Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University


Despite the reductionist analyses produced by politicians and the Fourth Estate, the loss of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was a systems accident – a product of the interactions between the actants that compose the commercial aviation system network-space. As an antidote to reductionism’s ‘fundamental attribution error’, this paper presents a systems-thinking-informed analysis of the MH17 disaster. To this end it draws on Actor-Network Theory and the work of Reason, Toft, Dekker, Hollnagel and other systems-thinking advocates. Whether intentional or not, politicians’ reductionist analyses generated political capital. European Union and American finger-pointing distracted from aviation authorities’ and airlines’ ill-advised routing policies. Russian finger-pointing distracted from that country’s economic dysfunction and adventurism. The risk-management community must redouble its efforts to publicise the benefits of the systems-thinking approach to risk assessment and accident investigation.