"...when we saw the coating had been ripped off and we had some performance issues..", that was a moment were Michael Anger – a flight director at Solar Impulse Mission Control Center in Monaco had to help find the right solution. The damage occurred during the flight across the USA in 2013, just outside New York. It was a moment nearly everybody in the team remembered, and the most serious incident they had so far on the mission.
So what did they do? "First off, you bring the aircraft and the pilot to a safe state, and then you think. You have a coffee, you think some more, and if it's a technical problem, you take the problem out of real time, you put it to the engineers, give them some kind of a time limit, like: "We have two hours to solve that, otherwise he has to bail out."And they have to deliver... they propose an answer or a technical procedure, or debugging, and then we do it in a very smooth way with the pilot." That's how Michael summarized how they dealt with the unthinkable happening. Fortunately, situations like this are not completely unthinkable. Contingency plans were in place well in advance because of the risk management measures that Solar Impulse has taken. As Michael put it: "We are prepared for such situations, we know we are working on a high-risk project and there's a high risk that something will go wrong. Either the pilot has problems or the air-plane - or it's the weather that creates problems. And for all these different factors we need to have an answer. And this is what we work on, ahead of the flight." This risk planning meant Solar Impulse could land safely in New York. It's also what allows companies to stay in business, even if disaster – whether man-made or natural - strikes.
On the ground companies can be hit by fire/explosions, earthquake, storm or flood. Such events can cut off supplies or infrastructure. There's a real risk of losing your business if you are not prepared. My job at Swiss Re Corporate Solutions (CorSo) is to work with large companies to assess what can go wrong and advise on protection measures. For example, we made a car manufacturer aware that their plant in India was exposed to floods. As a result, the CorSo engineer worked together with the client to select the most effective risk mitigation measures. When the floods hit, they stayed in business because they were prepared. Of course there can be floods beyond our imagination, and for these we offer our insurance solutions. But in the end, staying dry means staying in business, which is always the best option. Another team member from Solar Impulse, Christophe Schlettig, a flight test engineer, sums it up like this: "We did a complete system safety analysis where we tested all the systems in isolation and in combination with each other and we managed to improve reliability by up to five days. This approach is applied everywhere in the normal industry, for cars and for applications." They do it, we do it – to keep our lives running smoothly even if disaster strikes.
Location: New York, NY, United States