Your next flight will be safe. But…

According to the Aviation Safety Network there were only 20 fatal crashes of airlines last year, making it the safest year to fly since 1942, when ASN’s dataset starts.

Questions:

1. So in general we can say that my next flight will be very safe. Am I right?

2. On the other hand from 1972 the number of flights has tripled. Is this the biggest challenge for the aviation safety, or what do you perceive as the biggest current challenge for the aviation safety?

Answers:

John Cox, Chief Executive Officer, Safety Operating Systems

1. The ASN data is correct. Yes, your next flight will be safe. In 2014 nearly 3.5 BILLION passengers flew on nearly 40 million flights safely (source IATA). The most dangerous part of any flight is the drive to and from the airport. Aviation is safest form of transportation ever created by mankind. Tragedies like the Germanwings accident show that we can still improve, but the progress we have made in aviation safety is remarkable.

2. The risks in aviation safety are well known:

The most frequent accident type is the runway excursion, an airplane going off the end or side of a runway. The good news is that there are usually most survive this type of accident

The most number if fatalities is caused by loss of control in-flight. Accidents where the pilots loss control of the airplane. Unfortunately there are usually few, if any survivors.

The rising risk to aviation safety is lithium battery fires, the proliferation of electronic devices is resulting in increasing number of lithium battery fires in airliners. This type of fire is difficult to extinguish.

The greatest challenge for aviation safety is the providing the necessary assets to continue to move safety forward. Aviation is now so safe that some financial people are questioning the value of safety programs. Our success in improving safety is proving challenging to justify to some.

Lori Brown, Associate Professor, Western Michigan University, College of Aviation

1. The amount of commercial flight fatal crashes is at a low point, we are seeing a trend toward larger aircraft which has contributed to the increased number of fatalities per crash last year. Although this increase in fatalities per accident has been a slow increasing trend, it is important to note that 2013 marked the lowest point in these fatalities per accident since 2013 according to the aviation safety network report.

2. Our fast growing aviation system has developed into interrelated complex systems which will require continued efforts to improve safety and highlights the importance of adhering to a globally harmonized approach to improving and monitoring safety. This global harmonized approach will become increasingly important as we see shifts in global population (For example, as early as 2028, India could surpass China as the most populous country in the world, according to United Nations data. According to Airbus and Boeing market forecast reports, much of this growth will come from the emerging markets, including Asia, South America and Africa.

Emerging markets are expecting huge leaps in fleet growth, which means we have to also look at our global and regional capabilities to meet this growth and consider limited training capacities and the global pilot shortage. How will we recruit, train and engage the best and the brightest next generation of aviation professionals to meet these changing demands. with new pilots and maintenance technicians entering the industry at an all time low. It has been recognized by the international aviation community that there will be an anticipated shortage of skilled aviation professionals in the near future. In order to address this important issue, ICAO launched the Next Generation of Aviation Professionals (NGAP) initiative to ensure that enough qualified and competent aviation professionals are available to operate, manage and maintain the future international air transport system safely. The ICAO NGAP task force is just one of the many global initiatives aimed at ensuring the the future global aviation community that has sufficient competent human resources to support a safe, secure and sustainable air transportation system, for our future.

Manoj Patankar, Professor, Executive Director at the Center for Aviation Safety Research, Saint Louis University

In general, you are correct. Your next flight will be very safe! Aviation continues to be the safest mode of transportation. Per your second question, if the accident rate remains the same and the volume of air traffic increases (per projections), the number of accidents will increase. Thus, we need to continue to bring down the accident rate and make the aviation system even safer. Some researchers call it going from high reliability (one in a million accident rate) to ultra-safe (one in a billion accident rate). In order for us to achieve this higher level of safety, we must review our entire system–design and manufacturing of hardware, training and certification of personnel, operating constraints and pressures, and maintenance requirements. One could also argue that all these critical elements in our system are under pressure.

Our current research focuses on safety culture (within an organization) and assessing quality of pilot preparation at the time of employment by airlines.

