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Safety - Crossing over

Like crossing the road, air transport is never 100% risk-free. But steps towards data sharing will lead the industry even closer to its ultimate goal of zero accidents, writes Doug McArthur

The risks of air travel have become so minimal that a passenger flying on a daily basis could go 4,384 years without an accident. And safety statistics for the first nine months of 2009 show the period ended with the lowest global accident rate in the past decade.

Flying—the safest form of transportation—is constantly becoming more secure thanks to industry initiatives. But can it ever be entirely risk-free? The question is rhetorical, since there is no 100% guarantee for even a routine task like crossing the road. But all the key players in aviation safety are focused on the goal of zero accidents.

Current work follows the positive steps which have been made in recent years. Guenther Matschnigg, IATA’s Senior Vice-President of Safety, Operations and Infrastructure, says the IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) program, endorsed at the 2003 AGM, has exceeded expectations.

Completing an IOSA audit, the toughest in the world, is now mandatory for all IATA member airlines. The association lost 21 members who failed to qualify, but as of early November 2009, 332 airlines are on the registry, 102 of which are non-IATA members.
As proof of the program’s success, Matschnigg points to the 2008 hull-loss rate for IATA members of one accident per 1.9 million flights. The comparable industry-wide rate was one accident for every 1.2 million flights. A number of countries have made the audits mandatory for all carriers. These include Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Egypt, Madagascar, Mexico, Panama, Syria and Turkey. In addition, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) accepts the use of IOSA by US carriers for their codeshare arrangements with foreign airlines.

IATA is now tackling ground-handling accidents, which cost airlines some $4 billion a year. Under the IATA Safety Audit for Ground Operations (ISAGO) program, 80 audits will be conducted in 2009–up from 30 in 2008. So far, the audits are not mandatory, but some airports and transport authorities are already pressing ground handlers to meet the standards.

In the future, IATA hopes to extend the audit concept. One possibility is a maintenance audit system developed jointly with governments and maintenance organizations.

Data sharing is the key

However, the work does not stop with auditing. The Global Safety Information Center (GSIC) is a web portal designed for the rapid collection and dissemination of crucial data that could prevent accidents. This theme of data sharing will be central to efforts to further improve safety around the world.
Phase one of the GSIC website will be available to member airlines by the end of 2009. It features safety data from sources such as IOSA and ISAGO audits, flight recorders, pilot reports and accident investigations. By mid-2010, the center aims to share data with governments, the FAA, the European Commission and ICAO. “Together we can do a better job than everyone in isolation,” says Matschnigg. “Airlines will know about every incident and what they need to do to avoid something similar happening.”

To encourage data sharing, the website will not identify individuals or airlines. The reasoning behind this is primarily legal, although many carriers offer employees a protective environment. KLM’s safety policy, for example, includes a provision that “when investigating occurrences, KLM’s primary position is that occurrences need to be learned from and not sanctioned”.

Data sharing has also been singled out as a key safety priority by Raymond Benjamin, the Secretary General of ICAO. Speaking at an aviation safety forum in Washington, he pointed to the huge amounts of safety data collected by various bodies and authorities. “The problem is that these gold mines of information have been set up as silos,” he says. “Their potential effectiveness is dramatically reduced by evolving in isolation.”

ICAO has beefed up regulatory oversight operations in its member states through the Universal Safety Oversight Audit Programme. Since 2006, the audit findings of all states that give permission have been displayed on ICAO’s public website.

Any foreign airline operating in the US will have its civil aviation authority audited by the FAA, while the European Safety Assessment of Foreign Aircraft scheme allows member states to inspect third country aircraft. These inspections follow a standard procedure and are then reported using a common format. All data is stored centrally in a computerized database set up by the European Aviation Safety Agency. All these regional programs potentially contain crucial nuggets of data that will raise safety standards if combined.

IATA Director General and CEO Giovanni Bisignani has hailed the data-sharing concept as a step in the right direction. “IATA is ready to rise to this challenge,” he says.

Safety in the air

Meanwhile, real-time operational data sharing will help air traffic management safety. Revolutionary systems now in the planning stage will replace ground-based radar systems with satellite tracking. Under NextGen, the US version being developed by the FAA, all US controllers will use an Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast (ADS-B) national system by 2020. Unlike radar, satellite signals do not break up over distance and provide coverage over water and mountains.

In Alaska, where ADS-B is widely used in the cockpits of small aircraft, a study showed the systems reduced accidents by 47%. Europe’s version of NextGen, SESAR, is being developed by the European Commission. The first demonstration tracking of a commercial flight over the Atlantic will take place late next year, and the deployment phase should start in 2016. SESAR is another clear example of the data-sharing concept in action—an improvement on the piecemeal systems in place.

Another area benefiting from cooperative efforts is runway excursions. IATA has launched the electronic Runway Excursion Risk Reduction tool kit, which takes direct aim at a category that was a factor in 27% of all accidents between 2004 and 2008. IATA joined forces with the Flight Safety Foundation to create the runway tool kit. It highlights risk factors and recommendations for operators, pilots, airports, air traffic management, air traffic controllers and regulators.

As with many other risks, runway excursions are also being tackled on the technology front. Emirates Airlines, for example, is the launch airline for Honeywell’s new SmartLanding technology. The system is designed to reduce runway excursions by alerting pilots if an approach is too high, too fast or improperly configured.

Anticipating future threats and acting on them before they lead to accidents is vital to safety at individual airlines, says David Morgan, General Manager of Airline Operations with Air New Zealand. Since Air New Zealand made that an active policy in 2006, its safety index—which gauges the safety of the airline—has been rising on a rolling basis, he says.

Also crucial is the airline’s emphasis on involving and training employees in all aspects of its operations, business and safety, and helping them understand the three are interrelated. “People are the key,” says Morgan. “Good safety outcomes equal good business outcomes.”

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Training for the future
Future aircraft will always feature safety improvements over older models, courtesy of ever-improving technology. The Boeing 787 design, for example, has two pairs of electrically actuated spoilers to give the pilot some lateral roll control in the highly unlikely event of the loss of the triple redundant hydraulic power.

Key to utilizing these features to best effect will be the training of flight crew. Boeing is studying how pilots interact with the aircraft. “We’re looking at ways we can provide enhancements to maximize the pilot’s spatial orientation and situation awareness,” says Steve Atkins, the company’s Vice-President of Product Integrity and Functional Excellence.

Meanwhile, under a Memorandum of Understanding, Airbus is cooperating with the Civil Aviation Administration of China on a variety of training programmes over a
five-year period.

The IATA Training & Qualification Initiative will continue to work with other parties towards more efficient training concepts for pilots, engineers and maintenance personnel. The emphasis will be on incorporating analyses of real-world data into training programmes. IATA has also made an initial move into the training of cabin crews by providing assistance to Tianjin University.



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