The exact origin of the word travel is unknown but it is traditionally linked with the French word travail, meaning to work or endure. The association is apt because throughout most of human history travel has been an arduous process. In its early days, air travel was no exception. Longer journeys could take days with numerous stopovers. And comfort and safety were not the guarantees we take for granted today. Fortunately, aircraft equipment and aviation safety standards have improved leaps and bounds in the past century.
Overall, aviation continues to post the best safety statistics of any mode of transportation. In 2012, there was just one hull loss accident for every 5 million flights of western-built jets—the safest year ever. The achievement marks a century of continual improvement. In the 1930s, for example, water-cooled engines were replaced by superior air-cooled versions.
Cockpit instruments became more accurate and Precision Approach Path Indicators were introduced—runway lighting that allowed pilots to get the angle of descent correct. In the following decade, radar was implemented and the Nate Price-designed pressurized cabin became commonplace, keeping passengers happy at higher altitudes where there was less turbulence and aircraft could fly at greater speeds. The improvements kept on coming and the sophistication of modern aircraft with their advanced materials and multiple redundancies in both structures and systems stand as a tribute to all the work has gone before.
A precision approach
But for much of this time, aside from advances in technology, the main steps forward came from studying accidents. Diligent analysis of the cause of an accident led to improved products and techniques. The historical trend proves this has been an effective approach. Today, there are some 3 billion travelers on an annual basis and it has become so safe that passengers in the United States could on average fly safely every day for 123,000 years, according to Arnold Barnett, a Professor of Statistics at MIT.
That is some going for a network that accommodates 2 million passengers and some 30,000 flights every day. Nevertheless, the fact is that many of the safety improvements were based on lessons learned from commercial air accidents. More recently, there has been a crucial change in the approach to safety. From a retrospective analysis the focus has shifted to preventing accidents before they even occur. This new approach involves capturing and analyzing enormous reams of data to understand and improve all aspects of flight.
IOSA sets the standard
The IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) is a cornerstone of this paradigm shift. It became a condition of IATA membership in 2008 and is now synonymous with best practice in aviation safety. The 2012 figures show that the total accident rate (all aircraft types) for IOSA registered carriers was 4.3 times better than the rate for non-IOSA carriers (0.96 vs. 4.11). IOSA has also been mandated at state level in several countries.
Enhanced IOSA is now in place and reinforces the notion that prevention is the best course of action. Enhanced IOSA puts a stronger focus on continuous monitoring to support the bi-annual audit and advances Safety Management Systems and a safety culture within an airline, vital components in accident prevention. Ian Herbert, CEO, Vistair Systems, agrees that prediction can only be truly effective when everybody in the organization feels empowered to contribute towards that process. “A cultural change will ensure that everybody in the organization, from the CEO and senior management to the cabin crews and ground crews, are onboard and fully engaged in the safety culture,” he says.“
The key to this cultural shift is awareness, because only by raising awareness of safety, and then creating an environment where everybody in the organization feels empowered to contribute to the process, can you better collect that all-important data and improve performance,” adds Herbert. “Once you reach that point, and have effective processes in place for properly gathering the data, the job of mining that information for the purposes of incident prediction starts to have a greater value.”
With Enhanced IOSA, airlines need to release a conformance report containing internal audit results prior to the IOSA audit. Auditor Actions, a tool currently used by IOSA auditors, will be made available to the airlines to support them in assessing IOSA Standards and Recommended Practices internally. There is also a Partnership for Quality initiative to support airlines’ quality departments in adapting to Enhanced IOSA as well as regional workshops. As of September 2015, Enhanced IOSA will become mandatory for IATA members.
A big warehouse
IOSA generates plenty of data. This data can be used not only to help improve the individual airline performance but also to assist the industry in its safety efforts. Data sharing will play a crucial role in preventing future accidents and is critical to helping safety analysts spot trends and identify key mitigation measures. Work is now complete on the database structure and the management process is going through ISO certification.
