Key to driving safety performance?
Aviation is safe. Extremely safe when compared to other safety-critical industries. The likelihood of accidents occurring today is approaching ultra-safe levels where the risk sits at 2.4 accidents per million departures with 12.2 fatalities per billion passengers (ICAO Safety Report for 2018).
Even though 2017 was the safest year on record, recent accidents such as US-Bangla 211 and Lion Air 610 remind us to push the benchmark for safety performance even further.
It's generally recognised that measuring safety performance primarily based on accident rates does not necessarily provide the insight to understand the unintended outcomes that could have, but did not, result in an accident. Substantial improvements in safety have typically followed major accidents (e.g. standardisation of ATC phraseology following the Tenerife Airport Disaster). With the infrequency of accidents today, realising a step change in performance improvement will require the long-term aggregation of marginal safety gains through collaboration and sharing information across the industry.
Safety performance improvement is underpinned by effective Safety Risk Management, however, today this is applied inconsistently and with varying success. This was a hot topic at ICAOs Regional Safety Symposium in Singapore, with many stakeholders discouraged by the potential complexity of hazard identification processes. Guidance was sought as to where they needed to look in their 'systems' to identify the hazards. This is a practical challenge for service providers of all sizes given the increasing number of interactions between organisations and it is why cross-domain hazard identification is so important.
A possible solution is to create a collection of hazard taxonomies to cover different safety management interfaces between, and within, service providers - a concept used in the Oil and Gas industry. The output would be a set of commonly agreed and categorised hazards spanning all aviation segments. Such an approach forces discussion at a much higher-level around how the total aviation system (people, processes, airspace, systems, organisations) delivers the end-to-end aviation experience. This approach enables a discussion on what the common hazards are, and how best to address them.
It would deliver better visibility of how we control safety risks across all interfaces of the aviation system; thereby providing the means to monitor and measure areas of greatest risk to civil aviation.
An initiative of this scale has challenges. Aviation is dynamic and developing a comprehensive cross domain taxonomy would require significant effort and maintenance. It would involve sharing data across diverse databases, gathering subject matter experts (for each segment) and leveraging their experience to create the framework.
In reality, continuing to push the safety performance benchmark higher will require significant international collaboration and a coordinated approach, whatever the solution. Surely, the reward is worth the effort?