The management department at Vaughn College welcomed the Honorable Christopher Hart, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB)(Ret.) and founder of Hart Solutions, LLP to its Industry Insights Speaker Series, sponsored by ATL Partners. Hosted by Dr. Maxine Lubner and Adjunct Professor Loretta Alkalay, Hart discussed the vulnerabilities of automation as he took the audience through serious—and in some cases tragic—journeys of several accidents where automation met human operation. At this event, students learned the importance of safety in all forms of transportation as well as how the benefits of earning Vaughn’s Safety Management Systems Certificate can start them on their way to a futureproof career.

About Christopher Hart

For nearly 50 years, Christopher Hart’s stellar expertise as a lawyer, pilot and government official has earned him a sterling reputation as an expert in the transportation safety industry. After working at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), he returned to the NTSB, having previously served there for several years. In 2009, he was sworn in as a member, where he held several positions. Five years later, President Barack Obama nominated Hart to serve as the agency’s thirteenth chairman—a position he held until 2017. Hart holds a Bachelor of Science and Master of Science in aeronautical engineering from Princeton University, and a Juris Doctor from Harvard Law School.

Notable Accidents in Transportatio­­n

Metro Collision, Washington, DC—2009

Hart opened the discussion with the metro collision of 2009 in Washington, DC, which he described as a failure of automation. At that time, Hart said there was “some automation” in place and explained how a defect in the system’s design led to the fatal train collision. Here’s what transpired. First, Hart began by describing a dispatch board that shows the entire transit system and where the trains are located. A defect in the system resulted in a train on the tracks being “electronically invisible”—which gave no warning to the second train traveling miles behind it that there was another train ahead. Thinking that the rail was clear, the operator of the second train accelerated as it approached a curve. As it made its way around this curve, the operator saw the first train and applied the emergency brakes. Tragically, it was too late and the operator and eight passengers were killed. Working at the NTSB at the time of this accident, Hart said there is a lesson to be learned.  “Automation needs to assume reality,” he said. “The software should have picked up that the train was there. The failure is obvious. If the signal disappeared, then still assume the train is still in place.”

Human Factors “Error Trap” in Strasbourg, France—1992

Hart described this tragic airplane crash in Strasbourg, France as “fascinating”—because the fate of the passengers and crew came down to a simple decimal point. Wondering how that could be? Here are the details of the crash. As he began, Hart outlined several risk factors of the flight which he described as an “accident waiting to happen.”

These were the situational risk factors:

  • Flight occurred at night
  • Mountainous terrain
  • No ground radar
  • No ground-based ground slope guidance
  • No airborne terrain alerting equipment

Although the plane was equipped with a sophisticated autopilot, Hart claimed it was “autopilot ambiguity” that caused the crash. Here’s what happened: While preparing for landing, the pilot programmed the autopilot system incorrectly by not including a decimal point in the speed at which the plane should descend. The correct programming should have been “3.2” in the window—which means to descend at a 3.2-degree angle (about 700 feet per minute at 140 knots). Instead, the pilot failed to include the decimal point and entered “32” (without the decimal point) in the window, which indicated that the plane should descend at 3,200 feet per minute.

Due to this gross error—in addition to flying at night—the pilots didn’t know they were approaching the ground as quickly as they were and crashed before reaching the airport. “This is a textbook example of threats and errors,” he said. “We need to correct situations that can lead to mistakes. In this case, a simple decimal point was the difference between life and death.” So, what could have prevented this accident? Hart said the industry needs the human factor in situations like this: Experts who will fly in a simulator to help investigators understand what happened. He continued by emphasizing how a proactive flight data recorder readout program could have helped safety experts identify this problem before the crash.

Landing on the Hudson: Unanticipated Circumstances—2009

The landing of U.S. Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River—or more popularly known as the “Miracle on the Hudson”—will go down in aviation history as one of the most remarkable landings in our lifetime. Here is what happened:

On January 15, 2009, the Airbus A320 was on its regularly scheduled flight from New York City to Charlotte and Seattle when it struck a flock of birds shortly after takeoff—causing all the engines to lose power. Unable to reach an airport, pilots Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger and Jeffrey Skiles had to make a split-second decision to attempt a water landing in the river without any power. The pilots were unaware that the plane was equipped with phugoid damping, which inhibited three and one-half degrees of nose-up alpha during flare. This resulted in a higher vertical speed upon impact. Hart—who says this landing is not a miracle at all—credits several factors for the successful outcome that resulted in no fatalities. Some of these factors included:

  • Good engine design
  • A robust system
  • Well-trained pilots

He stated in this particular situation, stick and rudder skills and discipline played major roles in the successful outcome of this accident. “We need to train commercial pilots with these skills,” Hart said. “For this accident, the human factor was the most reliable.” As amazing as this water landing was, Hart said had the pilots known of the phugoid damping, it may have reduced damaged and injuries.

Hart’s Final Thoughts

Hart concluded his presentation with some closing thoughts on automation in aviation:

  • Automation has a proven track record of benefits.
  • As automation becomes more reliable, complex and capable, the challenges will increase—both when the automation is not functioning as designed, as well as when it is functioning properly.
  • Automation failure is rare. Problems are more likely to be related to human factors and/or unanticipated circumstances.
  • Checklists will face many of the same challenges as automation since they are simply operator-enabled automation.

A management or aviation degree can prepare you for an exciting and in-demand career. Here’s how Vaughn can get you there.

Vaughn’s Aviation and Management Programs

Vaughn offers a range of bachelor’s, master’s, associate and certificate programs in aviationmanagement and aviation maintenance. As a leading institution in these industries, the College is setting the pace by providing its students with the skills they need to land jobs in these in-demand fields. Are you ready to pursue your futureproof career? Discover the possibilities of a lifelong career through one of our programs. Apply today!


