (RJs) to save money.¹ Since their introduction in the early 1990s, RJs have grown in size, complexity, and performance capability, from about 40 seats to upward of 110...

  10. 7 Airlines Today
    (pp. 144-179)

    In September 2010 I contacted people at my former employer, United Airlines, and inquired about posting a note on the labor union forum inviting pilots to complete an internet survey investigating aviation safety and airline working conditions in the post-9/11 period. One hundred twenty-seven captains and first officers from nearly every major US airline responded to my questionnaire. (See appendix B for survey questions.) Some were actively employed at their airline, while some had transferred to a new airline, many of them overseas. Others had taken voluntary leave or were on military duty. A large majority of the pilots were...

  11. Epilogue
    (pp. 180-190)

    Although US air carriers took in over $2trillionin revenue between 2000 and 2012, much of it untaxed, entire books have been written about the airline industry’s inability to make a profit. The topic never seems to lose its appeal for economists, consultants, academics, and journalists—each trying to crack the code on the cryptic industry.¹ The findings are typically the same: employees are overpaid, labor unions obstinate, airplanes expensive, fuel costs volatile, economies unpredictable, and regulations restrictive; weather, recession, travel scares, and war hurt business; and competition is high because internet websites allow passengers to lock in the...

  12. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 191-192)
  13. Appendix A: Airline Pilot Questionnaire Results
    (pp. 193-194)
  14. Appendix B: Airline Pilot Interview Guide
    (pp. 195-196)
  15. Abbreviations
    (pp. 197-198)
  16. Notes
    (pp. 199-220)
  17. Index
    (pp. 221-224)