Sunday, February 26, 2006

Why pilots don't run airports

May be it is not obvious to many people, but the Captain of an airplane is the highest authority on board. When he decides that a plane is going up or down, left or right, faster or slow, it will be done. Not even the CEO of the airline will overrule him. Yet, no captain or pilot will land an airplane on an airport unless they have clearance from the Air Traffic Controller (ATC) in the tower, not even when the airplane is hours too late, hundreds of passengers are waiting for transportation or deadlines for lucrative cargo contracts are at stake.

Now suppose, 5 other planes are first in queue and none of them is delayed or has an emergency. The airport is using only 1 of the 2 runways for landing because of maintenance.

Captain: "Tower, AA123 is requesting immediate landing clearance"
ATC: "AA123, what's you're emergency"
AA123: "Tower, you have caused us delays. AA will lose a 200 billion contract if we don't arrive within the next 30 minutes. AA123"
ATC: "Negative AA123. Continue approach in sequence. You're number 6 to land"

Would the captain dare to respond with:

Captain: "Tower, I am captain of this Boeing 747, and I have clearance from the CEO of AA. We're coming in on runway 24L, AA123"
ATC: "AA123, runway 24L is under maintenance"
Captain: "Tower, that's your problem. If you were operating 2 runways, we would not have gotten this delay. We're talking big money here!"

Now translate this to a late software project. It's a Friday before the summer holidays and everyone is eager to take some days off after the project has hampered due inconsistencies in the CM repository, caused by late and hurried integration of some changes making the build to fail. Some of these changes need to be undone and some other need to be fixed, before new features can be added responsibly. The configuration manager says No, can't do but the project manager is in a hurry to release the product to a customer with a 200 billion dollar contract.

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