ICAO/FSF AGREEMENT HOLDS GREAT PROMISE, BUT ALSO MAY ENCOUNTER PITFALLS IN IMPLEMENTING VALUABLE AVIATION SAFETY DATA SHARING PROGRAMS

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ARTICLE: ICAO, Flight Safety Foundation formalize information sharing agreement

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Flight Safety Foundation has signed an agreement with the International Civil Organization “cooperatively promote and advance the sharing of aviation safety information and metrics worldwide” specifically by helping Member Organizations benefit from the US experience in data sharing with the attendant promotion of proactive safety measures. The press release talks in SMS terms, but the weight of the actions proposed appears to be in the FOQA, VDRP, ATSAP, ASAP, CAST and ASIAS. SMS is not just about data sharing and sets a process about systematic approaches to improvement on an introspective basis.

This is a very promising endeavor and, if implemented properly, holds great potential for enhancing safety around the world, particularly in nations with a need to improve their performance. That optimism needs to be tempered with some reality. The US experience has had, and still has, its skeptics about the government’s promise to limit the use of the information to preventative safety uses and not for reactive enforcement purposes. That sort of concern is likely to be further exaggerated in some of the countries being introduced to this benign governmental utilization.

Unions have approached data sharing as an important concession in their dealings with US management or from their perspective regard it as another form of potential domination by the corporations. It is possible that such resistance will occur especially in countries with bad employee/employer relationships or where the government sides with the unions.

What must be of greater concern to this FSF/ICAO initiative is the quality of the data input. Language may be a problem; yes, pilots are expected to be conversant with English, but the technical aspects of the operation and mechanics may test that skill, if the record is to be kept in that language. Even if the native tongue may be used, the description of the event or condition in a consistent manner is tricky. A single event can be portrayed in many ways; such ambiguity may minimize the value of data sharing.

Data sharing’s impact is multiplied by the degree to which all involved buy into the process. Programs, which are imposed by external sources, particularly those delivered in a paternalistic context, are not as likely to be adopted with the same vigor as one in which the pilots, mechanics and management concur on their own accord that the process will add value to their safety.

Good data sharing requires training, time to accurately enter the event/condition, care in managing the information processing and most importantly, thought in designing the proactive response to the trend. Such an internally adopted/accepted data sharing might be best created by a team which includes advisers who have the time to understand your current safety culture, to design procedures/records/practices/policies which fit your organization and to truly inculcate the belief in the value of data sharing before it is rolled out.

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