Wise Decisions in a Crisis

March 25, 2019 at 5:15 am 1 comment

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It’s been a tragic couple of weeks in aviation.  Following the crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 two weeks ago, similarities began to emerge between this crash and the crash of Lion Air Flight 610 last October.  Both planes went down only minutes after takeoff.  Both crashes involved sudden changes in altitude with the planes crashing at a nose down angle.  And both tragedies involved Boeing 727 Max 8 aircrafts.

An investigation by The Dallas Morning News uncovered five complaints, filed by domestic pilots, about problems with a new software system in the Max 8, known as MCAS.  The system is supposed to force the nose of the plane downward if needed to avoid a stall.  But erroneous data from a sensor might have forced the noses of the recently doomed flights down into their crashes.

It is also being reported that Boeing had been heavily involved with the federal certification process for the Max 8 in 2012.  Boeing employees were able to help FAA officials in certifying the aircrafts for flight, and, according to The New York Times, senior FAA officials weren’t even aware of the new MCAS system.  The FBI has now joined an investigation into the certification process as people wonder whether having a manufacturer play such a large role in the safety certifications of its own products presents an inherent conflict of interests.

With so many questions out there, people are scrambling for answers.  Why didn’t the FAA ground the Max 8 aircrafts sooner?  The FAA didn’t ground the Max 8s in the U.S. until days after nations like Canada, Australia, and the whole European Union grounded theirs.  Why weren’t pilot complaints made months before heeded?  Why didn’t pilots initially receive any specialized training on the MCAS system?  And why, ultimately, did Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crash?  There are still no firm answers.

In a crisis like this, decision making can be difficult.  Of course, safety concerns are paramount.  But investigators don’t even know for sure whether there is a broad based safety concern.  When one combines a lack of information about the recent Max 8 crashes with the inevitable confusion and suspicion that ensues when planes are grounded and investigations are launched, air carriers, aircraft manufacturers, and government regulators are left with no particularly appealing options.

Scripture is clear that, whether it’s with crisis over planes or personal problems with piety, people are not particularly skilled at making wise decisions that involve high stakes.  Before following Him, Jesus invites people to carefully consider the cost of being His disciple:

Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?  For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, “This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.” Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand?  If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be My disciples.  (Luke 14:28-33) 

Jesus’ final line is jarring.  What will following Jesus cost?  Everything.  And some people, after doing a cost-benefit analysis, find the cost unbearably high.  Just consider the rich young man who, after Jesus invites him to “sell everything you have and give to the poor, and…then come, follow Me,” becomes crestfallen and walks “away sad, because he had great wealth” (Mark 10:21-22).  The rich man thought the cost of following Jesus was too steep.  Selling everything he had was too risky.  So he chose to stay his course.  And he was sorely mistaken to do so.

One of the reasons we make poor choices is because most of us tend to have a bias toward preservation over and against modification.  The rich man did not want to modify his spending habits.  The FAA, Boeing, and major airlines did not necessarily want to modify how they certify aircraft and how they train pilots.  But so often, our bias towards preservation – maintaining the status quo – only makes matters worse.

Risk taking is a part of decision making.  And sometimes, a decision that initially looks riskier – like the grounding of a bunch of planes and the launching of a thorough investigation into the airworthiness of these planes – is the decision that winds up being safer.

Thankfully, for most of us, these past couple of weeks did not involve decisions with stakes so high.  But this does not mean we should not consider the costs of the choices that are laid before us.  And, as the FAA and Boeing are learning, if our first decisions turn out not to be our best decisions, we need to be humble enough to make the right decisions.  You’ll be better because of it.  And the people around you will thank you for it.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Jon Trautman  |  March 25, 2019 at 11:23 am

    Due diligence only goes so far. Humility is high on Jesus’ to do list for us and is essential in making valued,moral, and ethical decisions.


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