I’m currently sitting the Tenerife-North Airport on the island of Tenerife after attending the Ekahau Masters meeting for 2018. It took me over an hour in a taxi to get here from the hotel so it gave me time to reflect on where I was going, and it made me wax philosophical. Let me explain by going backwards in time for a moment.
When I was first invited to attend the Ekahau Masters meeting this year, and when I found out where it was, I was a little giddy. I’m kind of an aviation buff, and Tenerife, particularly the North airport, holds a special, maybe unique spot in the history of aviation and I was excited to have the opportunity to maybe visit the North airport. I have been anticipating this moment for close to 8 months, so it’s been building for a while now.
That explains my giddiness, although a weird one I will admit.
To give you some background, the Canary Islands, of which Tenerife belongs, is to Europe as the Hawaiian Islands are to the USA. It’s a tropical holiday spot where Europeans have been coming to for hundreds of years. First, as a last stop before crossing the Atlantic on the voyage to the west and more recently as a holiday getaway location for people trying to escape Europe to some place a little warmer. See, while technically being ruled by Spain, the Canary Islands actually sit on the African tectonic plate and are much closer to Morocco than they are to Spain.
This sets the stage for what happened here in March of 1977, the 27th to be exact. I won’t go into the full details but a terrorist bomb detonation on one of the other islands in the chain forced that airport to close and all aircraft inbound to that location to divert. Tenerife-North Airport (then called Los Rodeos Airport, and the only one on the island at the time) was the closest airport so many of the aircraft diverted to this single runway airport in the Atlantic Ocean.
This event led to what happened, and while not the only factor involved, it was one of the many leading to the end result. To wrap this up, what happened was when the aircraft that had diverted to this small airport were finally able to depart and head to their original destination, at one point in the middle of a heavy fog, two Boeing 747 aircraft ended up on the single runway facing each other and the KLM flagged airplane started it’s takeoff roll, heading directly towards the Pan Am aircraft taxiing straight at it.
What happened next is pretty easy to guess, and the result is, to date, the deadliest accident in the history of aviation. 583 people between the two aircraft died in the accident.
International Tenerife Memorial By Jesús Manuel Pérez Triana – Own work, CC0
Right, now why do I tell you such a morbid tale right before I board a flight taking off from this exact airport, and still its only runway?
- I love history and really like aviation, so it fits.
- If there is one thing I have learned, most of the people in wireless are a little off kilter, just like me. Don’t deny it, own it, you know you are!
- I have many hours of waiting and wanted to write about my experience.
The real truth is during the cab ride, I started to compare what happened on that fateful day on this little island to what I do in my everyday job. What I realized is while I sat there and thought about everything I had to go back and work on after my trip, there were a lot of little things that led to where that particular issue currently stands. I also realized that, just like with the Tenerife Airport disaster, all of these seeming little occurrences, had they happened in a bubble, wouldn’t lead to where I am today. It’s only when many, little occurrences start to happen, all in the “correct” order and lined up exactly, do you get to moments when really, REALLY bad things happen.
Picking vendor A over vendor B. Using virtual controllers instead of bare metal. Not doing that last AP-on-a-Stick survey, Picking one redundancy strategy instead of another. While independently, and if nothing goes wrong, most of these decisions are benign and don’t result in anything other than success. Only in those unique moments when the stars align against us as Wi-Fi Professionals do we realize the times that make us earn our pay.
This leads me back to the airport that I’m sitting in, and what happened here 41, almost 42 years ago, and how I can relate that to my Wi-Fi career. Unlike that disaster, if I make the wrong call in my job, and make every little mistake possible, it’s not going to lead to what happened here. It’s only in the aftermath of what happened here can I compare the two worlds.
After the crash, aviation as it was known back then changed drastically. Much of what you know of today in the aviation world, and most of the safety measures you don’t know of, but happen in the background, are a result of the investigation of that accident. Aviation learned from what happened and then applied those lessons learned to what we have today. Most people know that aviation today is the safest way to travel, bar none. It’s only like that because of people who look into the disasters and figure out how do we learn from our mistake.
As I sat in a conference room for 2 days and listened to some very, VERY smart people talk and share their experience and wisdom I realized that even as a select member of the Wi-Fi community invited to be in the room, I still needed to stay focused and learn. Disasters happen (we had 2 controllers go down at the same time while I as here, one still to be RMA’d) and I know there will be fallout from that. What did I do right, what did I do wrong, and what can I learn from that.
While successes are fantastic and great, most of our learning comes from our failures. If you are new to Wi-Fi, you are going to fail. It’s not meant to be accusatory, it’s just going to happen. I know because it still happens to the best of us. And by “us” I mean even the people I hold in high regard and look to as mentors. Even, and I know this is shocking, to me. Don’t hang your head and give up. If you have the desire, there will always be someone in the community ready and willing to help you up and dust you off.
The real test and measure of a true professional is what do you do after that failure.