2016 has been the best year for airline safety: WHY & WHAT can be done better?

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Airline Safety 2016

One of the Best Years in Aviation History

The Telegraph’s Travel section has declared that 2016 is set to be one of the safest years in aviation history. That’s a proclamation for which our industry should be proud and having the press quote these positive numbers is a great message for passengers.

But two countervailing thoughts/questions come to mind:

  1. What may be the cause(s)?
  1. How can we do better?

The essence of the author’s article is contained in these two sentences:

“According to the Aviation Safety Network, which keeps a database of all air travel incidents, there have been 16 fatal accidents in 2016, resulting in 272 deaths down from 560 in 2015. Given that this year will see around 3.5 billion air passengers flown, that’s just one death per 12,867,647 travellers (or one per 128,676 departures).”

The remainder of the report deals with the past history of this industry.

airline safety 2016


QUESTION 1— what cause(s)?

Without more analytical data, one can only hypothesize about the reasons for this significant improvement in the #1 goal of everyone in airline safety. Here are a few possible explanations:

  • More reliable aircraft systems— so many advances in engines, in enhanced lift efficiency through wing research, in on board monitoring computers have contributed to a lessening of risks.
  • Improvement in onboard and ATC navigation systems— pilots now have far better real time knowledge of where their aircraft is, of their relationship to the ground/other aircraft/weather.
  • Better training of and standards for all safety-related positions— the educational tools used to prepare pilots, mechanics, flight attendants, controllers and all involved in this mission have added to the quality of the human factors. Additionally, the standards for selection and retention have improved based on constant lessons from current flight.
  • SMS— not all CAAs have mandated this advanced form of safety regulation, but in the US, the imposition by the FAA and the implementation by the carriers of SMS have clearly reduced the risks in their flights. The experiences of other countries which have added this regimen have likely added to the 2016 records.
  • Your suggestion— these are, at best, qualitative guess and thus likely fallible. PLEASE SUBMIT, in the comments section below, YOUR LIKELY CAUSE(S) FOR IMPROVEMENT and your explanation of why.

Hopefully with the publication of the final 2016 numbers or with the announcement of next year’s performance, some quantitative correlation between the positive trend line and the causative factors could be included!


QUESTION 2— what can be done better?

Up until recently, the answer to this question would likely have been defined in some macro regulatory answer (i.e. the CAAs will issue a new rule directed at all airline). Given that the issuance of such regulation(s) would require time to go through the proscribed process. Delay in the rule review, time needed to design a response uniquely suited to each certificate holder’s operation, etc. are some of the pains associated the macro, reactive focus of traditional aviation safety regulation.

While there are many projects to refine or add sections to the CAAs’ safety list, most airlines are already working on the next greatest risk(s) which needs to be addressed within ITS set of challenges. Through SMS, a process of seeking continuous improvement compels the 3600 , multi-discipline SMS teams to identify possible problems based on each company’s big data analysis, to establish a prioritization of those issues, to define solutions and to implement those corrections.

There is no need to wait for industry programs. The focus now with SMS is on the threats which are most significant for your unique operation. The construct used to remediate the specific issue has been designed by your team for your company.

What can be done better is not only being addressed NOW, but the most relevant answer is probable being implemented NOW.

Safety culture is not merely a matter of annual reviews, but requires that everyone from the line mechanic to the EVP of Corporate Planning is conscious of a need, on a real-time basis, to surveil the workplace for all flaws and to move that observation to the SMS team to rectify.

2016 has been exceptional, but SMS as a practice should contribute to a better 2017, 2018…


2016 set to be the safest year in aviation history
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1 Comment on "2016 has been the best year for airline safety: WHY & WHAT can be done better?"

  1. Many participants contribute to the increase in aviation safety. One that sometimes doesn’t get a mention is ICAO. The year 1996 saw a record number of fatal accidents and fatalities. ICAO took the initiative to increase its safety related activity, Programs such as the Global Aviation Safety Plan, the program to reduce Controlled Flight into Terrain, the Universal safety Oversight Program, the Global Air Navigation Plan and the English proficiency program among others were finalized and implemented.

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