The Weekly Reflektion Week 18 / 2020

Resilience is defined as an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change. Resilience is also associated with adaptability to unforeseen circumstances. How dependent are we on our people and organisation being resilient? If this quality of ‘resilience’ is important, how do we train, educate and encourage people to be resilient?

Predicting all the situations and circumstances that we and our organisation will be subject to in the future is an impossible task. We can hope that we are able to cover the vast majority of these in our procedures and practices and in the training and exercises for the people in our organisation. When the unexpected and unpredictable happens the ability of our organisation to respond is critical to the prevention of tragedy. Resilience is a key factor in this response.

Qantas Flight 32 was a flight from London to Sydney via Singapore. On 4 November 2010, the aircraft operating the route, an Airbus A380, suffered an uncontained failure in one of its four Trent 900 engines. The failure occurred four minutes after take-off from Singapore Changi Airport. After holding for almost two hours to assess the situation, the aircraft made a successful emergency landing at Changi. There were no injuries to the passengers, crew or people on the ground, despite debris from the aircraft falling onto houses in the area. The failure in the engine was caused by the rupture of a lubricating oil pipe that resulted in an oil fire in the engine. The fire caused higher temperatures and engine speed than the engine was designed for and led to the release and fracture of the Intermediate Pressure Turbine (IPT) disc. The fragments of the disc penetrated the engine casing and smashed through the wing, causing extensive damage to the wing, fuel system, landing gear, flight controls, engine controls, and a fire in a fuel tank that self-extinguished. The crew had never trained for this eventuality and had to learn how to fly the plane with the controls they had and then land without full control over several key functions. The aircraft landed safely with 440 passengers and 29 crew. The crews’ efforts were described by one commentator as “one of the finest examples of airmanship in the history of aviation’.

Air Canada Flight 143 was on a domestic passenger flight between Montreal and Edmonton that ran out of fuel on July 23, 1983, at an altitude of 41,000 feet (12,000 m). The crew was able to glide the Boeing 767 aircraft safely to an emergency landing at a former Royal Canadian Air Force base in Gimli, Manitoba. This incident earned the aircraft the nickname “Gimli Glider”.

The cause of the aircraft running out of fuel was a confusion over metric and imperial units. There was an ongoing process of metrification in Canada and the ground crew incorrectly calculated the amount of fuel loaded on board. The fuel loaded had been calculated in pounds (lbs) but loaded and reported as kilograms (kg). The aircraft had therefore less than 50% of its required fuel. The 767 was one of the first airliners to include an electronic flight instrument system, which operated on the electricity generated by the aircraft’s jet engines. With both engines stopped, the system went dead, leaving only a few basic battery-powered emergency flight instruments. The crew had never trained for the loss both engines and had to improvise to bring the plane under control and to redirect to Gimli airport. On the approach the aircraft was travelling too fast to be able to land safely. The crew considered a 360-degree turn to reduce speed and altitude, but they decided that they did not have enough altitude for the manoeuvre. The captain was a keen glider pilot and decided to execute a forward slip to increase drag and lose altitude. This manoeuvre is commonly used in gliders and light aircraft to descend more quickly without increasing forward speed, but it is practically never executed in large jet airliners outside of rare circumstances like those of this flight. The plane landed without serious injuries to the 61 passengers and 8 crew.

The crew of these two flights faced situations and circumstances that they had never been prepared for nor had been part of the simulations they carry out as part of their training. They had their simulator training, they had their personal experience, they had their knowledge of their aircraft and their experience with working as a team and they utilized these both consciously and unconsciously. They succeeded because they were resilient. They adapted and recovered the situation and saved the lives of the people on board.

How do you create a resilient organisation? How do you stimulate processes that will enable your organisation to be able to respond to the unknown and the unpredictable? In next weeks Reflektion we will consider these questions and provide some of our ideas.

Reflekt AS