Safety Culture needs constant reinforcement- some ideas

AA, Boeing & Southwest CEOs
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SMS is an important reason for current aviation safety record

Its discipline depends on the free flow of information among employees, executives and FAA

Some effective tactics to reinforce a SAFETY cULTURE

The recent excellent aviation safety record has been attributed by the FAA, ICAO, Flight Safety Foundation to the industry’s adoption of Safety Management Systems. The SMS predicates to a sound functioning of this discipline include communications, complacency (lack thereof), leadership, lack of teamwork, awareness, stress (within acceptable range), awareness and norms. Without these elements, the reporting of mistakes through voluntary conduits like Commercial Aviation Safety Team (CAST), General Aviation Joint Steering Committee (GAJSC), Aviation Safety Information and Sharing (ASIAS), Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS) and Aviation Safety Action Program (ASAP). Without the information from these sources, there will be limited and/or distorted feedback on how aviation systems are working and blocking system improvements on an ongoing basis.

Trust among management, workers and the FAA are essential for SMS’s signature non-blaming, problem-solving, collaborative approach to solving safety problems. The atmosphere within any organization must have a positive SAFETY CULTURE.

The below articles suggest that the relationships within these organizations may have an inadequate or faltering SAFETY CULTURE. Overt, strong, pervasive antagonism between management and the people whose jobs are directly involved in operating the aircraft is not conducive to good communications, leadership, teamwork, etc. As a generalization, it would appear that these organizations lack these elements necessary for an effective SMS regimen.

True Safety Culture has no “microcultures”. Real teamwork and strong norms would identify and deal with any contrary attitudes. What this comment really suggests is that the executive suite’s visible SMS behaviors (not just words) and the senior officers lack of connection with the rank and file are deficient.

There is no corporate-wide thermometer which can measure the real culture throughout a large, geographically dispersed company. No manager can walk around to complete a 3600 surveillance of all the nooks and crannies. A determined network of SMS advocates can cover such a span, especially if the doors to the executive floor are open to such feedback.

Frequent reaffirmation of the SMS principles at ALL LEVELS of the corporation from the board down is an important reinforcement mechanism. Visible actions and decisions by upper management are excellent signals.

In times of internal distress, it may be necessary to institute a practice of external audits of the Safety Culture. This is an ephemeral atmospheric element of SMS and such periodic testing will both reinforce its importance and provide insights for all.

SMS blocks

Boeing’s new CEO vows to woo pilots back to 737 Max – a plane that he says will keep its name

Chris Woodyard_



Chris Woodyard


Excerpts from the article:

Calhoun, the aerospace giant’s chairman who stepped into the CEO job last week, said he is focusing on restoring Boeing’s reputation with regulators and its airline customers and cleaning up the company culture.

He sought to dispel any notions that Boeing put profits ahead of safety, saying without the latter, “there is no shareholder value.” But he said he is going to have focus on making sure employees get the message with a focus on “culture cleanup.”

Boeing has been rocked by disclosures of internal communications between employees that mocked regulators, talked of dissuading airlines from seeking more flight simulator training for pilots and cast aspirations on the designs of its aircraft. One internal message disclosed by a congressional committee about the Max read, “This plane is designed by clowns who, in turn, are supervised by monkeys.”

Calhoun blamed those messages on a “microculture” within the company that “should have been dealt with a long time ago.” He said the company will be on the lookout for any other pockets of employees that exhibit behavior running against the grain of Boeing’s core values.

BCAC test pilots

Union Raises American Airlines Safety Concerns


American Airlines and their mechanics are currently in the middle of a heated battle. They’ve been trying to negotiate a new contract, but have gotten nowhere. Talks broke down in April, as management and the union couldn’t even get close to agreeing on terms.

Since then things have gotten ugly. American Airlines has sued their mechanics union, claiming that mechanics are intentionally delaying and canceling flights. Statistics support that (722 flights were canceled in the 23 days following the lawsuit), but mechanics deny this is happening.

American Airlines has won a restraining order against their mechanics, demanding this “illegal slowdown” stop. Whether or not this has any actual impact remains to be seen, given that mechanics deny doing anything wrong. They claim they’re just trying to do their jobs properly.

TWU-IAM Association Reaches Agreements in Principle for 30,000 Workers at American Airlines

After a year of labor unrest, American and Southwest fall behind in another round of contract negotiations

“Union contract negotiations are increasingly ferocious at American Airlines and Dallas-based Southwest Airlines, carriers that already reported major disruptions in operations from labor disputes this year. American is nearing deadlines to get a deal with three major groups, including flight attendants, pilots and the maintenance workers it still hasn’t been able to reach a contract with after four years of talks.

Could these new contract talks have the same debilitating toll on the airlines that they faced earlier this year? Leaders at the carriers say no, but there hasn’t been significant progress on any of the contracts after more than six months of talks.

It took the mechanics unions at American and Southwest several years of stalled negotiations to get to the point where the airlines were suing them in court.

Even with federal oversight, it’s often a fierce battle over contracts, said Bob Bruno, director of the labor education program at the University of Chicago. “The airline industry at times has been incredibly hostile and adversarial,” he said.

With the pace of negotiations already behind schedule at Southwest and American, union leaders worry that companies are taking a harder stance, particularly after American’s court victory over mechanics this year for the alleged work slowdown.

After that case, American sued its mechanics union for losses from the slowdown.

Southwest wants damages from its mechanics union as well, something union leaders thought would go away after a contract was settled in March, said Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association president Bret Oestreich.

For both airlines, there will be pressure to get deals done quickly, travel industry analyst Seth Kaplan said.

Southwest had a reputation for smooth labor relations with unions — at least before recently clashing with mechanics.

Quick and quiet labor deals could help American Airlines overcome two years of struggles getting planes to destinations on time as well as financial results that lag behind the other major airlines, he said.

While no group will be striking anytime soon, Kaplan said getting deals secured helps with morale.

“Travelers can tell when they are flying on an airline where employees are happy or not,” he said.”.

american and southwest labor

Labor Troubles Cloud Outlook for U.S. Airlines

In negotiating new union contracts, carriers say they can’t risk returning to a boom-and-bust cycle

SMS is too important to rely on subjective assessments. More needs to be done to reinforce the trust and systems which gather the information needed for identifying and responding to risks.


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