Curious safety poll from the Air Transport Association

The ATA is running a year-end poll asking what subscribers to its free daily newsletter think is the most important safety issue facing the industry. Quite right too, but it’s a peculiar list of options that it offers. I think you can only see it on the newsletter – you can subscribe here - but this is how it runs:

Poll: What is the single most important safety issue to be addressed?

Frequency of runway incursions.
FAA oversight of foreign repair stations.
Aging aircraft.
Lack of a modern air-traffic control system.

Compare that to the US NTSB’s famous ‘most-wanted’ list. Here it is in brief – there’s more detail at the link.

Improve Runway Safety
Reduce Dangers to Aircraft Flying in Icing Conditions
Eliminate Flammable Fuel/Air Vapors in Fuel Tanks on Transport Category Aircraft
Improve Audio and Data Recorders/Require Video Recorders
Reduce Accidents and Incidents Caused by Human Fatigue
Improve Crew Resource Management

I was Flight International’s Washington Correspondent back in 1990 when the NTSB first came up with the most wanted list. There were more accidents in those days and it was a big story. The issue of runway incursions was on that first list, and it’s still on the list 17 years later.

The authors were rather prescient. Runway incursions were not actually considered such a big concern outside the safety cognescenti at that time. But three months after the list was produced this happened at Detroit. I did an instant analysis piece on it – the sort of thing that journalists rush out and pray they’ve got right - but I needn’t have worried, much of what I wrote would still stand up today.

I wonder why the ATA needs a poll to highlight this issue again. The three alternatives on its poll don’t come anywhere close. Aging aircraft actually was a very serious issue back in 1990, but it barely registers on the radar today – essentially because it got ‘fixed’. (I realise that’s a wild oversimplification.) Oversight of foreign repair stations is a trivial issue pumped up by unions and congressmen. And while the US lacks a ‘modern ATC system’ – whatever that would look like – there is a short-term solution which is the same as it has always been: match traffic to capacity.

I doubt that any of the three will come remotely close to the first option when the poll results are published – but if they do then I’ll be concerned. (Although I don’t know how knowledgeable the newsletter’s audience actually is.)

Incidentally, being able to link to my 17 year-old stories is a new privilege for me (and for you of course – OK, just kidding). But I can do it now because Flight’s 100-year online archive is finally complete. I have no hesitation is saying it is very cool indeed. Perhaps you’d like to know how Wilbur Wright is getting on in France, or when that Louis Bleriot guy is going to get his act together. Maybe you prefer pin-ups.

Seems that Bleriot chap finally flew the Channel. Damn that Frenchman! Of course Mr Hubert Latham could well have been first. For the initial speculation on why his attempt failed (mechanical failure), his rescue by the French Navy (thanks, sorry to have been beastly in the preceding sentence), and Wilbur Wright’s speculation on the accident, read all about it here.

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2 Responses to Curious safety poll from the Air Transport Association

  1. Andrew Wright November 25, 2007 at 12:29 am #

    Regarding the Poll: What is the single most important safety issue to be addressed?

    *Frequency of runway incursions.
    *Lack of a modern air-traffic control system.

    Regardless of these existing or not, you firstly need an aircraft which can be flown. Leaving:

    *FAA oversight of foreign repair stations.
    *Aging aircraft.

    As aging aircraft rely on maintenance and repair stations to be serviceable, the most safety-critical factor has to be FAA oversight of foreign repair stations.

  2. Kieran Daly November 28, 2007 at 2:51 pm #

    Sorry completely disagree – you may as well say “you firstly need an aircraft with wheels”. That’s simply not how safety management works. Although it’s not a perfect analogy, James Reason’s ‘Swiss cheese’ theory of safety has proved very powerful. It doesn’t generally matter in which order you plug the holes, but you stop more accidents if you plug the biggest ones first.

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