Don Bateman, Trailblazer in Airline Safety, Dies at 91

Don Bateman, an engineer who invented a cockpit device that warns airplane pilots with colorful screen displays and dire audible alerts like “Caution Terrain!” and “Pull Up!” when they are in danger of crashing into mountains, buildings or water — an innovation that has likely saved thousands of lives — died on May 21 at his home in Bellevue, Wash. He was 91.

His daughter Katherine McCaslin said the cause was complications of Parkinson’s disease.

The ground proximity warning system that Mr. Bateman began working on in the late 1960s, and continued to improve until he retired from Honeywell International in 2016, warns pilots against accidentally slamming into land or water because of poor visibility and bad weather, once the most common cause of airline deaths.

That category of plane crash has nearly been eliminated. According to data compiled by Boeing about commercial jets worldwide, there were just six such accidents from 2011 to 2020, killing 229 people onboard, compared with 17 accidents from 2001 to 2010, which left 1,007 people dead, and 27 accidents from 1991 to 2000, killing 2,237.

“Don Bateman and his team have probably saved more lives through safety system technologies than anyone else in aviation history,” Charley Pereira, a former senior aerospace engineer with the National Transportation Safety Board, wrote in an email, estimating the number in the thousands.

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