The curious case of Air France 447

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Player Valuation: £6m
“Nobody flies into a thunderstorm twice” is common for the types of phrases pilots enjoy to impart their wisdom. This quip fits the pilot persona, but also carries with it a fair amount of wisdom. Thunderstorms are obviously dangerous weather and too often fatal for pilots and passengers. Those who survive a scare encounter have, hopefully, learned lessons that will guide them on future adventures. But most pilots and passengers never encounter the experience in the first place, maybe after learning the terrible lessons of others. Then again, pilots have a certain type of personality that lends itself to adventure. “Cowboys” is how they are often described in Yank parlance; “Texan” may be an apt description for many pilots, using a similar local phrase.

Air France 447 last flew June 1, 2009, en route from Rio de Janiero to Paris, and encountered thunderstorms over the Atlantic before crashing into the ocean, killing all on board. Although the first remains and wreckage were found the week after this disaster, it took almost two years to recover the black boxes, the cockpit voice recorder and flight data computer, which help describe the full tragic story.

Pilots come from, and fly to, all parts of the world, but English is the international language used for flying and so many of the phrases are identical all over the world. And the processes for flying, while maybe specific to certain regional preferences, military training techniques, or airline checklists, are still largely the same across the world. When two pilots are flying the airplane they can’t obviously both be controlling the levers at once. So when they switch over control to the other pilot you frequently hear verbal exchange like this: “I have the flight controls” followed by “You have the flight controls.”

A breakdown in this process, among other factors, was ultimately at play in the loss of Air France 447. Shortly before the aircraft entered the thunderstorm, the Captain went off duty to rest and brought in a relief pilot. The Captain advised the relief pilot that they should expect turbulence ahead, but it’s unclear whether any of the three pilots really understood what to expect. At some point after entering the thunderstorm, certain aircraft instruments which measure pressure began to accumulate ice. Because these instruments were calculating incorrectly, the autopilot disconnected. It was not long after this that the aircraft was upset and began to stall. The flight crew sent a message for the Captain to rejoin the flight deck and help them regain control.

It was minutes that the aircraft was stalling, flying out of control, before it came to rest on the surface of the ocean. You might picture in your head a flat spin like you see in the movies, but it was probably more like sitting in a small boat rocked back and forth by the wake of a larger boat passing too closely. In those minutes you had flight crew clearly not aware what exactly was happening, confused in their communication with each other, and simultaneously putting opposite and conflicting input into the flight controls, which only further confused the fully computerized flight system found on this aircraft.

"[****!] I don't have control of the airplane any more now"

"I don't have control of the airplane at all!"

"We've lost all control of the aeroplane, we don’t understand anything, we've tried everything"

In the aftermath, after reviewing the black boxes and other information available to us, we understand now what was happening then. The aircraft had stalled but never recovered. Stall training is probably the fundamental pilot skill, a practice repeated as much as any other in training. A stall is when airflow over the surface of the wings is disrupted and the aircraft is no longer creating sufficient lift to fly. The pilot pushes the yoke (or control stick) forward, which causes the elevator, a large winglike surface at the rear of the aircraft, to point down. This results in a large upward force on the elevator and rotates the aircraft “downward.” Now the aircraft is able to restore proper airflow over the wing and regain flight control.

Most stalls in training are not only premeditated, they are quick. And the recovery is quick as well. More advanced aircraft may have trickier handling and stall characteristics, which makes recovery sometimes very difficult. But training for more advanced aircraft is likewise more detailed. Much training is put into theory, understanding the specific details of events and how to process information from certain instruments. Even when to trust some information and instruments more than other information and instruments.

I don’t know whether Air France 447 could have recovered from the stall it encountered. What we do know is the observations of the flight crew in the final moments.

“Climb, climb, climb, climb."

"But I've been at maximum nose-up for a while!"

"No, no, no, don't climb! No! No! No!"

Among the tragedy of Air France 447 was confusion among the flight crew regarding what was happening, what to do about the situation, pilots using separate and conflicting flight control inputs, and of course someone at the flight controls adding the exactly wrong control inputs. But as terrifying and interesting as the case of Air France 447 might be, and as much as this Texan enjoys talking airplanes, we’re only really here for one reason. We’re here to talk about Everton Football Club, Farhad Moshiri, and his Board of Directors.

I’d previously written encouragement to give Mr Moshiri time to install his vision on the club. Changing how things are done in an organization is not always an easy process, and some early results have been encouraging. Bramley Moore Dock is not just in idea, but a reality, and it looks like it’s going to be a grand way to spend your Saturday. And it’s beyond cool to see the Liver Building gilded blue. And the plans for reusing Goodison after moving the ground to the banks of the River Mersey are quite delightful. But not all results are equal, and some have been terrifyingly stressful. It’s clear that as a football man, Farhad Moshiri is outmatched or at least not in control of the situation.

Mr Moshiri speaks with big ideas, and these seem sincere. He doesn’t want this club to be a museum. And he wants a big name to manage the club. It’s not clear whether he fancies himself a rock star, but he seems to want a rock star personality to manage the club. And he seems to want rock star results as well. And this is not necessarily bad, I suppose, if you can manage it the right way.

