As I write this, I soar above several layers of clouds. I see so many tints of blue in the sky – light shades at the horizon, blending into darker ones as we move further up. It is a gift to take this view in from this vantage point – a gift that more than a billion humans can access today.
As terrestrial animals, the skies are alien to us. Nevertheless, we can fly anywhere today, in the safest possible manner – a marvelous feat considering we have a mere 100 year aerial legacy. How did we get here so fast?
Firstly, there are unrelenting aviation standards. I often crib about how every modern airport looks just the same. However, standardized airports contribute to keeping aviation safety at a level that land and naval transportation are yet to match. It is imperative that every pilot and control tower speak the same language and the ground staff at every airport follow the same rituals.
And then, there is the accelerated learning from doing something well at scale. One plane completing ten successful journeys is followed by three more. In no time, there would be a hundred pilots flying a cumulative hundred days for each passing day. All these planes are served by a system learns from every near-miss, every accident and every disaster that transpires across the world. Sure, we have been flying for merely a hundred years, but in this time, we have clocked an exponential growing number of hours in the sky. A good system, deployed at scale, can multiply the timeline.
At the same time, aviation isn’t a very profitable business. It is yet another marvel that in the face of dwindling profits, this system hasn’t compromised safety in a world where economics often taken precedence even over human lives.
The aviation industry, amidst all the jokes thrown at it in the form of cramped seats, bad airline food and its awkward safety procedure demonstrations, quietly sends millions of people soaring through the stratospheres in the comfort of their armchairs. And in doing so, it is a shining example of a well operated system run at scale, that prioritizes safety above everything else.
Perhaps the digital world can gather a few useless lessons from it.