Safety is the industry’s number one priority. Impressive results in recent years have not weakened the commitment to zero accidents, as a plethora of new initiatives demonstrates
Accident rates for 2010 hit an historical low. For the industry, it was one Western-built jet hull loss per 1.6 million flights; for IATA members it was one hull loss per four million flights. Since 2001, safety has improved 42%.
The results are no surprise given the extensive work done in recent years. The IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) is now mandatory for member airlines and has been endorsed at state level in many countries as part of a safety oversight program. There are now more than 130 non-IATA IOSA carriers. IOSA registered carriers represented more than 60% of all flights in 2010, with an accident record significantly lower than the world average. The IATA Safety Audit for Ground Operations (ISAGO), pilot training, aircraft systems, and data sharing are among the many other areas that have raised the bar.
The challenge is to build on these excellent foundations. Every avenue of improvement is being explored. “The highly successful IOSA program was developed 10 years ago and airlines began implementation eight years ago,” says Guenther Matschnigg, IATA Senior Vice President for Safety, Operations, and Infrastructure. “This is why we are developing an enhanced program for the next ten years to ensure safety levels continue to climb.”
Aside from a number of enhancements to the audit itself, the main driver for change is the process behind the audit. To help strengthen airlines’ own safety management programs, carriers will become more involved in the audit. Delegating some of the responsibility to the airline ensures safety becomes a continuous process and helps instil the right culture throughout an organization. A third party audit will still occur every two years. Canada’s Air Transat is among the first airlines trialling the new idea. The concept already has the green light from two of the main regulators, the US Federal Aviation Administration and the International Civil Aviation Organization.
Work on IOSA will tie in with the concept of a Circle of Excellence. By streamlining the varied audits essential to the modern industry, the Circle of Excellence will support the airlines’ drive for efficiency through global standards. IATA alone conducts five audits; IOSA, ISAGO, De-Icing, Fuel, and Drinking Water. The latter three use a pool of airline experts. The Circle of Excellence will ensure that any airline involvement is optimized, improving resource allocation and creating accepted global norms. Additionally, the Circle of Excellence will harmonize with new IATA audits on security and the environment that are in the planning phase.
Work on this multitude of audits generates a wealth of valuable data. Sharing internal audit data from regulators and the industry to enhance safety is the goal of the Global Safety Information Exchange (GSIE). IATA, ICAO, the US Department of Transportation, and the European Commission (EC) have all signed up to GSIE. It will tear down silos within the industry and sharpen focus on critical areas. Supplementing this effort, ICAO and the EC recently agreed on a common categorization for accident reporting, further boosting safety development.
Two other decisive areas need to be tackled. First, more aviation professionals are needed to allow the industry to grow safely. Training, such as the introduction of the multi-crew pilot license, has improved, but the real test will be attracting enough new blood. Second, the right infrastructure is essential. That means airspace and airport issues must be resolved satisfactorily. Big ticket items include a Single European Sky, NextGen, and the Seamless Asian Sky—but work must also be done on extra runways and implementing new navigational techniques.
“Capacity problems are an obvious issue from a safety perspective,” says Matschnigg. “We also need to acknowledge that the roles of pilots and controllers are changing thanks to better hardware. The entire aviation chain needs to be aware of these changes. We can’t leave anyone behind. A perfect safety record will need the input and support of all aviation stakeholders.”
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Safety In Numbers
In absolute numbers, 2010 saw the following results:
- 2.4 billion people flew safely on 36.8 million flights, including 28.4 million jet flights and 8.4 million turboprop flights
- 17 hull loss accidents involved Western-built jet aircraft, compared with 19 in 2009
- 94 accidents involved all aircraft types, Eastern and Western built, compared with 90 in 2009
- 23 fatal accidents involved all aircraft types compared with 18 in 2009
- 786 fatalities occurred, compared with 685 in 2009
- In 2010, the main causes of accidents were runway excursions and ground damage. Runway excursions were the most common, accounting for 21% of all accidents, compared with 26% in 2009. Ground damage accounted for 11% of all accidents in 2010, likewise an improvement from 17% in 2008