Jeffrey Price, Professor, Department of Aviation and Aerospace Science, Metropolitan State University of Denver, Owner of Leading Edge Strategies

1. I think aviation is much safer today than ever before, but it will never be 100% safe. There are risks in any endeavor and you can only reduce them to the extent possible. Human error in design, maintenance, operations (flying), weather and just random things happening, means there will always be some level of accident rate.

2. I think the biggest challenge to aviation safety today is capacity. Most of the world still uses outdated technology (i.e. radar), for air navigation when GPS technologies have been available for a long time. They should be replacing old systems at a much faster pace. With more aircraft in the skies, and now drones and in the future, space planes, the airspace is going to get busier and busier. Even here in the U.S. the Federal Aviation Administration is incredibly slow at adopting to new technologies. Technology is in fact outpacing bureaucracy’s ability to keep up.

Nektarios KaranikasSenior Lecturer – Researcher Aviation Safety and Human Factors in the Aviation Academy, Amsterdam University of Applied Science

1. The aviation industry has indeed the lowest accident rate records. These rates are computed as accidents, incidents and fatalities per flights, flying hours, passengers etc. If you search on the internet, other activities such as driving and swimming are far less safe than aviation. However, we must understand that safety, like quality and security, is not a tangible characteristic of a component or a system and we cannot directly measure it. It is a state that emerges through the interaction of the system components and subcomponents and the variability these parts demonstrate. Each component may have high reliability, but when we put elements together their behaviour changes due to interconnections with other parts and the whole system becomes extremely dynamic.

Safety is highly regulated by states and authorities, who impose safety constraints and limitations. The ultimate goal is to minimize risks taking into account that there is no activity free from risk. Whatever we act and decide in our lives involves some risk. The stake in all industries is to proactively identify hazards, manage them, and maintain them at the lowest level before they lead to an accident. However, hazards are numerous and their possible combinations even more. If we add on this the variability of human performance and behaviour, risk management becomes even more challenging. All aviation companies register risks and mitigating measures, and continuously monitor them. Safety is a top priority, but sometimes the dynamic nature of our world cannot be predicted and managed. This is why accidents happen. Therefore, yes the aviation industry is safe since it is aware of all these hazards around and becomes safer as we get more knowledge and experience. There has been a continuous effort to develop mechanisms that can sense timely system dynamics and variability before these cause accidents.

2. Aviation industry faces the same challenges as all organizations. The decisions made must balance among safety/quality/security, financial/resource constraints and on time delivery of services and products. As a result of demand, flight activity grows at all dimensions (i.e. civil, military and general aviation) and new vehicles are introduced (e.g., drones). On the other side, economical problems become more and more prevalent in our world; such problems regard the financial conditions of both individuals and companies. At the same time, the consumer requires prompt delivery of free of defaults tangible and intangible goods at a low cost. However, experience from accidents shows that the moto “cheaper-faster-better” is not valid anymore; it is impossible to satisfy in parallel all these requirements at their maximum. Therefore, I believe that challenge for aviation safety, as part of the “better” characteristic, is to find its right position among other requirements. If we want to claim “absolute” safety, we must cease all human activities. The solution might be to enhance our overall awareness by identifying and managing hazards and risks of all types, and be flexible enough to promptly and decisively act whenever one requirement overweighs against other demands.

David BarrySenior Lecturer – Aviation Safety, Safety and Accident Investigation Centre, Cranfield University

1. Yes, you are right. There were around 2.5 million airline flights per fatal accident in 2014, putting the industry in a range classed as ultra-safe [according to Amalberti, 2001]. The airline industry is heavily regulated:

* Maintenance Engineers have to be licensed
* Pilots have to be licensed
* Cabin crew are subject to specific training requirements
* Regulators approve airline management before the airline can fly
* Aircraft have to be inspected daily
* New aircraft types and new equipment on board has to go through a rigorous certification process
* Airlines are required to collect and analyse data from flight data recorders routinely to monitor safety performance
* Airlines are required to have safety reporting processes in place

….the list could go on and on. How many other industries take this much effort to ensure safety? On top of the above, most major airlines go beyond regulatory requirements and aim to achieve even higher standards of safety through the implementation of safety management systems. Airlines will audit each other before sending their passengers on other airlines through codeshare agreements. Airline alliances, such as Star and OneWorld, will audit airlines before they are allowed to join, airlines will audit ground handling companies and maintenance organisations to ensure safety standards before contracts are signed. All of this goes on in the background and most passengers are unaware of all these activities.

