At the 2010 World Aviation Training Seminar on April 27th, Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Randy Babbitt delivered a speech that focused on the crucial role that human involvement plays alongside the ever-advancing realm of flight technology. In his speech, Administrator Babbitt underscored the point that the availability of flight technology should supplement, not replace, human awareness and involvement with all flight operations. “The expectation is that even with the auto pilot engaged, the human pilot is too,” Babbitt said to the attendees at the Orlando seminar.
To emphasize the importance of maintaining heightened human attention and focus during all aspects of the operation of an airplane, Babbitt referred to the horrific – and preventable – crash of ValuJet Flight 592, which crashed into the Florida Everglades shortly after takeoff from Miami International Airport on May 11, 1996. A fire broke out in the passenger cabin which prompted the flight crew to attempt a return to the Miami airport; they never made it. The investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) revealed that five out-of-service oxygen canisters had been loaded onto the plane in a condition which violated regulations for their safe transport. The canisters were not properly sealed, some still containing a significant amount of their contents, even though the box loosely holding them listed the containers as “empty.” The contents, through the lack of proper sealing, ignited in the cargo hold after a bumpy takeoff. There was no evidence that the flight crew was aware of the presence of the canisters in the cargo area, or that there ever was any inquiry into what was being carried. Relating the subject of his speech to the events leading up to the crash of Flight 592, Babbitt offered a statement that clearly denotes how essential it is for all people involved in the flight process to never forget the importance of maintaining awareness and focus on the details, saying “[i]f one person, just one person had asked ‘What’s in that box in the forward cargo hold?’ ValuJet Flight 592 would have ended quite differently.”