Lessons for Improving Aviation Safety
The Good & The Bad
Aviation safety is a goal of every responsible airline; the goal is to achieve the highest levels of systems and procedures to protect the public. Unfortunately, not all airlines meet that target with the same level of success. The juxtaposition of the Western Air Express (listed under JetCharters.com) and Island Air announcements appears to show the difference between aspiration and achievement.
The FAA made the following allegations as to the Texas company:
“An FAA inspection on April 28, 2016, revealed that Western Air Express had not complied with engine or propeller overhaul requirements. The aircraft’s right engine had been operating since November 2006 and the left engine had been operating since December 1994 without the required overhauls. In addition, the aircraft propellers required a maintenance overhaul in February 2015.”
In contrast, the Hawai’i company made the following announcement about one of one of the people promoted:
For the past two years, Airman served as Island Air’s director of safety, security and quality assurance.
During that time, he led Island Air through the successful completion of its first International Air Transportation Association Operational Safety Audit, which is the global benchmark for operational safety management in the airline industry.
He also led the airline through its first successful codeshare safety review with United Airlines. Part of his new responsibilities will be to oversee human resources and elevate the airline’s training curriculum.
Airman has extensive experience in domestic and international flight operations, having held management and director-level positions in safety, security, regulatory compliance and systems operations for airlines including Northwestern Airlines, Porter Airlines, flydubai, Emirates and Champion Air.
A United States Air Force Academy graduate, Airman served as an Air Force commander, instructor and research pilot for 28 years.
Assuming the validity of these two statements poses an important question, WHY THE DIFFERENCE? At a distance, one can only pose possibilities:
- Poor management—is safety subservient to other considerations?
- Lack of proper training—are the employees doing their best, but do not know what constitutes the best?
- A bad work environment—without regard to the reason why, the shop floor or the ramp is not functioning.
- Underlying failure to adopt and follow a safety culture—stationing posters around the office is not as critical of consciously deciding to add a layer of preventative procedures.
- Treating record keeping as a low priority and not recognizing the importance of documenting the required steps and establishing a routine that assures all of the subsequent procedures are met in a timely fashion.
The point of these hypotheticals is that there are lessons which can be gained not just from establishing the best practices, but also from assessing why others have failed. Civil penalties assign blame. A diagnosis of what and why XYZ Airline did not instill the right procedures, policies and personnel could be as telling as listing all of the right things that can be done.
Posing excellence is the right means of driving improved safety. But only explaining how the best perform can be daunting to those companies struggling to get better. The gold standard creates doubt in those seeking it. The story of how to move up, of what not to do, may provide a realistic, practicable and achievable path to an ascending goal.
It might be useful to send a team of independent experts, without judgmental authority, to learn from the bad cases. If nothing else, the prescription developed from this examination might help to improve the certificate holder’s safety record.