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Aviation safety reaching new heights, despite high profile crashes: IATA’s Tyler

Geneva, Sui. - Without a doubt the past 13 months have been an extraordinarily difficult time for aviation safety. I know that you will join me in remembering the family and friends of those on board Germanwings 9525 and all those who grieve for the victims of air disasters that occurred during this period.


April 15, 2015
By IATA

In 2014 there were 12 fatal accidents. And we have had two so far in 2015. Each and every one of them is a tragedy. Each re-dedicates us to further improving. And we learn important lessons. But it is important to remember that over this same period, approximately 38 million flights reached their destinations safely.

There is no question that flying is safe and getting safer. Last year, the global jet accident rate measured in hull losses per one million flights was 0.23, the equivalent of one major accident for every 4.4 million flights. This was the lowest rate in history and a 60% reduction compared to the five-year rate of one major accident for every 1.7 million flights.

But despite the improving safety trend, we have also been confronted by a sequence of what seem like random disasters that have raised questions. Three in particular have grabbed the global attention of the media and regulators. And that is understandable. Aircraft operating in open civilian airspace under radar control are not supposed to disappear, nor be shot down by missiles. And the first priority of all flight crew is the safety of those onboard. Each of these assumptions has been upended.

The theme of this conference is “Critical path: pivotal changes for safety & operations.” And we as an industry are moving forward to identify and address what has come to light as a result of the recent tragedies.

  • In response to the disappearance and loss of MH 370, the aviation industry has welcomed the proposal by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to move towards the adoption of a performance-based standard for global tracking of commercial aircraft, supported by multi-national operational assessments to evaluate impact and guide implementation.
  • Following the shooting down of MH 17, governments and industry joined together to find ways to reduce the risk of over-flying conflict zones. This includes better sharing of critical information about security risks to civil aviation. And we are calling on governments to find an international mechanism to regulate the design, manufacture and deployment of weapons with anti-aircraft capabilities.
  • Based on revelations in the Germanwings tragedy, some airlines and some regulators have implemented requirements for having two persons in the cockpit at all times.

It well may turn out that some or all of these initiatives will be superseded by other measures, arrived at via a thorough, well-researched, collaborative process, based on global standards and best practices. That has been the industry’s modus operandi for decades and it has helped make aviation the safest form of long-distance travel the world has ever known.

Our responsibility is to keep it that way. And we must fulfill that in a world where expectations are constantly changing. The Germanwings tragedy is a good illustration of change. Almost immediately the leaders of three nations visited the crash site. And as more information was released it dominated conversations around dinner tables, across social media networks and also in the traditional media.

How we fulfill our promise on safety is in the global public spotlight. And the challenge becomes even more intense as the nature of accidents is changing with their rarity.

We want every flight to be a safe one. And we have come extremely close to meeting that goal. But accidents still happen. Finding the cause of the accident and implementing measures to avoid it happening again will always be paramount. But in today’s reality the need to communicate constantly —even when we don’t have all the answers— has taken on critical importance.

I won’t belabor the point. I am sure that you have all felt the pressure to find the appropriate response to safety issues in a world where news is socialized with literally no filters or geographic boundaries. And I hope that this conference provides a unique opportunity for some informal industry dialogue on this new and I would say pivotal challenge.

Those conversations would take place alongside a formal agenda which looks at pivotal change in a much more technical way. But I believe that we need to take under consideration whether and how to introduce a new sense of openness in our safety dialogue that corresponds to the changed environment in which operate.

On the technical front, data will guide our efforts by helping us to understand the minutiae of what is happening during a flight to make it even safer. And alongside that, the traditional learning from an accident will likely require a new and more agile approach while still maintaining the rigor of expertise built-up over the ages.

This may sound unusual, but change is nothing new for aviation. We are always adapting whether because of new and more capable technology, regulatory changes or new lessons learned. In fact, we are already making a transition of another type–to expand how we track and identify potential risks to reduce the odds of a future accident.

We do not really have a choice. Much of the low hanging fruit that can deliver major safety improvements has been harvested. As a result, there are so few accidents that they cannot yield the trend data that is vital to a systemic risk-based approach to improving safety. In 2014, there were just 73 accidents of all types, in 38 million flights.

Future safety gains will come increasingly from analyzing data from all flights, not just the infinitesimal percentage of flights where something goes wrong–0.0002% last year. That is what is behind the Global Aviation Data Management (GADM) program, a comprehensive safety data warehouse. GADM includes analysis reports covering accidents, incidents, ground damage, maintenance and audits, plus data from nearly 2 million flights and over 1 million air safety reports.

Learning from GADM will help to drive forward IATA’s Six-Point Safety Strategy which is a holistic multi-pronged approach to reducing risk. For example, we know that adherence to global standards and best practices is a prerequisite for safe operations. The IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) is such a standard. The figures show that the accident rate for IOSA-registered airlines was nearly three times better than that for non-IOSA registered airlines last year. This year we transition to Enhanced IOSA, which introduces continuous monitoring systems to monitor compliance across the two-year audit cycle. This is moving IOSA from a once-every-two-year snapshot to a continuous management process.

IOSA is a requirement for membership in IATA. But there are hundreds of operators with no interest in joining IATA or which operate aircraft outside the IOSA criteria. So today we are launching the IATA Standard Safety Assessment (ISSA), which is intended for operators that are not eligible for the IOSA either because they operate aircraft which have a maximum take-off weight below the 5,700 kg threshold for participation in IOSA or because their business model does not allow conformity with IOSA’s standards. The ISSA is not a substitute for IOSA. It enables the industry to address the need for a global operational safety standard for operators that are not eligible for IOSA.

We also know that runway events, loss of control in-flight and controlled flight into terrain are our three largest safety challenges. And while we have made significant progress in reducing the frequency of these events, we have more work to do. It’s clear that we can’t rely on a silver bullet solution. Reductions will come through a combination of efforts, including but not limited to more effective recruiting and training of flight crews and improved aviation infrastructure, both of which are part of our Six Point Safety Strategy.

And we must identify and tackle emerging issues, such as continuing to ensure the safe transport of lithium batteries and cabin safety, which we will address next month in Paris at our second Cabin Operations Safety Conference.

All of our efforts must be guided by an appreciation of the importance of global standards and best practices. We achieve our best by working together in partnership. No one has all the answers; all bring a valuable perspective.

In closing, if the last 13 months have shown us anything it is that safety is not fixed or static. We do not know everything that can happen. There are surprises and black swans. And there is an expectation that we as an industry will address them. Our discussions over the next two days will help to set the agenda for these pivotal changes.