Three instances where waiting may advance FAA safety more effectively

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Great Safety Advances today

One major reason is Data-driven Proactive Oversight regime

Congress and Media doubt its efficacy

Now not the time to push three new aspects

#1 Amid scrutiny over 737 Max, Boeing to replace 900 inspectors. And union is not happy

#2 N 8900.511: Aviation Safety Action Program (ASAP), Voluntary Disclosure Reporting Program (VDRP), and Compliance Program

#3 FAA Officials: Agency Cultural Change is Working

The above three headlines herald efforts to advance a new regime of aviation safety. All of them are initiatives which merit implementation; however, due to a number of significant contemporaneous forces, a wiser approach might be to wait for more auspicious atmospherics?

Coming off of the euphoria of 2017, aviation had a well earned sense of accomplishment, but that should not have become complaisance; for dedicated safety professionals cannot ever be satisfied.

The above three articles should serve as reminders that true advances in risk reduction must involve a degree of patience. Pursuit of the goal should remain a top priority, but awareness of endogenous factors should influence the pace of the next implementation steps.

It is useful to first review the underlying bases for the current improvement in aviation’s track record. First and foremost, the incredible advances in basic aviation technology—improved performance and reliability of the powerplants with the supporting systems, unbelievable increases to navigation systems’ reliability and availability, technology bringing materials/architecture to aircraft structures and daunting enhancement of the automation systems.

In addition to those new innovative aircraft elements, an unparalleled emphasis on data, facilitated by increases in computing power.

Aviation Safety Data is drawing Attention of Regulators

SMS Big Data: Dealing with 20 terabytes per hour


FAA Safety Data Bases & Systems explained

SMS is more than data, establishing a safety culture is critical to a successful implementation by airlines

FAA: from TOMBSTONE to CORNERSTONE of Safety            

WSJ’s Pasztor exposes the new SMS safety concept to readers

By collecting and analyzing data from onboard sensors plus FOQA, operational errors collected by VDRP and ASRP and an ongoing comprehensive view of individual and industry-wide risks through SMS, the operators and the regulators now take a proactive perspective on RISK. That philosophical change limited the value of enforcement of past inadvertent errors and focused on identifying/rectifying risks. That major sea change was not well received by the field.

This major transition has not been well received, perhaps more aptly, not well understood. The Hill has launched several OIG inquiries seemingly bent on finding the flaws in this innovation. Here are the matters pending before the OIG:

OIG Audit: FAA Oversight of Southwest Airlines

OIG: Revised Notification | Review of FAA’s Oversight of Air Carrier Maintenance Programs

OIG: Perspectives on Overseeing the Safety of the U.S. Air Transportation System

OIG: Perspectives on Maintaining Safety and Enhancing Oversight of a Diverse and Complex Aviation Industry

It is fair to assume that the IG will find flaws with some of all of the Compliance/SMS/ Oversight/Data-Driven systems.

#1 The Boeing proposal to install highly reliable, infinitely more accurate instruments to perform QC inspections in the plants is highly likely to enhance the quality and safety of its aircraft. The concomitant action of removing 600 inspectors from the floor shops is ill-timed. The credibility of the aircraft manufacturer has seen better days. Why not defer action on this proposal?

#2 N 8900.511 intends to refine some of the aspects of the Compliance Program — removal of administrative action as a required outcome for accepted voluntary disclosures under the VDRP, and eliminating administrative action and the Enforcement Decision Process (EDP) tool from application to accepted reports within ASAP Those two options are not likely to be invoked by the field staff even under the old regimes. Further, these are not stains which have worried airlines in the past. Moving on them now serves to remind the disgruntled and catch further attention form the OIG. Why not defer action on this proposal?

#3 That the field has bought into the new Compliance Philosophy may be good, if not great, news from John Duncan. His statement is probably based on episodic observation and even some “attitude” measurement might be suspect as all such self-administered instruments. By making such a pronouncement he provides a reminder to the OIG that maybe the staff is not totally comfortable with the innovative, data-driven, proactive regime.

Industry’s ability to depend on a long term reliance on the Compliance/ Oversight/ SMS/Data-driven/Proactive approach is critical to maintaining this positive trend. The current political/media atmosphere suggest that a little patience today may have benefits tomorrow and beyond.




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