Andy Pasztor of The Wall Street Journal is one of the most respected aviation journalists. His articles are frequently cited here and his annual review of airline safety statistics attracts great coverage by other media. The 2014 US airlines safety results report is linked below and it highlights that “the latest data amounts to one accident per roughly 700,000 flight hours, or about half as frequently as during the late 1990s.” That’s a good number, but even after his discussions with several leading experts in the field, one important factor is overlooked.
It is noted that 2014 was “near a record low.” To illustrate the point, Pasztor mentions that an airline pilot could fly an entire career without a single inflight engine shutdown. That’s a compliment directed at the powerplant manufacturers and the mechanics. The example is extended to include a loss of one engine during takeoff. He ascribes the safety of that to the onboard computers and inferentially to the competence of the pilots.
The perception of international flight safety in 2014 was distorted by a couple of very visible accidents. Tony Tyler, IATA’s chief executive and EASA’s Director Patrick Ky respond that with the exception of Asia, the numbers should not worry passengers.
Peggy Gilligan, the FAA’s Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety, commented on the record of the carriers which she surveils by saying:
“We find ourselves with the kind of problem you want to have…Safety numbers are already so low that you must count close calls, accidents that didn’t happen” to target safety enhancements, she noted in the text of a speech to state aviation officials last Saturday in Washington.
Perhaps Ms. Gilligan meant to have a broader meaning to the word “numbers” to go beyond the 2014 records to the FAA’s and industry’s reliance on statistics.
It is fair to say that the transformation of the FAA from a “Tombstone Agency” to the Safety Management System’s proactive approach earned some of the credit for the laudable 2014 statistics. That analytical discipline accumulates data from multiple information resources, analyzes that major set of numbers to detect/predict trends and convenes a team from every airline perspective. The process is a continuous cycle always driving towards even greater safety. There is no “relaxation” in SMS.
2014 was a great year and if the commitment to constant safety improvement remains strong, 2015/2016/20NN should be even better.
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