The Global Safety Information Exchange and the Global Safety Information Center (GSIC) allow users to access and aggregate multiple sources of industry safety data. There are now more than 400 organizations contributing to GSIC, a widespread commitment that is tearing down silos within the industry.
All of this information feeds into plans to improve safety without waiting for an incident to occur. The Runway Excursion Risk Reduction (RERR) Toolkit is an example of this forward-thinking strategy. RERR provides carriers with the information necessary to prevent runway-related accidents. Unstable approaches are another dominant theme. The information can be fed back into pilot training, the final component in improving air safety in the 21st century.
More than just box ticking
Evidence-based training cements the safety strategy together. The main issue is ensuring ever-improving standards while welcoming enough new recruits to satisfy the increase in demand for air transport. The Multi Crew Pilot License (MPL) accepts that it is impossible to train for a successful outcome of the infinite number of all possible abnormal and emergency situations. Instead it is a competency-based approach rather than the traditional box-ticking, hours-based, prescriptive training.
Students are guided seamlessly from ab-initio training to airliner type rating, using simulation designed for multi-crew training. Upset Prevention and Recovery Training, Threat and Error Management and Crew Resource Management are key components of MPL. Fatigue Risk Management Systems are another important advance for pilots. Like competency-based training, this moves pilots away from a proscriptive, time-based approach and takes a more holistic view of a pilot’s capability to work.
“There has been a dramatic improvement in safety in the past 100 years and that trend is accelerating thanks to a greater focus on safety management systems, a safety culture, and stringent audits,” says Guenther Matschnigg, IATA Senior Vice President, Safety and Flight Operations. “Technology has also improved of course but more important is the way we enable and implement that technology. Zero accidents remain the goal and we will get ever closer to achieving that in the years ahead.” Data will be the key, says Matschnigg. The more you can collect, the more chance you have of identifying important trends. Then, airlines can begin to apply the lessons learned and start making a difference to safety on the individual and collective level.
“Safety is fundamental for every successful carrier, and 100% safety is a serious objective for all airlines, including Eithad Airways,” says Etihad Airways Chief Operations Officer, Captain Richard Hill. “With the current pace of technological evolution, we cannot accurately predict exactly where the industry will be 100 years from now. Looking in the shorter term, the industry continues to deliver year-on-year improvements in safety with flight crew training in particular an area that is rapidly changing as it focuses more on the human element, and how to manage risks created by human input, with the continuing advances in technology.
“I believe the next major development will be in the form of systems design improvements to the man–machine interface,” he concludes. “Whether the industry manages 100% air safety in the next 100 years is dependent on these and many other complex factors both on the ground and in the air. It’s a challenging matrix, but I am optimistic that the current rate of improvement in the global safety rate is sustainable. Recent statistics show that despite the record increases in passenger kilometers flown in ever more crowded skies, there has never been a safer time to fly or indeed travel through an airport. With the continued commitment of the industry leaders I expect that will continue.”
The Global Safety Information Center provides multiple sources of industry data.
The IATA Safety Report contains critical information on aviation industry accidents, causes and prevention strategies. It is the collaborative effort of industry partners from airlines, manufacturers and international organizations.
Flight Data Exchange is an aggregated de-identified database of FDA/FOQA type events. It will allow flight operations and safety departments to proactively identify safety hazards.
The STEADES database of de-identified airline incident reports is the world’s largest, offering a secure environment for airlines to pool safety information for global benchmarking and analysis needs.
The IOSA program is an internationally recognized and accepted evaluation system designed to assess the operational management and control systems of an airline.
Within the objective of improving safety and reducing ground damage, the IATA Safety Audit for Ground Operations (ISAGO) brings together airlines, ground services providers, cargo handlers and other industry stakeholders. Using internationally recognized audit standards, ISAGO also aims to improve efficiency by reducing the number of redundant audits.
The Ground Damage Database is designed to facilitate data-driven decisions to measurably reduce aircraft ground damage. • GSIC cabin safety enhances safety by providing airlines access to in-depth reports and recommendations derived from this information.