Flying the Not-So-Friendly Skies

Before Sept. 11, customer service (or the lack thereof) seemed the most significant issue facing the airline industry. Since then, safety and security have moved front and center.

As you'll read in this month's features, "Delivering Quality, Safety and Security in Aviation," and "The Roll of Repair Stations," aviation manufacturers and repair stations, along with other segments of the industry, have always used quality management programs and principles to ensure product safety. Though not all is rosy--reports of financial woes and inspection lapses dot the media--it's reassuring to know systems are in place to continually improve the manufacture and repair of the planes we fly.

Almost anyone in the flying public will say today's biggest worry is airport security. No doubt this was a problem before Sept. 11 (my aviation file includes a Feb. 19, 2001, U.S. News & World Report article on the "façade of security"), but the terrorists' actions have made the spotlight even brighter.

Is there a connection to--even an opportunity for--the quality industry? ASQ believes so and, accordingly, has met with the Transportation Security Administration to propose a certification for baggage screeners "ASQ's Certification Proposal".

Via a survey in the February issue and online, we asked QP readers for their input on quality's role in aviation safety and security. While 26% of respondents liked the idea of certification, 51% believed the quality industry should also provide training on quality tools and concepts to all airline and airport workers. Another 9% said quality professionals should offer information and expert testimony to the government.

Respondents' comments focused on the security angle:

  •  "We need a multiple approach of training, certification and expert testimony (promoting the value of quality processes)--none will work in a vacuum."

  •  "Upper managers, not just front-line employees, need to be trained on and certified to quality concepts. Remember, it all starts at the top!"

  •  "In this circumstance, quality tools and concepts for workers are inane: 20% of the passengers carry 80% of the weapons. The systems need to be addressed. Poor Deming!"

  •  "The current program of airport security will destroy the airline business; it is too much of a hassle to fly. While working on zero defects in security, the government needs to find new methods to make air travel pleasurable and affordable."

Whatever role quality may play, few would argue the situation must improve. One respondent put it succinctly: "Get real, we're not paying people to squirt ketchup on a hot dog. We're transporting lives in the air."

Debbie Phillips-Donaldson

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