In this month’s episode, “Booming Aviation, Engineering and Management Job Markets: How Vaughn is Answering the Call,” Dr. Sharon B. DeVivo, president of Vaughn College and host of the podcast, Futureproof Focus, sat down with her colleague, Chaundra Daniels, director of career services, for an enlightening discussion about the booming job market in aviation, engineering and management, and how Vaughn is preparing its students to gain the competitive edge for landing positions in these in-demand fields

Daniels setting the pace for student success

With less than one year in her position as Vaughn’s director of career services, Daniels has brought a fresh perspective to the department by implementing innovative programs that are changing the face of student/employee relations. For more than 20 years, she has devoted her career to helping others develop their professional paths and employer relations skills. “Vaughn is the place to be,” said Daniels. “My passion is helping students find their passion and dream job.”

How Vaughn’s degree programs are fueling the job market

Dr. DeVivo opened the discussion by stating how Vaughn prepares its students for some of today’s most in-demand jobs. With hiring at record-setting levels in the fields of aerospace, aviation and science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), she emphasized how Vaughn graduates have acquired the skills and are well-positioned to land careers in these booming job markets.

Daniels was excited to report that jobs in these fields are “pouring in.” “There is no shortage of jobs in our industry,” she said. “Employers are seeking out our students, knowing the value and credentials a Vaughn student brings to their company. This is the opportune time to be a Vaughn student.”  She further stated that Boeing just recently hired four of the College’s students. Daniels emphasized how—in addition to the job openings in the aforementioned fields—aviation maintenance technician jobs are also a crucial position being actively recruited now. “These technicians work behind the scenes to ensure the airplanes are safe to fly. Jobs like these—and others—are available across the board.”

Preparing students for success

Daniels was proud to say that Vaughn students are career-driven. “They know why they are here and what career they want for their future,” she said. And the College’s career services department is the hub where it all begins. “It’s important to engage with students early on—in their freshmen and sophomore years,” she said. “By working with them early, we can help them address any of their fears and sharpen their communication and networking skills.” Daniels explained the importance of meeting students where they are. “We want them to feel comfortable being able to present themselves and their skillset.” She went on to say that the career services department works with students to achieve these goals by offering an open-door policy that is designed around their schedules. This way, students can receive help with résumé development and interview preparation, among other career support tasks.

Making connections with Vaughn’s programs and partnerships

Preparing students for success is only one part of Vaughn’s mission. Helping them make the right connections to land their dream jobs is what Daniels does best. Employer Engagement Days—a program which she spearheaded—and other partnerships are helping Vaughn students land internships and jobs in their fields.

Employer Engagement Days

Last spring, Daniels kicked off Employer Engagement Days as a new initiative to streamline the employer engagement process for Vaughn students and industry leaders who are looking to hire. She explained how work is about building relationships and that these one-on-one meetings are proving successful for both employers and students who were seeking a more efficient and convenient way to meet by accommodating the schedules of both parties. “I developed Employer Engagement Days as a way to get employers back on campus after the pandemic,” Daniels said. She explained that the process is more casual and less stressful, thus allowing representatives from corporations to interview students on an individual basis—without the pressure and time constraints of traditional large networking events and career fairs. Employer Engagement Days helps to level the playing field, as it removes the competition and gives both the student and employer the time needed to determine if they are a good fit for each other.

JetBlue’s ‘University Gateway’ Pilot Pathway Program

Last summer, Vaughn partnered with JetBlue Airways as part of the airlines’ University Gateway Pilot Pathway Program. This groundbreaking, first-of-its-kind program allows aircraft operations students who attend Aviation Accreditation Board International (AABI) accredited institutions—such as Vaughn—to apply and interview for positions at JetBlue as they completed their college courses. You can check out the JetBlue University Gateway program requirements on the website.

LaGuardia Gateway Partners

Earlier this year, LaGuardia Gateway Partners approached Vaughn to set up an internship program where students could gain experience in the industry. “Early onset industry experience is so important,” Daniels stated. “Internship programs such as this is just another way Vaughn prepares its students and offers them opportunities for a successful future.”

Professional Development Workshop Series

Daniels is passionate about helping students build the confidence and resilience they need to present themselves in the best possible light and articulate who they are. Here are some of the ways in which career services helps students to achieve these goals:

  • Industry résumé building
  • Effective interviewing
  • Networking and conferences

Dr. DeVivo added that the student experience offered at Vaughn sets the College apart from other institutions. “We support our students emotionally, financially and socially,” she said. “These programs and conferences are great pathways to their careers.”

The industry’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion

Dr. DeVivo stated that over the last several years, Vaughn has seen companies commit to hiring individuals from diverse backgrounds. Daniels replied that it isn’t as much about how employees are meeting diversity as we know it, but it should be regarded rather as a “diversity of thought.” She explained that—from a humanity perspective—it’s all about hiring the best person for the job. “Diversity is not easy,” Daniels said. “It’s a communication and personality issue. If employers seek candidates based on what they bring to the table—their unique talents—they’ll win every time.”

Dr. DeVivo’s tip of the month

Dr. DeVivo concluded the conversation with a wrap-up tip of the month: “The key to landing a great career is seizing opportunities early by establishing relationships with employers as part of your educational journey.”

You can listen to the podcast in its entirety here.

Thinking about becoming a pilot? Read about why now is the best time to pursue your degree.

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Want to learn more about becoming an aviation technician? Read why aviation maintenance degrees are fueling great career opportunities.