The world average accident rate has fallen dramatically, but less developed regions need much more help

Over the last 10 years, the world average commercial air transport jet accident rate has halved, according to International Air Transport Association director general Giovanni Bisignani. But he has no intention of taking his foot off the safety accelerator. At 31 December 2006, the IATA operational safety audit (IOSA) became compulsory for member airlines, which faced ejection if they were not contracted by that date to undergo the audit.

Stick-type incentives such as IOSA - which is also available to non-member carriers, more than 20 of which have taken it up - will undoubtedly have a favourable impact on overall safety. IOSA entails another deadline at the end of this year - completion of an audit - and another at the end of 2008 - implementation of all the changes identified in the audit.

But the IOSA will not reach many of the airlines in countries where safety has been poor for a long time and remains so - those states or regions that account for the huge difference between the world average accident rate and the rate achieved by IATA member carriers. IATA's director of programmes implementation, Mike O'Brien, says that although 2006 looks set to be the safest year ever, with a global average rate of 0.65 hull losses per million sectors (the figure at 1 December) and an IATA member carrier hull-loss rate of 0.29 for the same period, the association is determined to "push the safety bar higher". Although IATA has only 265 member airlines, they carry 94% of all international traffic, so while smaller carriers - many of them domestic - from regions such as Africa, the CIS and some of Latin America may be moving fewer people, they are suffering almost all the serious accidents.

IATA predicts the global average Western-built hull-loss rate will hit 0.49 per million sectors by 2008. Part of the reason will be the early effects of an International Civil Aviation Organisation plan for global action on aviation safety, particularly in developing regions. The growing chasm between the high safety standards of much of the developed world's aviation and the appalling accident rates in countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo provides the motivation for what ICAO calls the Global Aviation Safety Roadmap (GASR). GASR is the implementation programme for ICAO's strategic plan, originally dubbed GASP (global aviation safety plan), and it details multiple parallel taskforces with specific agendas between now and 2010, and after that a programme for consolidating the work.

'To-do' list

The overall objective is to put industry and government weight behind bringing all states into compliance with ICAO standards and recommended practices, and entails a "to-do" list for states, and another list for industry. GASR may be led by ICAO, but essential partners include major global stakeholders or their representative organisation: Airbus, Boeing, the Airports Council International, the Civil Air Navigation Services Organisation, the Flight Safety Foundation, and the International Federation of Airline Pilots' Associations.

This year, expect to hear more about encouraging a "just culture" in which "blame-free reporting" of mistakes or incidents can take place, enabling proactive safety measures to be taken. This is one of the objectives in the GASR. Eurocontrol is likely to launch a programme to try to make news media more aware of the damage a "blame culture" does through causing pilots, airlines, air navigation service providers and others to try to cover up errors or poor practices rather than reporting them.

Media reporting of accidents both reflects and affects the way politicians and lawyers think, so journalists could, while reporting accurately, influence nations' safety cultures for the better. Creating a just culture is one of the objectives GASR sets for states, because in most of them it will require a change in the way the criminal law works when there is an accident. In most countries, pilots who survive a fatal accident can be charged with manslaughter by the police before any material facts are known.

Source: Flight International