IATA has always taken safety and security seriously, but the emphasis has to alter subtly from time to time to take ­account of changes in the global operating environment.

A quick glance at recent airline safety performance shows accidents are down, but disasters have still occurred and the terrorist threat to airports and carriers is as high as it has ever been.

With the recent shock of deliberately caused disasters such as the Germanwings crash and the MetroJet sabotage – despite figures proving that technical and operational safety has never been better – the industry has had to do some serious thinking about whether its systems need to be modified. And in the run-up to the IATA AGM which begins in Dublin tomorrow, the industry was still trying to understand the circumstances that led to an EgyptAir A320 loss while en route from Paris to Cairo.

IATA director general Tony Tyler sums up the current situation: “2015 was another year of contrasts when it comes to aviation’s safety performance. In terms of the number of fatal accidents, it was an extraordinarily safe year, and the long-term trend data shows us that flying is getting even safer.”

But he adds: “We were all shocked and horrified by two deliberate acts – the destruction of Germanwings 9525 [French Alps, 24 March 2015] and MetroJet 9268 [above the northern Sinai on 31 October 2015]. While there are no easy solutions to the mental health and security issues that were exposed in these tragedies, aviation continues to work to minimise the risk that such events will happen again.”

As Tyler points out, the 2015 global jet accident rate (hull losses per 1 million flights) was 0.32, or one major accident for every 3.1 million flights. Note this is hull losses, not fatal accidents. There were no fatal accidents to jets in 2015, only to turboprops.

IATA’s figures show this hull loss rate was not as good as the 0.27 achieved in 2014 but a 30% improvement compared with the previous five-year rate (2010-2014) of 0.46 hull loss accidents per million jet flights. And, as usual, IATA member airlines showed an even better rate of 0.22, or one accident for every 4.5 million flights. This outperformed the global rate by 31% and was in line with the five-year rate (2010-2014) of 0.21 per million flights, but not quite as good as the best-ever 0.12 hull loss rate achieved in 2014.

Meanwhile, IATA has recently appointed new safety and security departmental heads: Gilberto Lopez Meyer as senior vice-president safety and flight operations; and Nick Careen, SVP, airport, passenger, cargo and security.

Meyer started out as a pilot with Mexicana, and more recently was director general of the Mexican Civil Aviation Authority. He also has extensive airport experience, having been director general of Mexico City International Airport and of the Aeropuertos y Servicios Auxiliares.

Careen’s recent career has been with Air Canada and its subsidiary Jazz, where his last role was as vice-president for airports, call centres and customer relations. He was also chosen for his extensive experience in flight and airport operations, human resource management and government relations.

Referring to events that have marked recent years as being highly unusual, Meyer says: “There is no question that in both 2014 and 2015 the industry’s safety performance was affected primarily by events that – previously – would have been considered almost unthinkable. The challenge is to try to reduce the likelihood of such extraordinary events in the future.”

Meyer cites ICAO initiatives such as the agreed satellite-based aircraft tracking standard and the conflict zone information repository as executive reactions to events such as the Malaysia Airlines MH370 loss (8 March 2014) in the Indian Ocean and the shooting down of MH17 over eastern Ukraine (17 July 2014), but adds: “Steps need to be taken to enhance the exchange of information between intelligence agencies and state aviation authorities to allow for proper risk assessment. We need to maintain focus on the data-driven approach to safety that has delivered great success in reducing the accident rate.”

Fatal accidents, especially ones involving major airlines and big jets, are now extremely rare. IATA’s figures show there were four accidents resulting in passenger fatalities in 2015, all of which involved turboprops, with a total of 136 fatalities. This compares with an annual average of 17.6 fatal accidents and 504 fatalities per year in the previous five-year period (2010-2014).


But Meyer says there is still work to do: “We know, for example, that while rare, accidents involving loss of control in-flight (LOC-I) have the highest number of fatalities, so this has to be a major focus area. Underlying this approach is a recognition of the distinction between the definitions of safety and of an accident. Safety management is really trying to focus on accident prevention.”

Careen addresses the wider security issues: “Air travel is safe and secure, yet recent tragic events reinforce the difficult truth that the aviation industry remains on the front line – terrorists persist in trying to strike. The recent MetroJet, Daallo and Brussels Airport tragedies highlight the different ways terrorists attempt to defeat our security system – through the checkpoint, through luggage, or through the lobby.”

He sees the answer as being a more determined and united co-operation between airlines, governments and intelligence agencies: “In an environment where we know we are at risk, but don’t know the ‘what, where, or when’, strong, proactive relationships between operators and regulators, law enforcement, and intelligence communities are imperative.”

On the MetroJet sabotage, ­Careen says: “Immediately following the incident ICAO set up a panel of security experts to review better ways to protect global airports from terrorism. The result of this was a call for closer and more effective partnerships between governments and airlines. Co-ordination and co-operation is the key.” He lists the most important measures as being: intelligence and watch-list checking; public area protection; checkpoint screening; and document checking upon arrival, and points out that all of these rely completely on effective government-industry partnership.

“Terrorism is a long-term industry challenge and everybody needs to be on the same side” says Careen, adding: “Yet, today there are different rules across the globe that overlap in some places and maybe don’t always connect in others.” Governments across the world have to become more willing to share intelligence to beat the threat of terrorism against global commercial air transport, but there seems to be an inbuilt reticence about doing so, except among the governments of close allies. Working together, we will let go of outdated practices and effectively apply security resources to best address new threats.”

Source: Cirium Dashboard