A metre is longer than a yard. An ounce is heavier than a gram. We harmlessly mix them up sometimes, but a “unit conversion error” when you’re filling up the fuel tanks of an airliner can be fatal. Which is exactly what happened to Air Canada Flight 143.
Tim Harford talks to mathematician and comedian Matt Parker about how the aircraft came to take off without the proper fuel load, how no one noticed until it was too late, and why such errors give us an insight into just how important maths is to keeping our complex world working as it should.
Cautionary Tales is written by me, Tim Harford, with Andrew Wright. It is produced by Ryan Dilley, with support from Courtney Guarino and Emily Vaughn.
The sound design and original music is the work of Pascal Wyse. Julia Barton edited the scripts.
Thanks to the team at Pushkin Industries, including Mia Lobel, Jacob Weisberg, Heather Fain, Jon Schnaars, Carly Migliori, Eric Sandler, Emily Rostek, Royston Beserve, Maggie Taylor, Nicole Morano, Daniella Lakhan and Maya Koenig.
Further reading and listening