2017 was the safest year in aviation
Since reaching that height, COMPLACENCY?
Loss of TRUST among FAA, Labor and management- HURT SMS data-driven discipline?
Aviation has reached unparalleled safety levels and some or all of that success can be attributed to SMS, CAST, ASIAS, FOQA, ASRS, VDRP and a number of associated systems. TRUST is the essential premise that make self-reporting systems a reliable means of addressing risks before they rise to an unacceptable, higher level.
In 2017, world aviation reached the best record on the safe operation of flight. There were a total of 10 fatal airliner accidents, resulting in 44 occupant fatalities and 35 persons on the ground. That made 2017 the safest year ever, both by the number of fatal accidents as well as in terms of fatalities. The experts ascribed this improvement, particularly the recent numbers, to the introduction of the data-driven safety systems which were advocated by ICAO, IATA, Flight Safety Foundation, FAA and EASA, and then implemented by the aviation industry.
In this quantitative context, several qualitative observations suggest the change in the perception and actual lessening of safety:
2018 was the deadliest year the aviation industry has experienced for some time. There were 523 deaths last year – the highest number in four years, and up from just 59 in 2017. And this year is already looking bad – there were 232 deaths from the accidents involving Ethiopian Airlines and Russia’s Aeroflot. That is well above the five-year average of 189 fatalities a year, according to the Aviation Safety Network.
Not just being a prisoner of the moment, but a number of recent, very public problems suggest that the attention to detail and the constant crusade among aviation professionals to reduce risk are not as strong.
Profit pressures, historically almost a constant in the airline industry, seem to be a higher corporate priority as opposed to expressions of safety as the #1 goal.
The FAA technical staff has diminished in experience and depth. Several of the innovators, who brought the data-driven regimen, have retired. Their replacements do not have the depth of organizational history needed to turn these initiatives into a true culture. The field has not completely adopted the new regime.
The Boeing MCAS experience has diminished Congress and the public’s comfort with data-driven safety systems.
That’s a number of episodic cites and do not qualify to make major changes in the existing programs. However, at a distance, it appears that one element critical to making/encouraging/protecting self-reporting of errors HAS DIMINISHED—TRUST.
Cooperation, collaboration and compliance all depend on a triangle of TRUST. It appears that labor and unions do not trust management. The workers seem to prefer taking their safety complaints to the MEDIA.
Their preference to report to reporters also suggests that they do not trust VDRP and ASRS. One would suppose that they do not believe the FAA’s promise of no action against the person admitting to having made an error.
It is also possible that their preference for the media is an indicator that the anonymity of their submission will not be honored and the company will take retribution against her or him. Even more depressively, the worker doubts that their identification of a problem will result in a correction.
One side of the triangle is still intact—FAA and management.
However this break in communication has evolved, the link in the SMS/ASRS/VDRP/etc. chain needs to be restored. The ability to address risk BEFORE they become more serious DEPENDS on the free flow of this information. The accounting aphorism, GIGO, applies here. Aviation safety requires accurate, reliable information in and preventative safety information out. ARIPSO?
In 2017, aviation safety achieved a milestone. Having reached the top of that mountain, it appears that we may have relaxed—it’s a natural reaction. Since reaching that summit, it appears that complacency has set in. An industry-wide pause and renewal of our safety vigilance is warranted. First on the list—reestablish trust in the triangle.