Juxtaposition of Past Success & Future Challenge of Aviation Safety

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Aviation Safety Goals

Collectively Driving Towards Perfection

The below headlines serve as a reminder that aviation safety is an asymptote, a goal which infinitely strives for perfection— without ever reaching it. The principles of QA/QC, CASS, SMS and other safety program include this constant striving for improvement.

ICAO issued its Safety Report for 2016, an excellent 28 page review of that organization’s activities, commented:

Accident statistics for the last five years show a decrease in both the number of accidents as well as the accident rate. In 2016 the downward trend in the number of accidents continued with 75 accidents reported by States representing an 18% decrease from 2015. Over the same period there was an increase in scheduled commercial departures which result in a global accident rate of 2.1 accidents per million departures, down by 25% from the 2015 rate of 2.8 accidents per million departures.

The review traces ICAO’s work in chapters titled: Aviation Safety Implementation Assistance Partnership (ASIAP), Safety Oversight and USOAP CMA Status and Safety Recommendations Addressed to ICAO. It is clear that there is much to do in the international aviation sector. One of the most promising ICAO initiatives is ASIAP; for as with other big data efforts, it produces data on which aviation may take proactive efforts.

aviation safety goals asiap

Almost simultaneously, two different forums focused on the future challenges — Air Line Pilots Association International Air Safety Forum and the  6th World Civil Aviation Chief Executives Forum.

aviation safety goals record alpa world civil forum chief executives

The speakers at the ALPA event were ALPA aviation safety chair Steve Jangelis, TSB Canada chair Kathy Fox, NTSB acting chairman Robert Sumwalt. Chair Fox pointed to the need to carefully scrutinize the data being collected and said:

“There are still a lot of issues out there that we think are well known to the industry—unstable approaches that are contingent on landing, runway overruns, runway incursions—a lot more can be done to resolve those issues. It will be a challenge … your next accident is in your data. The question is how we mine that data and find those risks.”

Chairman Sumwalt emphasized the need to seek an asymptotic approach to aviation safety:

“Unanimously, we are well aware of that … we had several hull losses at my airline [US Airways] over a period of time and the management over the next few years were very aware of all of those things. But as time evolved, the people that were running the company weren’t the same people that were there during those bad times. We’ve had an excellent run of good, safe flights over the last number of years [but] the people leading the airlines … weren’t around back in those dark days. I worry about complacency in the industry overall.”

A summary might be that aviation professionals MUST constantly be aware of risks and use the available data tools to focus on the points so identified.

aviation safety goals

Dennis Jones, NTSB Acting Managing Director, spoke to a “unique gathering of aviation leaders who meet to discuss the latest developments and issues affecting the global aviation industry and to exchange experiences, insights, and ideas.” That is an audience with exceptional power within aviation safety. Mr. Jones shared these thoughts with the attendees:

Avoiding complacency means keeping your eyes open, receiving and sharing information, and always being ready to respond. As a multimodal investigative agency, we have seen too many ways in which disasters can occur, and some have involved complacency—becoming too bored or familiar with standard operating procedures, which leads to a lack of interest or desire to follow the established procedures. By issuing safety recommendations, such as those focused on procedural compliance, we try to urge operators to avoid this risk and a subsequent tragic outcome.

Safety is a journey, not a destination. Although, we are seeing zero fatalities in commercial aviation, our general aviation community is still suffering losses every day, sustaining nearly 400 fatal accidents a year in the US alone. Why? We must keep asking the questions and seeking the answers to bring this number down to zero.

Not surprisingly, the Acting Manager mirrored the message of his Acting Chairman, but his words were well chosen and well supported.

The juxtaposition of the excellent 2016 safety record and these messages serve to remind all involved in this aspect of aviation. The laurels are nice, but the real message is that only through rigorous concentration can we collectively drive towards perfection.


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