Mind Games: The Ontology of Aviation Safety and its Consequences

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Virginia Tech

The regulation and administration of aviation within this country is greatly influenced by a core set of beliefs concerning the safety of aircraft and their operation. This core set of beliefs is referred to as the ontology of aviation safety because it is grounded in a particular reference to reality. The ontology of aviation safety is founded upon the beliefs that aviation operations are either "safe" or "unsafe", that accidents ore preventable, and that if accidents happen then culpability is attributable. These core beliefs support and objectified/reified view of safety which represents a particular reality.

Language, more than any other attribute, separates man from other animals. It is through language that man communicates his most profound feelings and ideas. A very basic premise of this dissertation is that language usage reflects beliefs and values. The use of the terms "safe" and "unsafe" when referring to aircraft operations represents the belief that "safe" is an attainable state, in other words, it represents an objectified/reified view of aviation safety. A hermeneutic interpretive approach was used to examine language use within various aviation texts to include: newspaper articles, speeches by Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) officials, testimony by FAA officials before Congress, and selected books concerning aviation safety.

By referring to aviation operations as either "safe" or "unsafe" in discourse and dialogue, an objectified/reified view of aviation safety is subtly perpetuated. This view is deeply rooted in the Amierican concept of aviation safety.

Aviation Safety, Ontology, Public Administration, Institutionalism