Familiarity breeds contempt

This first appeared as a Comment in the 20 August issue of Flight International

Eurocontrol has been working hard for years to try to set up an air traffic management incident reporting system so all parties – pilots, air traffic controllers, air navigation service providers (ANSP) and airport operators – can report incidents, enabling easy identification of trends and risks.
This is easier said than done in the world of ANSPs, which in most European countries are state bodies more atuned to covering up mistakes than acknowledging them.
Eurocontrol has begun to change that culture, and a useful quantity of data is flowing in. The findings are neither unexpected nor do they reveal unknown risks. But they are important, because the highest risks become clear, enabling priorities to be set and policy to be adjusted accordingly.
But in the world of airline operators, which have been running a reporting system for much longer, a new milestone has been reached. There are still plenty of incidents to study, trends to monitor, and priorities to identify, but real accidents have become so rare that there are fewer of those to learn from.
When there is something to learn, it is important. An incident is interesting because something or someone stopped it escalating. Recognising that is the key. Most accidents are caused by something familiar. It begs the question – if it is familiar, why is it still happening?

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