Challenge & Response the Practicalities…

Successful Failure...

State run Korean Airlines experienced more plane crashes than any other airlines in the world at the end of the 1990s. As when most think of airline crashes, their first thoughts are, “they must have had old planes or badly trained pilots”.  However a closer look showed what in fact they were dealing with was a cultural legacy in that Korean culture is based upon hierarchical social models. As in these terms one is obliged to be deferential toward their elders and superiors in a way that would be unimaginable in Western cultures.

Thus using one of the crashes, Flight 801 to Guam as a case study we will see that the Captain (42 years old) makes a judgment error which is seen by the First Officer (40 years old) however not communicated forth right.  Thus the pilot, Captain Park in this case

Challenge & Response Failure...

initiates an “action” while First Officer Song Kyung-ho who sees a risk fails to “challenge” Park thus a corrective “response” isn’t forthcoming.  The end result of this is that 228 souls lose their life on Nimitz Hill.

However if  First Officer Song Kyung-ho would have openly  “challenged” Captain Park, Park would have seen his error and the “response” would have been a corrective action which would have taken the plane out of harm’s way.  Yet cultural dynamics inhibited Song Kyung-ho’s actions, where a review of the flight recorder does note him making multiple loose comments mentioning his observation indicating clearly he knows the error, however never “challenges” Captain Park directly where Park was forced to “respond”.

Whereas if we look at US Airways Flight 1549 which departed from LaGuardia Airport in New York City to Charlotte’s Douglas International Airport in  North Carolina on January 15, 2009 and ended up in the Hudson River instead as our second case study.  What we see is a wholly different picture as in the end the plane does make a crash landing, yet all souls on board survive, so what makes this work verses Flight 801?  Before looking at that, another important aspect to understand about this incident as a case study is it’s a “failure state” gone right in that as mentioned the plane does crash, the chaotic inferences do not play out in a “recovery fashion” as in the Southwest Flight 182 fuselage tare.  So it’s with this that I’ve spend a lot of time attempting to understand success aspects which occurred and they can be summarized in the following.

In the cockpit of Flight 1549 was “Sully” Sullenberger, (57 years old), along with First Officer Jeffrey B. Skiles, (49 years old) who was flying the plane* at take off where about 6 minutes into the flight a bird strike occurred.  This in turn caused both engines to be placed into a failure state and the plane began to fall from the sky and it was during this point that the “key” actions took place between Sullenberger and Skiles.  As upon realizing the jeopardy, Sullenberger made the statement “My Plane”, whereas Skiles response to the Challenge “Your Plane” as it here in this seemingly simple exchange which saves the day as what would have happened if confusion would have ensued instead?  In short it was this simple “Do-Confirm” challenge and response which inserted the piece of “order” back into a chaotic system as opposed to Flight 801 where “order” eluded Park and Kyung-ho resulting in the negative outcome.  As the key to establishing a desired future outcome, is to establish a “known state of order”, thus every action thereafter has a known base to build upon.  As too lengthy to delve into detail here, the short story with Flight 801 is a building of chaotic actions results in a “single” massive failure.  Thus Challenge and Response Systems not only seeks failure points, it also attempt to restore “order” or maybe better put to establish a “known state”…

*Note: The Co-Pilot or First Officer is typically the one “flying” the air craft under the command of the Captain to gain flight hours as in fact  Skiles  was on the last leg of his first assignment in the Airbus A320 since passing the training course to fly that type of craft.

Epilogue: In Flight 801 we speak of age & rank considerations driving a cultural bias and I frankly struggled with a verbose means in a limited number of words to sharing the “intent” of the interview of Sullenberger and Skiles (both separated) in the case of 1549 as both appear the same.  However the difference is a little more complex as in 801 Park is “both” in command and control where in 1549, Sullenberger is in command while Skiles is in control.  So the exchange of “control” on behalf of Skiles is a fascinating study as a lot takes place here including “retention” and “release” of control rather than just a “release” created the implied “challenge” on the behalf of Skiles in spite of class hierarchy.


About Joseph Campbell

As a strong believer in the fact that "people work for people", it has been a life driver to better to understand the complexities of the various aspects which drive efficiency within this axiom, especially the concepts of leadership. Supporting this, I have been fortunate enough to having experienced this as leader on a global basis over the last decade and half. During this time it has been clear there are three core drivers being Life, Leadership and Economics.
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2 Responses to Challenge & Response the Practicalities…

  1. The Hook says:

    You write on a whole other level, sir. Excellent work!

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