Today's generation of modern jet airliners has achieved a historic safety performance high of less than one fatal accident in ten million flights, according to Harry Nelson, adviser to Airbus' head of product safety.
The challenge now, said Nelson, is to determine what can be done to improve even further.
This ratio - one in 10-7 - has a certain engineering significance, in that safety-critical components in civil aircraft must have a tested failure rate better than this if they are to be approved; it was never actually intended to apply to an entire airframe in operation, given that an aeroplane contains many components and is controlled by human beings whose failure rate cannot be tested in a comparable way.
Nelson, speaking at the 17-18 September Flightglobal Flight Safety 2012 conference at London Heathrow, was talking about what he called 4th generation aircraft, in which he includes all Airbus and Boeing marques still in production today and the latest products of manufacturers like Embraer and Bombardier.
Nelson says there is still some "low hanging fruit" - some simple measures - to reduce accidents further. His "low hanging fruit" list included:
- the need to stop tailwind landings when they are carried out for reasons other than safety;
- to develop satellite-based required navigation performance approaches wherever circling approaches are still the norm;
- to harmonise and simplify standard instrument departures and arrivals;
- to ensure that pilots fully know and understand the basic physics of flying;
- to ensure all runways comply with International Civil Aviation Organisation recommendations and have surface grooving;
- and to standardise and improve runway condition reporting by air traffic controllers.
In the longer term, Nelson told the conference, the industry should optimise the collection, coordination, dissemination and use of safety data globally, which he said could provide strategic information of immense value to the industry.
He also added that pilot training needs lots of work, including:
- At ab-initio level training should be "anchored in Newtonian physics".
- Type and recurrent training needs to "keep in step" with the capabilities of high-tech cockpits and modern aircraft performance management;
- Airlines should adopt evidence-based training;
- Training delivery and the tools used to deliver it should also be regularly reviewed to be effective with today's young people, said Nelson, observing that "digital natives learn visually".
Finally, Nelson said that current training to deal with the emergence of loss of control accidents as a peculiarly modern phenomenon should concentrate on teaching "what it takes to be in control".