2012 Aviation Safety Data release creates two reactions, both valid, one pointing to a New Proactive Approach

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ARTICLE: Flying Is Safest Since Dawn of Jet Age

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A highly respected aviation reporter, Andy Pasztor of The Wall Street Journal, reviews a study issued by Ascend and titles his story with the above headline. The analysis notes that Western-built aircraft had one fatal accident per 10 million flights in 2012 while the world-wide experience was one fatal accident per 2.5 million flights. One of his sources cited problems with commercial operations in Africa, Latin America and other developing regions.

Several thoughtful comments pointed to areas for improvement in the more sophisticated regions for pilots dealing with automation and runway/taxiway collisions. One analyst asserts that the 2012 performance does not constitute a new standard, but is a “fluke.” To continue to improve, focus should be placed on stepping up efforts to help enhance pilot training, improve maintenance and tighten government oversight of turboprop operators, it was asserted.

Good goals and thoughts for 2013.

Another well respected reporter, whose beat is aviation safety, Christine Negroni of The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, looked at the same data and suggested different conclusions. Her article, Fatality Statistics Meaningless as Safety Measure, accepts that “accidents” as a measure show that 2012 was a good year, but the number of merit, from Boeing’s hometown paper’s perspective, should be incidents. As she explained:

“When safety is measured by an absence of fatalities, the significance of non lethal events is diminished even though most safety specialists think these percursors are the most indicative of an overall safety culture. A preventive approach to reducing risk is so important commercial operators in most parts of the world are required to have safety management systems.”

This perceptive point is right on from an aviation safety professional’s perspective. The regulators are gathering data (VDRP, ASAS, etc.) that create trend lines predicting where problems may arise. The operators, using that database and the company’s own internal information, asses those numbers, determine whether they constitute a warning and then take preventative actions. That process is what constitutes SMS.

The good news for 2013 is that this new form for approaching aviation is being implemented. It is not an easy program to design and then follow every day. There is no one formula for each carrier. The SMS policies/procedures must reflect that unique culture, OpSpecs, personnel, fleet (age & condition), MX, organizational development and a myriad of other factors which influence the acknowledgement and rectification of safety issues. Internal staff MUST be involved in the design of SMS, but without expert comprehension of the system and a panoramic view of other airlines, it is difficult/impossible to assess where the critical gaps may be. That knowledge and experience is available at JDA Aviation Technology.

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