Comment: Safety means going beyond compliance

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This story is sourced from Flight International
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The week in which Flight International went to press with its annual analysis of world airline accidents finished in style with a brilliantly handled big jet ditching from which everybody on board emerged alive if shaken.

If there had been casualties as a result of the US Airways' crew's attempt to force-land their stricken aircraft on water, no-one would have criticised them, because ditching - especially in big jets - is a high-risk exercise. But they performed above specification.

The primary theme to have emerged from our study is that, about three or four years ago, aviation safety stopped improving and there are only a few ways left to make it better: one of them is to invest more in training pilots. The crew that carried out that flawless ditching in the Hudson river are testimony to the fact that good training repays the investor handsomely.

US Airways A320 on the Hudson Janis Krums
 © Janis Krums

One of the reasons safety has stopped getting better is that a large part of world's commercial air transport industry is now so good at flying safely that it is difficult to improve.

Difficult, but not impossible, say safety analysts. They recommend the industry should go "beyond compliance" in every aspect of its operational and engineering quality management. They mean airlines should no longer aim merely to comply with aviation regulations, they should recognise regulations for what they have always been: the minimum standard for staying within the law. That is not the same thing as high standards.

The latest generation of aircraft is now so unlikely to provide their crews with safety-critical failures that, more than ever, the means for improving safety from good to exceptional is a matter of training people comprehensively and managing organisations well. An airline with a safety culture at the heart of its management ethos which also runs a good safety management system (SMS) will find that it not only has few safety mishaps, it also benefits from improved operational efficiencies and better employee morale. On the other hand, an airline that runs an SMS without a company safety ethos is rendering it ineffective. It is just doing the compliance thing: staying legal.

Going beyond compliance is what's expected now -and many do it. Meanwhile, as ever, there remains a rump of second- and third-tier airlines in certain parts of the world whose ethos is merely to stay legal. They are almost always the ones that have today's accidents.