This month a unique operational safety training event for professional pilots – particularly targeting business aircraft aviators – took place in Wichita, Kansas. Its objective was educate fliers about the human factors of aviation safety – about themselves, other people on the operational side of the industry, and the kind of mistakes or misinterpretations they are likely to make.

Human error or misjudgement is, according to statistics, by far the most frequent single contributory factor in accidents and serious incidents, especially as modern aircraft become more reliable.

This three-day intensive training session, known as the Safety Standdown, has for the past 10 years been staged annually by Bombardier Business Aircraft near its Wichita-based Learjet manufacturing plant for aviators flying all aircraft types. This year it has become officially endorsed by the US National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) and the Federal Aviation Administration.

© Bombardier   
The course includes practical classes on ditching drills

The NBAA says the Standdown “brings aircraft operators together with safety experts in industry and government for seminars that integrate knowledge-based training with skill-based training. The information provided focuses on human error, which the FAA says accounts for 78% of aviation accidents.”

Flight International had the opportunity to participate fully in the three-day Safety Standdown.

As a qualified flying instructor, I found the course – dubbed “war on error” – would be of little use to a pilot in early ab initio training. But it takes fully trained pilots well above and beyond what an advanced conventional or recurrent flying training programme provides. It challenges preconceptions, stimulates questions, and presents a pilot with a mirror in which his/her latent professional and personal vulnerabilities become fully visible.

More than that, it renews a pilot’s respect for the multiple disciplines it takes to be a really good aviator. The presentations and exercises – always interactive or participatory – provide new perspectives on age-old issues. For example, every pilot knows he/she should exercise self-discipline, but how many have been walked through the psychological corridors and shown – by experts – what self-discipline actually consists of in an aviation context, and presented with evidence showing where and why it most often breaks down? Bombardier Business Aircraft director of operations Bob Agostino says: “Development of the human half of the man-machine equation has not kept pace with the technology developments in either formal training programmes nor in regulatory development.” Dr Tony Kern, a senior partner in Convergent Knowledge Solutions and a specialist in human error in high-risk environments, says: ‘The challenge of human error will never be remedied by any traditional safety programme. Personal error must be slowly untangled in a private battle within each individual.” He argues that, with the right additional education beyond the traditional limits of training, accidents resulting from human error can be reduced by 50-70% within the next five years. Kern quotes a researcher from the University of Manchester in the UK: “The study of human error has grown dramatically in the last 20 years. We know why people make errors and how to prevent 90% of them, but no-one seems to care.”

At the Standdown, Bombardier also throws in an inspiring panel of aerospace role models to talk about how they met and survived the ultimate challenges in aviation and spaceflight. It also includes practical classes on everything from ditching drills, in which you have to escape from an inverted “dunker”, and practise how to operate in a rescue dinghy. There are practical firefighting exercises, escape from a smoke-filled cabin, resuscitation techniques and a personal experience of what hypoxia does to your performance. Any pilot would walk away from the Safety Standdown fired with renewed enthusiasm for the disciplines of the profession, tempered by a healthy humility – a recognition of how easily unintentional human error can upset a safe flight. Humility is rare in aviators, but always present in safe ones.

Source: Flight International