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Designing airplanes and scuba courses to be safe...

Dr. K - Divemaster/GP
August 17, 2006 at 20:22:34

Perhaps it's an apples and pineapples comparison but I think it works to point out that sometimes the critical factor in diving safety is the course itself rather than the instructor.  Even instructor ability, or lack of it, reflects back on the relative quality of the instructor certification course.

Try looking at it this way Jason.  Whether one is designing an airplane or a scuba diving course, there are inevitably design compromises dictated by the reality of the marketplace. The one exception is safety. If an airplane is unsafe, the world's best pilot cannot make it safe, nor could it be successfully certified for training purposes or public transportation.  Similarly, if a scuba diving course is unsafe, the world's best instructor cannot make it safe nor should it ever be utilized to "train" and "certify" people as "scuba divers".

The primary objective of an aeronautical engineer is to design airplanes that pilots can handle even when conditions are bad. In adverse and often unanticipated conditions, if the plane is unsafe due to design compromises and it breaks apart in mid-air, the pilot will not be able to fly it no matter how proficient he is. In such cases, the critical factor is the design of the airplane, not pilot proficiency.

To make a beginner's scuba diving course safe, it must be designed to enable instructors to thoroughly train students in basic scuba diving skills such as buoyancy control, ascent rates, safety stops, emergency preparedness, out of air ascents etc. If the course design fails to adequately prepare beginners to dive in good conditions and bad, no instructor can make it safe. In this case, the critical factor is the design of the scuba course, not instructor proficiency.

What strains the comparison to some extent is that air transportation safety is governed by federal safety regulations and certification standards that work very well to eliminate unsafe airplanes (and unsafe pilots).  In the self-regulated dive industry, there is no independent oversight of companies that design, market and sell certification products, hence the 2-day beginner course and 4-day instructor course that provoke so much criticism among dive safety experts and the diving public.

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