Solar Impulse will be a success because of two things: technology and the human factor. I am confident that they will make it and complete the mission within the next couple of weeks! They are flying around the world using solar power alone. It's an amazing feat and one that makes me wonder how they do it. This is how they succeed and what we can learn from them.
Lesson one: know what's really important to you
"Solar Impulse has to deal with a lot of uncertainties. For one thing there's the weather. Then there are the technical systems - we use a lot of new, cutting edge technologies and there's risk related to that. We also fly very long hours and we have a person on board who hasn't had a lot of sleep and is exposed to cold temperatures – that's a lot of risk too. In the end, though, you have to identify what really counts. For us that's energy and pilot health." Michael Anger, Flight Director.
"We monitor the pilot's medical condition during the flight, so we do so-called health checks. It's like an interview. We ask him a number of questions and he has to report. It's pretty direct, like asking "how do you feel?" and getting an answer and digging in if needed." Christophe Schlettig, Flight Test engineer.
Lesson two: develop systems that monitor what's really important to you
"More accidents happen due to human error. This is civil aviation, commercial aviation. ….We have to accept a certain level of risk but not be stupid." Raymond Clerc, Mission Director. "We are working with two instruments - the computer and the human being,"adds Luc Trullemans, Forecast Team.
Lesson three: create an ergonomic working environment
"On the second aircraft, we realized we needed to improve things like the oxygen system and pilot comfort in the cockpit. It helped make long duration flights of up to five days more sustainable for the pilot." Christophe Schlettig,Flight test engineer.
Lesson four: help your staff maintain their performance levels
"He crossed the Pacific in three days on minimum sleep. He had to be awake, focused and vigilant. Certain techniques help him maintain his focus so he can, let' say, relax or get back to a state of optimal performance whenever he's feeling tired or stressed or whenever something unpredictable is happening." Agathi Christodoulidi, Senior Trainer.
Lesson five: be prepared
"Well, the team deals with such stress during the flights ... we're prepared for such situations, we know we're working on a high-risk project and there's a real risk that things can go wrong. Either the pilot or the airplane has problems - or the weather creates problems. And for all these areas we need to have an answer to the problem. And we train this ahead of the flight." Michael Anger, Flight Director.
Lesson six: have an experienced team
"The key to continuity is people. If you have a team that's been working together for a long time, and if the environment is right, you'll have continuity and good results. If you change your team twice a week or change the location, it's disruptive." Christophe Schlettig Flight, Test engineer.
The amazing thing is that this advice applies to all workplaces. Whether it's hospitals or chemical plants, you don't want to have tired staff in an unproductive environment. The same can be said for the truck driver next to you on the highway or the bus driver at the front of the bus you're on. Solar Impulse reminded me how important the human factor is. It validated why I apply the human factor assessment in my daily work and why we do research on the
human factor at Swiss Re – to make our risks safer for the benefit of the insured and all of us.