Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Tenerife disaster (continued)

So why did the KLM captain take off in such a hurry? As in the case of the Challenger and Columbia disasters, the KLM captain was also subject to pressures.

Both the Pan Am and KLM jets had in fact been diverted to Tenerife, after a terrorist bomb exploded at the original destination - Las Palmas. Both were long-haul flights from LA (via NY city) and Amsterdam respectively, so passengers were tired. Moreover, the captain of the KLM flight was aware that his crew was fast approaching the time after which they would not be allowed to work - flight regulations stated that the crew were allowed to work only a fixed number of hours per day, so that they would not be fatigued.

Hence, the KLM captain was worried not only about the tiredness of his passengers, but also whether they would be able to fly at all. Under this pressure, he ignored warnings that led to the disaster.

As we've seen from the NASA cases, pressure seems to bring out the worst in bosses - perhaps not in terms of their behaviour, but in their dictatorial attitudes.

Hence, it's crucial that 'leaders' are elected right from the start - so that genuine leadership behaviour - not dictatorial behaviour - becomes a part of their person. We can only guess, but if Captain Van Zanten knew that he would be accountable to the flight engineer and the co-pilot, he perhaps would have aborted take-off as soon as the engineer questioned him. Morever, the engineer would have pressed his case more forcefully, rather than taking the captain's answer lying down.

(Please email me your comments at cvdhruve@gmail.com)