2. The increasing popularity of air travel is a big challenge for the industry. The overall accident rate has reduced dramatically through the 1960s, 70s, 80s and 90s, but is now levelling out and stabilising, albeit at a very low level. The challenge is that if this rate remains static, but more flights are flown, the number of accidents will rise, even though the industry has the same level of safety. It is likely that the travelling public will perceive this as unacceptable. You just need to look at the level of media coverage the GermanWings accident has attracted to see how interested the public is in aviation accidents, and more frequent accidents will damage the industry’s reputation.

The big challenge now is to get the accident rate to keep moving down, into the realms of 1 fatal accident per 10 million flights. This will be a huge challenge and will probably require a step change in what we do, rather than incremental change. Modern aircraft evolve through time as new safety related systems are introduced that give pilots better awareness of what is happening around them, for example, TCAS, GPWS, moving map displays, local terrain and weather displays. However we are seeing accidents, such as Air France 447, where a serviceable modern aeroplane, with three well trained and experienced pilots on board, crashes into the Atlantic. How can this happen? Well the philosophy of automation in most aircraft is that it relieves pilots of workload during periods where nothing unusual is happening. When something unusual occurs, the automation hands control to the pilots, thrusting them into a sudden high workload situation. Maybe we need to rethink this philosophy and, if technology allows, reverse it so that pilots are bett

Shawn PruchnickiResearch Coordinator/Lecturer, Center for Aviation Studies, Ohio State University

1. I think with the number of flights we see worldwide on a daily basis, the chances of being on a fatal one, as you note is extremely rare. These are very much “one-off” events. I think what is more important is the types of accidents we are seeing. We never see these coming. Years ago, we knew or at least had a better understanding of what we were dealing with and where our weaknesses were. Today is different. We do not see these coming.

2. Here is the problem. These accidents are about seemingly innocuous events coming together to cause an aircraft loss. No single event that precedes each one would be enough to bring an airliner down. There is no such thing anymore of a single cause of these events. However, when brought together, all of these smaller problems in just the right way we have a loss. How do you protect yourself against this? Ten little things that one day cause nothing to happen and the next day a complete loss. This is the nature of complexity science and what we are studying here at OSU. How do we make the system safer from these one off events? The answer is about resilience, about making the system more robust and flexible to handle non-standard events. The flexibility and training to understand that you can not train for every event but rather train to be flexible and most importantly to understand when your safety margin is being eroded and you are getting closer to the tipping point is the key.

Michael Barr, Senior Instructor, USC Viterbi School of Engineering, University of Southern California

1. Flying is as safe now as it has ever been.

2. The biggest area that needs improvement is the training of pilots in the understanding of digital flight controls. They sometime are not aware of what is happening when the programs do not work properly. This causes the pilots to become confused as what corrective actions are needed to correct the situation before the flight gets out of hand. They become observers and not operators.

Simon Bennett, Director of the Civil Safety and Security Unit, University of Leicester

Regarding flight safety, 2014 was one of the safest years on record. It is safer to fly than use almost any other form of transport.

The biggest challenge for aviation is to persuade the media that flying remains one of the safest forms of mass transit ever devised.  See also.

Clarence RodriguesAssociate Professor of Mechanical Engineering, The Petroleum Institute University and Research Center (PI)

1. Yes.

2. 1) ​Aviation security is more of a challenge than aviation safety.

2) Unauthorized/unregulated flying vehicles like drones will be a major safety issue of the future​.

3) ​Ground-based lasers that are used for recreational purposes can be used to distract pilots (during landing and take-off)potentially leading to catastrophic effects.

4) Enhanced background and psychological profiling checks for pilots are needed (security issue).

5) Stronger encouraging of pilots to speak up when they notice problems with fellow pilots (especially off the job)

6) The perennial favorite – continuous and enhanced CRM training.

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