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Business Lessons Learned from US Air Crash


Oft-ignored training professionals helped save Flight 1549.


As US Airways (LCC) flight 1549 prepared for takeoff Thursday afternoon, passengers learned for the umpteenth time where their flotation devices and nearest exits were located.

At that moment, captain-in-command Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger might have been thiking of every pilot's colloquial description of flying: "Endless hours of tedious routine, interrupted by moments of sheer terror."

On January 15, 2009, we all watched a rescue operation on the Hudson River along the New York/New Jersey state line. The rescue, surrounding an intact-yet-in-peril commercial aircraft, could just as easily have been a recovery operation. 155 souls narrowly survived a near-disaster when, by all rights, they could well have been dead. Break down the events around the crash and subsequent rescue of Flight 1549, and only one thing limited the loss of life to a mere flock of geese: Training.

Although the investigation is just beginning, the passengers and crew of US Airways Flight 1549 likely had the bad luck to encounter a flock of geese at about 3,200 feet, shortly after departure from New York's LaGuardia Airport. The probability of 1 engine sucking in a large bird and flaming out is remote, though it does happen. The statistical improbability that both engines of the Airbus 320 aircraft, or any aircraft for that matter, would suck geese and flame out is astronomical.

Yet it happened. And when it happened, there was no more "if," only, or "what next?" The flight's crew knew what to do next. Like any group of true professionals, they had ready answers and were able to respond instantly and successfully.

As much as all of us dread training classes, doomsday-scenario drills, and organizational learning exercises of all kinds, when the time comes, that knowledge can save the day.

Here's who was trained to deal with emergencies on Thursday, January 15, 2009:

  • Pilots, required to drill regularly on emergency, power-off and water landing techniques as a mandatory FAA and airline requirement for commercial licensing.

  • The on-board flight crew, continuously trained in emergency evacuation procedures. Perpetual training is also required of air traffic controllers.

  • The maritime professionals (captain and crew) ferrying passengers on the Hudson river, trained in emergency evacuation procedures and water recovery as a mandatory US Coast Guard requirement.

  • The emergency personnel in New York and New Jersey, including hospital personnel, trained to respond to any type of emergency or disaster.

Last, but not least, don't forget all the airline passengers who have "endured" pre-flight safety briefings every time they boarded a commercial flight. None of them had to ask where their flotation devices were, or where the nearest exit was. When the plane hit the 32-degree-Fahrenheit waters of the Hudson River -- water that would suck the body heat and life out of anyone without a wet suit in less than 15 minutes -- they were ready.

The next time you think about how to avoid your next training session -- or of cutting costs by eliminating the -- remember Flight 1549. Relentless training improves organizational performance in critical times.

In honor of yesterday's incredibly display of skill and professionalism, perhaps you shuld hug your corporate trainer for helping you stay smart and safe.

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