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Plane Talk

A Call For Even More Safety

Posted on: January 8th, 2013 by Pete Agur

When will you be safe enough?  According to a vocal minority on the NBAA AvManager web page, the answer is, “Now”.  They periodically demonize SMS and IS-BAO as excessive intervention into their businesses.  They petulantly put forth they are already performing to sufficiently high professional standards.

Could they be right?  After all, we are killing people at a snail’s pace.  The yardstick measuring the time between fatal Business Aviation accidents is now marked in “Years”.  But, is that good enough?

I contend the accident rate is no longer an effective safety metric.  It measures catastrophic failure, not the results of safe performance.

My rant has two points.  The first is an observation about successful safety cultures and the other is about the metrics of safety.

Each year I have the privilege of visiting dozens of our industry’s best aviation departments.  The best of the best (that top 20%) have one thing in common: a highly visible and energized safety culture.  That safety culture is permeated with three key characteristics:

  1. Professionalism,
  2. Pride, and
  3. Paranoia.

Professionalism is exhibited by all members, at all levels.  It isn’t just about landings equaling takeoffs with a reusable aircraft.  It is about schedulers working with the maintainers to set the stage for the service delivery team (the flight crew) to take the trip’s hand-off.  But it doesn’t stop there.  Those backstage folks (management, schedulers and maintainers) continue their support throughout the show, directly and indirectly.

Among the best and brightest, pride in their service is exhibited to the point that everyone in the organization feels mutually responsible.  If one person spots an error or an unaddressed risk, they assume personal responsibility for its correction.  Their first duty is to assure the quality of the result, including safety.  Once that is confirmed, they then collaboratively determine the source of the variance and its future countermeasures.

Paranoia is a positive motivator for professionals striving to be the best of the best.  They use the fear of failure to drive their achievement of excellence.  They fear letting their teammates and their customers down.  As a result they aggressively and enthusiastically ferret out the foundations of failure and seek effective countermeasures to assuage their concerns.

The common link among these three characteristics is they all call for proactive performance.  The behaviors they engender are forward looking.  They are not looking in the rearview mirror to determine how the last failure occurred.  They are looking ahead to identify the risks of future failures, even the ones they haven’t invented, yet.  They then are driven to seek ways to mitigate those risks.  Like it or not, that is the foundation of SMS.

My final point is that historically, safety metrics looked at the number and sources of past events.  That is backward looking and is useful only as long as you continue to do the same things the same way.  But even that apparent oasis a facade.  The world is always in forward motion.  For example, you and your airplane are getting older.  Your risk profile will different tomorrow than it was yesterday.

It is time to retire historic safety metrics.  Replace them with the metrics of risk identification, assessment and mitigation.  The results will cause people to focus on the right things (avoid or mitigate the risk) with a dramatic impact in two arenas.

  1. SMS encompasses the entire spectrum and flow of the aviation department’s business.
  2. Losses that are considered separate from “safety of flight” will finally get the attention, and reduction, they deserve.

The result will be a quantum improvement of business aviation safety.  So be it (end of rant)!

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