Speech at the Commercial Aviation Program Graduation Banquet
University of Western Ontario
Wendy A. Tadros
Transportation Safety Board of Canada
10 April 2010
Check against delivery
Good evening ladies and gentlemen,
Thank you, Andrew, for that kind introduction. I also want to thank all of you, and in particular Dr Ujimoto, for inviting me back to Western. Western has a special place in my heart. It always has.
Dr. Ujimoto took me on a tour of the campus today. A lot has changed in 30 years!
Well... congratulations. You did it. You really did it! After years of hard work, after sweating the applications, the test scores, the exam questions, the homework ... you've finally made it. You're about to graduate. All you have to do now ... is survive the guest speakers!
I'm going to talk a bit about work, tonight. Partly because that's what guest speakers are supposed to talk about—that and "the future"—but also because you've just finished your degree. Work is something you've done a lot of lately. And now, as you apply for jobs and enter the workforce, you'll be expected to do even more of it.
Andrew has already introduced me, so I won't bore you with my CV, but since we're talking about work, and since I am convinced I have the greatest job in the world, please permit me a bit of bragging:
At the TSB we're an independent body with a simple mandate: investigate accidents and improve transportation safety. That's it. A plane crashes, a boat sinks, a train derails, a pipeline ... leaks. When that alert comes in, our investigators go out—deploying all over the country, at a moment's notice. Simply put, their job is to find out what happened, what went wrong, and how we can stop it from happening again. If we do our job well, and for twenty years we always have, we go home at the end of the day having solved a problem, and hopefully saved lives.
But we don't stop there. Once our reports go out the door, we have to convince lawmakers, industry, and the Canadian public that the problem requires action.
But how? How do we do that?
I wish I could say the TSB had a magic wand. Or that we didn't need to try very hard because everybody already puts safety first—ahead of their own interests, ahead of their company's interests, and ahead of the bottom line. But this is the real world, and at the TSB we have to push for the changes that need to be made.
So we hold press conferences, we make speeches, we issue watchlists, and put people on TV. And over and over again we use clear, specific language to make sure we get our point across to the people who can influence change. Politicians. Or regulators, like Transport Canada. Industry. The media.
To our credit, as we celebrate our 20th anniversary, at the TSB we can look back at some major successes.
Some of you may have heard about the tragedy of Swissair 111, which went down off of Peggy's Cove, Nova Scotia, in 1998. There were 215 passengers on board, and 14 crew. And not one of them survived.
That investigation was the largest ever undertaken by the TSB. It took four and a half years to complete, and when it was done, we made 23 recommendations. Uptake was good, too, and industry and regulators promptly changed a number of their practices.
More recently, the TSB investigated a crash where icing on critical surfaces brought down a Cessna 208 in downtown Winnipeg. Our recommendations – reinforced by our American counterpart, the NTSB – pushed Transport Canada and the FAA to take quick action regarding training and procedures. The end result-better safety for the 1600 Cessna 208s flying around the world.
As you know, though, work can sometimes seem ... removed from the real world, so let me tell you a little story:
About a year ago, I was taking a Cessna 208 out of Port Angeles, Washington. I'm not a pilot, but I really love to fly, so when the pilot asked if anyone wanted to ride in the right seat, I raced across that tarmac like there was no tomorrow. I remember it was a beautiful clear day as we headed along Juan de Fuca Strait and then south into Puget Sound and down to Seattle. But that's not the point of the story. The point is what I saw when I sat down in that seat: all of the measures the TSB and the NTSB had recommended—all of the procedures, such as when to fly and not to fly in icing conditions—were stamped on plates in that cockpit. That really brought home to me that what I do isn't "ivory tower" work. My job at the TSB makes a real day-to-day impact.
The other secret to our success comes directly from our mandate. We're not a private firm. We don't have to worry about quarterly earnings or shareholder profits. Yes, we're part of the government, but because we're independent, we don't have a party line to toe. We answer directly, and only to the Canadian people.
OK, so the TSB's a great place to work. Our reports are written by experts, they're detailed, and since we don't pull punches the final product ends up saving lives. What's the downside, Wendy?
Well for one thing, it's hard.
Whenever there's an accident, everybody wants to know what went wrong, right away. That demand for new information—the demand to find out what happened, and why, right now—almost always outpaces the supply. That means our investigators come under tremendous pressure, and tremendous public scrutiny. Just imagine standing in front of a press scrum, microphones shoved in your face while a dozen reporters insist you tell them what caused the accident, right this second?
That pressure never goes away, either. It continues throughout the investigation, not only from the media but from families, crew, manufacturers, and regulators—-all of whom want our report to place them and those they love in a positive light.
That's quite a responsibility for our investigators, but it's also something that I think everyone in this room understands:
Put it this way: Most people out there are perfectly OK being passengers on a plane, even if they don't know how to operate the controls. There's a trust there, an expectation that everything will be fine.
That's a heavy burden for the pilots—and for the flight crews and the airline companies ... But it's also an honour.
It's no different in my line of work. Safety investigation is a detail-oriented process. It's time consuming. It's analytical. It isn't something you can rush. And people trust us—the Canadian public trusts us—because our results have proven to be accurate. Over and over again, in every investigation and with each report and recommendation ... we put our name and our credibility on the line.
Which brings me to my point.
People ask me for advice all the time. Maybe it's because I'm a lawyer. Or because I went to Western, and they make 'em smart here.
Many of you—recent graduates with student loans, or perhaps with dreams of big paychecks, and facing an unsettled economy—may be looking outward past the warm, comforting gates of academia and thinking "Yikes, it looks kinda rough out there. Unpredictable. And there don't seem to be many guarantees if I work hard."
Well, guess what? Even if you do work hard—even if you work as hard as you can—at some point you're going to come up short. You might not get the job, and even if you do, there will be times when things don't go your way.
But don't let that stop you. Don't let that dissuade you from working as hard as you can the next time, and the time after that. Because the instant you do, the second you begin caring less than 100 percent ... well, something inside you dies a little.
And you will never be able to get it back.
You start thinking that maybe second best isn't so bad after all.
And once you've started thinking like that, it's not a big leap to mailing it in.
And this is the real nugget of advice I have for you:
Five years from now, or maybe ten or twenty, there will come a time when it's really tempting to mail it in. You'll have an opportunity when no one's looking and you think to yourself "second place isn't so bad. It's certainly a lot less effort than first. And it might even be more lucrative."
But Canadians don't want their kids going to schools where the teacher only kind of likes his job. And I sure as heck don't want mine going to a doctor who does her job because "well, it pays the bills." Call me biased, but some jobs are more important than others. And if yours involves a public trust—and it will-well, that's pretty much sacred.
So go be a pilot. Or a flight instructor. Or become an aviation manager and run the world's greatest airline. Maybe you'll even come and work for the TSB someday. But whatever you do, whatever you choose and wherever you end up practicing your profession... do it as well as you possibly can. Follow your passion and don't ever mail it in. Or e-mail it in. Or, God forbid, Twitter it in!
Because every day that you work as hard as you can, every day that you fight as hard as you can for what you believe in, you build up a bit more of that public trust, that sacred currency that will stand you in good stead when times are tough.
Build up enough of it, and you can do almost anything: change laws, change the world. Save lives, even. People won't be afraid to get in that airplane with you. Heck, they'll fly with you anywhere. Everyone will.
And not just because you let me sit in the right seat.
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