Accidents Influencing Media Influencing Regulators?
The global aviation safety community has shifted its focus to collection and analysis of data. This objective basis has moved the perspective of accident investigators and the writers of regulations from reactive to proactive. The initial results of this progressive discipline have been quite positive. The value of this new statistical based approach to regulating has been to prioritize remedial actions based on the risks identified by the numbers and analysis.
For years, the high profile nature of aviation accidents has contributed to an inordinate level of coverage by the media. The depth, frequency and length of attention afforded to these tragedies are well-known. NTSB investigations tend to attract “experts” who proffer likely causes to the crashes almost instantaneously and continue to speculate as the next facts revealed can be related to some new iteration of explanation. [Fortunately this tendency is not a universal attribute of all “talking heads”; those who have participated in these searches for the “why’s” tend to withhold early conjecture.]
The intense spotlights placed on these events have tended to cause the media’s audience to demand answers to the “questions” posed by the television/radio reports. The publicity generated by these putative targets has even caused the regulators to react, initiate studies and even begin projects.
In this context, it is interesting to review a study which correlates the coverage by online media with the dimensions of the readers’ interest. Ruth García-Gavilanes, Milena Tsvetkova and Taha Yasseri,
post-doctoral researchers at Oxford Internet Institute have published a scholarly article entitled: Dynamics and Biases of Online Attention: The Case of Aircraft Crashes.
The Doctors found biases in the attention devoted to airlines accidents in these dimensions:
“We also observe that the attention given by Wikipedia visitors is influenced by the airline region but only for events with high number of deaths. Finally we show that the rate and time span of the decay of attention is independent of the number of deaths and the airline region. We discuss the implications of these findings in the context of attention bias.”
Today’s media are likely to devote more words to accidents with large numbers of deaths, particularly within their own region. The public receives more news for crashes within their own region.
Does this influence the regulators?
EASA recently issued a review of the accidents within its jurisdiction. Below is a table which is apparently collated by the importance it assigns to the categories:
In addition to this quantitative chart, the European regulator added some qualitative comments about the one commercial accident pf 2015:
“Commercial Air Transport (CAT) Aeroplane Safety Performance
The one fatal EASA MS CAT Aeroplane accident, as mentioned above, was the Germanwings accident.
CAT [Commercial Air Transport] Aeroplanes: In 2015 the domain with the highest number of fatalities was CAT Aeroplanes. This involved a single fatal accident, which was the [A320 D-AIPX] Germanwings accident that occurred on 24 March 2015. In 2014, there were 2 fatal accidents and there has not been more than 2 fatal accidents in CAT Aeroplanes since 2005. This operational domain is the greatest focus of EASA’s safety activities and the reorganisation of the collaborative groups and advisory bodies will help the Agency to learn more about the safety challenges faced by airlines and manufacturers.”
Based on this statement, the García-Gavilanes/ Tsvetkova/ Yasseri thesis seems to hold as to the regulator’s attention. This proposition appears to be further affirmed by the short shrift of the glider class of flights, which had 27 deaths, 36 serious injuries and 156 non-fatal accidents. It was next to last on the list only followed by drones. Here is the commentary:
“Glider Safety Performance
For gliders, there was a slightly higher number of fatal accidents and fatalities in 2015 with 24 fatal accidents and 27 fatalities. The number of non-fatal accidents was slightly lower than the 10-year average with 156. There was a slight increase in the number of serious injuries with 36.”
It is fair to infer that not many EASA resources will be devoted to improving the safety of these aircraft.
It would appear appropriate for EASA to subject its accident report to SMS analysis; perhaps, after such an SMS assessment, the accident rate of the glider accidents, maybe even the balloons, should merit the upgrading the priority for these categories on list. A similar observation was made as to the NTSB’s Most Wanted List and the enhancement of that set of targets after quantitative review.
This qualitative review is not adequate to indicate that current regulatory focus in Europe has been affected by the García-Gavilanes/ Tsvetkova/ Yasseri nexus with public attention. It does, however, support a recommendation that EASA should not just publish such a “scorecard” without further quantitative prioritization.