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!


The management department at Vaughn College welcomed Breeze Airways president Tom Doxey to its Industry Insights Speaker Series, sponsored by ATL Partners. Hosted by Dr. Maxine Lubner and Adjunct Professor Loretta Alkalay, Doxey discussed the exciting ventures of Breeze Airways—a new low-fare airline that is making a name itself with Seriously NiceTM flights and fares. At this event, students learned the benefits of earning Vaughn’s Safety Management Systems Certificate Program—as well as the exciting ways of how they can apply their aviation and management degrees at airlines such as Breeze Airways.

About Doxey

Last spring, industry veteran Tom Doxey was appointed president of Breeze Airways after having held senior positions for six years at United Airlines. Doxey’s job titles at United Airlines included chief financial officer of operations and, most recently, senior vice president of technical operations, where he oversaw the airline’s global technical operations and a team of more than 13,000 employees. With more than 16 years of combined industry experience, Doxey also credits his time at Allegiant Airlines—prior to his roles at United Airlines—as having given him the foundational experience for where he is today.

The Breeze Airways business model

Founded by aviation entrepreneur David Neeleman, Breeze Airways is known on the map as being the industry’s “nicest” airline, as its business model is customer-focused with flexibility, accessibility and integrity at the helm. Doxey outlines the company’s business model as “Seriously Nice.” Here are some key points:

Saves time
  • Non-stop flights avoid crowded hubs for easier, quicker travel
  • Convenient airports
  • Less drive times
  • Shorter TSA lines
Saves money
  • Low fares—simple, affordable price structure for a “nice,” “nicer” and “nicest” experience
  • Creates affordability and accessibility for travelers from all walks of life
  • More affordable airport parking
Peace of mind
  • No change or cancellation fees, allowing travelers to cancel 15 minutes prior to flight
  • Service to convenient, smaller airports, including 93 percent of unserved airports by other carriers
  • Beautiful, new aircraft with on board entertainment—with Wi-Fi coming soon
  • Families can sit together without additional charge
  • Travelers may have a flight credit that’s good for 24 months

Earning their wings

Doxey explained that although Breeze Airways was created during the COVID-19 pandemic, its management team of industry experts overcame several challenges to become one of today’s up and coming low-fare airlines. “Adversity creates strength,” said Doxey. “It helps you to grow through hard, challenging times.” Hard work is surely paying off, as Doxey outlined some of the airline’s impressive accomplishments in its first year of operation.

Travel + Leisure Ranking

Just this year, Travel + Leisure ranked Breeze Airlines as second of the 10 best U.S. domestic airlines in 2021, calling attention to its ease, affordability and seriously nice team members.

Record-setting first year
  • Breeze Airways has raised $200 million, establishing this airline the best-funded aviation start-up in history.
  • Operated 9,000 flights across 90 routes.
Future programs and operations
  • Customer loyalty program
  • International routes that include the Caribbean and Mexico

How Breeze embraces diversity, culture and the environment

Doxey explained how Breeze is taking tangible steps to address the topics of diversity, inclusion and culture adaptation within the company. “We’re not just talk,” he said. “We have conversations at the senior level that address these topics.” These are two of the steps they are taking:

  • Values committee—Breeze executives discuss the importance of inclusion and ways to ensure the company is doing everything possible to recognize people of all races, places and orientation as well as celebrating holidays such as Juneteenth and Veteran’s Day, among others.
  • Listening sessions—Addressing the different perspectives of women and giving them a voice where they may address their needs in the workplace.

And where the environment is concerned, Breeze Airways takes the health of citizens and the planet seriously. Doxey discussed the important ways in which the company is dedicated to keeping noise—and environmental pollution—to a minimum.

  • Use planes with quieter engines
  • Structure and adjust business around demand—will not fly planes with only a few customers
  • Scale back flights in slower months such as September and October

Unique pilot and training programs

Despite the ongoing pilot shortage, Doxey stated that Breeze Airways is focused on building its pilot base. Here are more details about this unique program:

“Breeze Boost” Pilot Program

“Breeze Boost” gives pilots who have less than the required 1,500 flight hours the opportunity to earn the hours they need to flow into its pool of commercial pilots. Doxey says this is an effective way to attract qualified pilots and create a pipeline to the 1,500 hours they need to earn their commercial pilot licenses.

Another unique opportunity for working as a Breeze Airways pilot is the ability to quickly build seniority. As a young airline, pilots who join early on have the opportunity to earn seniority faster than they would from working at larger carriers.

Training Program

Doxey was proud to say that training center and simulators at Breeze Airways are world-class and led by top pilot instructors who are laser-focused on safety.

Doxey’s tips on landing a job in the industry

Doxey was impressed to hear that Vaughn offers the Safety Management Systems Certificate Program. “We look for candidates with safety risk assessment skills,” said Doxey. “Having those tools and mindset is a huge benefit for those looking to be a part of our operations team.” He said the company is hiring for positions across the board—with pilots and technicians as among the more specific openings.

Doxey offered advice to Vaughn students—or anyone—who may be interested in working at Breeze Airways: “We welcome those who are looking to join our team of aviation, hospitality and technology enthusiasts,” he said. “It’s hard work—and you will need to pull up your sleeves—but in the end, it’s an exciting and rewarding opportunity to help create our ‘Seriously NiceTM’ culture.”

Vaughn’s aviation and management programs

Vaughn offers a range of bachelor’s, associate and certificate programs in aviation, management and aviation maintenance. As a leading institution in these industries, the College is setting the pace for 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!