The good old days

Malcolm Latarche
Malcolm Latarche

09 August 2016


It is often said that shipping needs to learn lessons from aviation, although type 'tailstrike' into google and you might realise that aviation is not as safe as it is made out to be. This is the era of big data and digitisation and shipping is often chided for being behind the curve but perhaps the lessons are sometimes that shipping’s supposed conservatism is a better bet than the alternative. Yesterday, it was reported that a power cut at the headquarters of US airline Delta caused the cancellation of more than a 1,000 flights and left thousands of travellers stranded around the globe. Airport check-in systems, passenger advisory screens, the airline's website and smartphone apps were affected by the systems failure. The outage lasted six hours but Delta warned of continuing delays as a backlog of passengers was cleared. It might be questioned as why Delta had not built redundancy into their systems with a back-up system available at an alternative location but it is difficult to imagine that a shipping line would have had the same problem even though the number of boxes to be loaded on a container ship is many time the passengers on the average airliner. With a lot of talk about autonomous ships being operated remotely from a shore-based control centre perhaps the lesson to be learned by shipping is that if it goes down that route relying on a single control room might not be a good idea and duplication will be essential, with all the extra costs that entails. Of course, the control room is only one link in the chain and a power outage at a communications portal not controlled by the owner could be just as disruptive. Returning to the Delta situation and the anger of stranded travellers, perhaps the lesson is that the old ways still have a lot to recommend them after all.