Saturday, February 2, 2013

What's In A Name? At Canberra Airport, No Black Box References

From every single angle the Dreamliner is a sensational story. The world is riveted to the mystery and the drama, the politics, the economics and the engineering. So what do you say we take a break from all that? 

Today, I'm writing about an enthusiastic school girl from Sydney, Australia who has taken on a campaign to honor an air safety hero. 

Most children are happy when their homework assignment gets them a good grade, but after writing a report about David Warren, the Australian who invented the black box,  11-year old Eve Cogan set her sights on convincing the executives of Australia's capital city airport in Canberra to name the airport after him.  

Eve Cogan, photo by Raj Dhatt
For her assignment to research a famous Australian, Eve could have studied Peter Blamey, of Bionic Ear fame. But having spent many an evening watching air crash documentaries with her dad, the child found the late David Warren a more interesting choice. 

"I’ve seen a lot of episodes of air crash investigation and a lot of the time it’s the black box and that’s the final clue that they need," Eve told me during a skype interview recently.  

In a 15 minute video that became her term project, (see it on her website) Eve explains that Warren's idea to install a highly protected recording device on airplanes was first rejected as unnecessary. But persistence and timing came together so that the brilliance of his idea was finally recognized in the 1960s.  Now of course, airliners around the world are required to have them. Data recorders of one kind or another are used in all sorts of safety investigations.  

Warren was not just a man with insight, he apparently had a great sense of humor, or at least his family did.  Richard de Crespigny, who as captain of the near disaster that was Qantas Flight 32 is no stranger to aviation heroics,  told me that when Warren died in 2010, his survivors emblazoned his coffin with an orange label reading, "Flight Recorder Inventor - Do Not Open."  

Eve and de Crespigny photo - Raj Dhatt
Like Eve, de Crespigny believes the inventor's impact on the industry, warrants more attention than just a role in the homework of Australia's school children, even if it was, in Eve's case, a starring role. He's backing Eve's request to the director of  Canberra Airport to dial up  from that meh moniker by switching to David Warren Airport.

Of course there's a problem, and it isn't just what airport spokeswoman Jane Seaborn told me in an email, "Canberra Airport already has a name." Nope, in a phone call to Eve, the airport's director, Steven Byron told the child, when it comes to air travel passengers don't want to be reminded that things can go wrong.  

That's not an unexpected position but in this case it is quite curious because Qantas has already taken the bold step where Byron hesitates to go. Qantas christened its 9th Airbus A380 registration VH-OQI David Warren.

Eve and the subject of her research share the personality trait that allows them to see setbacks as opportunities. With her online petition garnering signatures by the day, Eve enrolled the help of Capt. de Crespigny and Miracle on the Hudson pilot, Sully Sullenberger the two most famous pilots since Antoine St. Exupery and Claire Chennault.  

Sully signed Eve's petition and urged his Twitter followers to do the same. De Crespigny, who tweets, @RicharddeCrep also gave Eve's efforts a boost in social media. "I support the intrepid spirit of an 11-year old girl," de Crespigny told me in an email, for the  "inspiration and drive to do what she thinks is right." 

As I read Richard's words, I realized the child and the inventor have more than one personality trait in common and I suspect Eve Cogan may make a little history herself. 
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