Misuse of the "Customer" Concept
As a frequent flyer, it’s really troubling anytime you read about systemic problems in the aviation system. First, there are problems in the air traffic controller world that lead to multiple near misses (problems that seem to go unfixed). Now, there’s the ongoing scandal about airlines (including Southwest, American, United, and Delta) not following proper maintenance routines and practices.
How can you possibly be so short-sighted, in a business sense, as to take chances with passenger safety? It seems that the aviation industry is “results focused” in the sense that they brag about how they’ve had so few fatal incidents in the past few years. But that doesn’t mean the process is perfect. They have been lucky for a while, possibly, but underlying process problems indicate an accident is bound to happen. Would a properly “Lean airline” be better about thinking in the long-term, ala Principle #1 of The Toyota Way?
One troubling development with Southwest is the management practices within the Federal Aviation Administration:
The Federal Aviation Administration has become so friendly with airlines that it no longer acts as the public’s watchdog, whistle-blowers told Congress on Thursday.
“We are told that the airlines are our customers,” FAA inspector Charlambe “Bobby” Boutris said. “But we have a more important customer, the taxpayers” who want government to ensure a safe aviation system.
That’s crazy. The FAA is supposed to be serving and protecting the passengers, not the airlines. This is like a supervisor in a workplace treating their employee as a customer… even in a “servant leadership” environment, that’s not right.
FAA administrators told inspectors to back off from Southwest… so the inspectors had to become whistle-blowers in front of Congress. Good for them!!
Boutris, who was assigned to the FAA office in Irving, Texas, near Southwest’s headquarters in Dallas, had raised warnings about Southwest skipping inspections since 2003. His supervisor, who has since been reassigned, suppressed the information rather than inconvenience Southwest, he said.
For the life of me, I don’t understand the dynamic of why the FAA would want to not “inconvenience” airlines, other than outright corruption in who has been appointed to oversee the industry.
Douglas Parker, another FAA inspector at Southwest, said he, too, “discovered that several aircraft had been operated in an unsafe condition.”
Parker’s voice faltered as he recounted how last June, while typing up a report about “unethical actions” at Southwest, he got a visit from a supervisor. The manager began picking up photos of Parker’s family and commenting on the importance of family obligations.
“On his way out of the door, he made the following statement: ‘You have a good job here and your wife has a good job over at the Dallas [FAA office]. I’d hate to see you jeopardize your and her careers trying to take down a couple of losers,'” he said.
Peters said that despite the intimidation, “the poor condition of the Southwest Airlines regulatory oversight was a risk that neither Inspector Boutris nor I was willing to accept.”
Sigh, what a mess. What can we do?
“Customer focus” is good, but only if you properly define customer relationships. I’d prefer the FAA think of me and my fellow travelers as the “customer,” not the airlines.