Could Politics Impede Aviation’s Safety Record?
Bill Voss-FAA, ICAO, AOPA Flight Safety
Explaining the Value of SMS
Bill Voss, who carries with him an impressive set of safety credentials, has made some important comments about the future of how Civil Aviation Authorities regulate their jurisdiction. His expertise on such subjects is well recognized.
At a recent ARSA event, Mr. Voss made the following comments about the challenges CAAs face:
“for years, people have been coming to ICAO with what they believed were unique technical problems addressing their segment of the aviation industry,” such as cross-border aircraft transfer inefficiencies. “What ICAO is now realizing is that many of the problems were not unique or just technical. Many of these specific problems point back to more systemic issues regarding obsolete and inefficient regulatory mechanisms—and a global shortage of regulatory personnel,” says Voss.
Instead of moving incrementally, he says ICAO is “creating big initiatives to help states understand and act upon systemic regulatory personnel shortages.”
However, Voss says ICAO knows “there will never be enough people to do things the way they have always been done” and processes need to become more efficient. So, the organization is “helping states understand how they can delegate some oversight functions without surrendering their responsibilities.” ICAO also is setting up programs to recognize government safety inspectors with specific technical skills to streamline certifications, and is “looking at groups of commercial inspectors who could be specially certified and made available on a contract basis to assist a state with a special need or overwhelming growth,” he says. That growth is significant: IATA projects passenger travel will nearly double—to 7.8 billion passengers per year in 20 years.
These are proactive steps, but the aviation industry’s safety record is only as good as the last inspection, flight or maintenance check. “
Mr. Voss’ advice follows the lessons of the FAA. Recognizing that the Congress did not think that more inspectors were needed; facing an industry that was expanding domestically and globally; acknowledging that the old technique of distributing inspectors in an even distribution among certificates would no longer work; so, the FAA executive leadership adopted Safety Management Systems. That ICAO sponsored program uses data to identify problems before they occur and thus, supports an assignment methodology which moves assets to address the greatest risk. It works with a smaller workforce, but compels a different approach.
The FAA field has been somewhat resistant, but the challenge to bring this new culture to CAA bureaucracies around the world
will likely be more difficult and a serious impediment to this higher level of safety. There civil servants are even more embedded and perhaps politically (see Mr. Voss’ speech title) able to block change. Many countries equate size of organizations and span of management with increased (unmeasured) safety. The absence of technical statistical training may delay the transition to an SMS-based discipline, even though the record of CAAs which have already adopted this risk-based, more rigorous and exceptionally effective SMS.
Hopefully, Mr. Voss’ words and his experience will convince the CAAs of the world to move to SMS.
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