Normal Accidents and Commercial Aviation

I regularly push Charles Perrow’s work about “normal accidents” on people, and lately I do so more than ever. 

“If interactive complexity and tight coupling—system characteristics—inevitably will produce an accident, I believe we are justified in calling it a normal accident, or a system accident.”
― Charles Perrow, Normal Accidents: Living with High Risk Technologies

It increasingly feels, for example, that global commercial airlines are a good example of such a system—a complex, tightly-coupled system that works spectacularly well until it spectacularly doesn’t, with systemic consequences, both for airlines and for society. 

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And as Perrow wrote, such systems aren’t very good at warning us that they can no longer warn us, assuming they ever could.

“Unfortunately, most warning systems do not warn us that they can no longer warn us.”
― Charles Perrow, Normal Accidents: Living with High Risk Technologies