But you can’t hire a Director of Football and then not give him the freedom to run football operations. Simply appointing him to the Board of Directors does not increase his power if you do not allow him to implement his plan, it only cuts off his feet and requires that he dines at your table. It’s worth discussion whether Marcel Brands was good at his job, and there are no doubt many who do not believe in a DOF model, but it’s clear that whatever his job should have been, Mr Brands was not allowed the freedom to do it.

And I guess if you’re going to hire a rock star manager you should give him freedom to bring in his own recruits. But when you hire the wrong rock star, or several rock stars in short order, what you end up with is a bunch of strung out footballers, trained in various styles of music. A distastefully eclectic mix of hangers on and groupies, as well as maybe a few legitimately talented musicians in the bunch, does not make a proper footballing XI.

But the problem is not the players. It never has been. All problems start at the top, and the man at the top is Farhad Moshiri. Mr Moshiri must learn to put in place a coherent, consistent football strategy. He must learn to discern which voices are worth hearing and which ones should be ignored. He must learn how to create a positive footballing culture. Not in some mushy, emotional sense, like the club Captain coming out after a terrible result saying “We’ve got to do better,” but bringing in a specific sort of player to play a specific sort of role and developing that player. Bringing in replacements and grooming them at the club, knowing what their roles will be and when their time may come, so that they don’t scurry off to another club for a slightly larger contract, only to sit on their bench as well.

What we’ve seen illustrated so clearly these past few months is confusion at the helm of Everton Football Club. Forget the fact that Mr Benitez is a kopite. Let’s forget that his tactics may be severely out of date. Let’s forget even that he appears egomaniacal in his pursuit of club control, although this is nearer the point. Bringing in a manager, now the club’s 6th managerial departure in 6 years, and giving him reigns to the club so that the dismisses the medical team, recruiting team, Director of Football, two of your most talented players (to be fair, James did not seem to want to stay after Ancelotti left)—did I miss anything here—is not just dire leadership at the top. It’s madness. And madness again to dismiss the manager days after he forces out a player in a power trip. Even if relegation is not the unhappy result of this Premier League campaign, the prospect of relegation is little more than a symptom of what ails the club. Sacking Mr Benitez as manager of the football club, even if the near term results are positive, won’t put any end to this madness.

This is not just a football club in trouble, it looks like a club in freefall. The reality is that for many supporters, watching these events unfold in real time is terrifying. I suspect the same for our owner. And I hope Mr Moshiri will learn from this terrifying experience. I do think the football club will survive. I hope so. And I hope Mr Moshiri will survive as well, learning from his own mistakes.

So then I’ll end positively: all solutions start at the top. For all the fault at the hands of Mr Moshiri for the current mess at Everton Football Club, it can’t be more clear that he is the one who can solve these problems as well. But to do this he’s got to ignore those voices feeding conflicting or false information. And he’s got to stop adding erroneous input. He’s got to realize that he’s causing some of the problems here—he may be looking at the league table shouting, “Climb! Climb!” but ham-fisting the controls won’t get the results he desires.

I don’t think we actually need our club Owner and Board Chairman to be a “proper footballing man,” as it were. But we need him to understand his own faults and inadequacies. We need him to bring in the right people who can do the job, and let them do the job without his interference. We need him to limit the scope of his ownership to doing the things he can actually get right. (And let’s not forget that he seems to have gotten some things right!).

I was not sold on the appointment of Graeme Sharp to the Board of Directors, but there’s no doubt he understands more about football than Mr Moshiri. And Mr Kenwright, for all of the questions about how he’s directed this club during his tenure, has enough experience that he should know better than the current mess. Will these and the other voices at the Board level talk over each other and become incoherent babble? Will they converge on a single line of thinking to push the club forward? Will Mr Moshiri even listen to other members of his Board if they offer advice counter to his desires? I have no happy conclusion to any of this and don’t delude myself that I have any more input than you or the passenger in seat 27B. But let’s hope someone at the controls starts making good decisions. And soon. Godspeed, Everton Football Club.
That was like reading war and peace .


Player Valuation: £50m
I read it. I disagree that there needs to be only one guiding strategy, the latest of which is to replace experienced footballers with young players that have potential but are not actually ready to play yet, or if they do play, they are a clear downgrade on what we had before. This strategy is being implemented during a relegation dog fight ffs.

There needs to be a mixed approach. A mix of experience and youth, a mix of players so that it is possible to play football or get stuck in when required. We need a manager that can play more than one type of football, and not just 8-1-1.

Moyes did this. He would have a mixture of youth and experience. He didn’t cack himself just because a player was approaching 30, only to replace him with an inexperienced downgrade.

I think there are some people that actually think this January’s transfer business has been wise or successful. It really hasn’t, it’s been yet more crazy arsed dealing that has done nothing but weaken us even further at the worst possible moment.

Moshiri’s attempts to be clever only result in one disaster after another.
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