John Coplin: safety first in jet design

John Coplin discusses how safety weighs on the mind of the Rolls-Royce jet engine designer.

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It was a relatively high risk programme, for which the risk alleviation had to be complete by the time you were out there in service, or at least it had to be at a level where the economic penalty for not getting it quite right was manageable. And the things that were paramount is, one, you’d better not kill anyone, it had better be safe. The next requirement is it’d better be safe [laughs]. So that is absolutely number one. But the second was, you’d better keep the revenue going for the airline, even if the maintenance costs go up, the cost of spare parts goes up, because all that’s doing is it’s eroding the margins but at least you’re keeping your business intact, you’re still flying the passengers, they’re still confident to fly with you. They know that it’s safe and under control. It’s a pity that you’ve got to make money for the shareholders but, you know, there was a very clear ranking of priorities, safety first, absolutely. And the Rolls-Royce view was, go beyond the regulations and make sure that you’ve got a margin over and above what you’re required to do by law, by certification standards, so that you could – if there is some degradation, you’re still safe. And there is an economic penalty for that ‘cause it means things are a bit stronger, therefore they’re a bit heavier, maybe a bit more costly. And, you know, you are doing something which is kind of crazy, you know. You’re taking 300 people, you take them five miles in the sky, you’re driving along at ten times faster than they would drive their motor cars, even on a clear freeway or clear motorway. You’ve got a pressure difference of ten or twelve pounds per square inch all over this great big cigar tube. So, you know, you have to be right to the last detail on everything. You’re doing something which is – the consequences of getting it wrong are pretty nasty. And so you have to make sure that, if there is a degradation, it’s safe.

  • Interviewee John Coplin
  • Duration 00:02:42
  • Copyright British Library Board
  • Interviewer Thomas Lean
  • Date of interview 6/6/2011
  • Shelfmark C1379/37

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