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Maintaining safety as flight operations increase

In 2017, 4.1 billion passengers were carried by scheduled air carriers around the world. This equates to millions of flights which took off and arrived safely at their destination. With such a stellar performance, time out must be taken to acknowledge the collective efforts of aviation team members across the globe which made this possible. Of course there were a handful of flights that did not make it to their destination, but that number is dwindling.




In 2017, 4.1 billion passengers were carried by scheduled air carriers around the world. This equates to millions of flights which took off and arrived safely at their destination.

With such a stellar performance, timeout must be taken to acknowledge the collective efforts of aviation team members across the globe who made this possible. This however, should not give us any comfort that our work is done.

Of course there were a handful of flights that did not make it to their destination, but that number is dwindling. Notwithstanding, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) reported that 2017 was the safest year in terms of passenger fatalities since 2005 despite the 7% annual growth in the number of passengers traveling by air.

There were a total of 19 fatalities resulting from 45 accidents in 2017, compared with an average of 202 deaths per year for the previous five years from an average of 74.8 accidents. These statistics are a grim reminder of the inherent risks in air transport and the need to chip away at them.

Aviation professionals everywhere have worked tirelessly to maintain safe operations by learning from past accidents and incidents then implementing new measures eliminate or lower risks. Additionally, the implementation of proactive measures to identify hazards, perform risk analyses, then mitigate them is playing an important role to keep accidents at bay.

Despite the technical advances in aircraft design and other aviation infrastructure, application of human factor principles and proactive measures to reduce risks, the threat to aviation safety is always present.

Thanks to foresight by aviation leaders, organizations around the globe are developing and nurturing a safety culture. This is the heart of a properly functioning system to manage safety. Team members are encouraged and sometimes even rewarded to report hazards, a critical component of safety management.

Although these and other initiatives have reduced the risks to safety, the benefits of maintaining an active safety management system cannot be over-emphasized. As the safety management system evolve, it will enter a period where the prediction of safety events will become the norm.

In just under a decade, it is expected that operators, service providers and other stakeholders kick into predictive mode regarding safety. But for this to be meaningful however, there must be a vast amount of data collected from which to manipulate and forecast events.

Herein lies the challenge to leaders – selling a vision that cannot be seen by getting people to voluntarily report every hazard that they observe, however insignificant it may appear to them. It is often hard to connect the dots with seemingly insignificant observations when those have not yet been associated with an accident or an incident.

A classic case of a latent condition which was insignificant for decades became significant following the crash of Air Midwest Flight 5481, a Beechcraft 1900. On January 8, 2003, while departing Charlotte/Douglas International Airport, the aircraft stalled and crashed into an aircraft hangar killing all 21 people on board and injuring one person on the ground.

Upon investigation, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) found that the actual weight of an average passenger was more than 20 pounds greater than estimated. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)-approved weight for every man, woman and child used in the computation of aircraft weight and balance was simply incorrect.

Based on the approved weight, the pilots had totaled up the aircraft’s take-off weight and deemed it to be within limits. The plane however was overloaded by 580 pounds after investigators tallied up the actual body weight of each passenger on board. It must be noted that the overweight alone was not responsible for the doomed flight, but it conspired with other factors.

It is precisely these kinds of examples that leaders need to arm themselves with when coaching and inspiring their followers. Maintaining safety as flight operations increase dictates strong leadership, together with a just culture and other tactics.

But to the point, the aviation industry can learn from a line in the movie “The Firm” when the character Bill DeVasher said “I get paid to be suspicious when I got nothing to be suspicious about.” It is certainly a good attitude to adopt as it is better to report hazards that turn out to be nothing that the other way around.

It must be said that overall, the air transport industry becomes more robust with each passing day despite the inevitable black swan events.


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About Wayne Farley

I am Wayne, a career air traffic controller. Engage me while I share my thoughts, experience, and news from around the aviation world. A post titled “13 Characteristics of an Air Traffic Controller” written in 2010 went viral and established me as the unofficial ambassador of ATC.

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