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FAA and industry aim to halve fatality risk by 2025

The US FAA and airline industry have refocused and evolved the commercial aviation safety team (CAST) programme with a new fatality reduction goal for 2025.

Using the new and improved CAST, which combines the data-driven and analytical forensic approach to identifying and correcting potential safety problems with the FAA's Aviation Safety Information Analysis and Sharing (ASIAS) database project, the FAA is targeting an additional 50% reduction in the commercial aviation fatality risk by 2025 compared to 2010 numbers. Meeting the goal will mean reducing the risk of being killed on a flight with a US airline from one chance in 113 million flights (2010) to one chance in 225 million flights in 2025. FAA announced the new target at 1 December meeting.

CAST was formed as a result of the 1997 report from the Gore Commission on Aviation Safety and Security. Its charter called for reducing the commercial aviation fatal accident risk in the US by 80% in 10 years, a goal that was achieved with margin given that the fatality risk had reduced by 83% in 2008.

"It's no longer a North American industry tool. It's worldwide for all of our members," said Don Gunther, CAST co-chairman and a pilot for Continental Airlines, adding that Russia, the Gulf states, Africa, and Brazil are all developing or considering developing similar programmes.

The CAST steering group, composed of a group of 20 safety experts from government and industry, has continued to analyse and develop preventatives since the 2008 conclusion of the original charter, adding in ASIAS to the tool kit in 2008. Through ASIAS, the FAA is using data mining methods to identify accident precursors using 46 different databases, including flight operational quality assurance (FOQA) and aviation safety action programmes (ASAP).

The decrease in fatalities since 1998 may be linked in part to the 75 safety enhancements that CAST has made. Aside from safer operation for US carriers, the CAST concept has also spread to international aviation safety groups and crossed into other industry sectors, including the medical field and financial industry, said Gunther.

Gunther, who represents industry for both CAST and ASIAS, is retiring and will be replaced by two representatives; Ken Highlander, a pilot for Delta Airlines in CAST, and Paul Morrell, with US Airways, in ASIAS.

"After CAST finished in 2008, we needed to get more proactive, we needed FOQA and ASAP," said Gunther. "ASIAS was able to bring carriers together to supply the data, with an agreement between the FAA, carriers and associations [to protect privacy]."

ASIAS has a separate government industry steering group of 20 members who meet quarterly. Members can ask that certain issues, flagged up by the data, be analysed through a "directed study". The group also sets benchmarks for safety metrics for data comparisons after changes to training or procedures are made after a directed study.

Peggy Gilligan, FAA associate administrator for aviation safety, said there are "four or five directed study bins" underway. If results indicate a systemic issue, she said the problem areas are added to the list of CAST initiatives to determine the root causes and develop preventatives.

Gilligan said ASIAS and CAST are not meant to be tactical problem solvers, but strategic tools. "We have other nets to catch [tactical] problems," she said, including the airworthiness directive (AD) process. The time between the discovery of a problem and a targeted fix with CAST can be on the order of three months, she said.

FAA said several safety enhancements have already been achieved over the past several years with the addition of ASIAS, which the FAA plans to expand to include 64 databases. One pilot report in ASIAS on concerns with false alarms from ground proximity warning systems led to a CAST initiative. "Through our complete data analysis, we saw there were cases of false alarms," said Gilligan. "Some reasons were procedures not drawn up effectively; some were pilot training issues." CAST then created an "integrated solutions set" to address the issue. She said the group is also working on loss-of-control issues and problems linked to "unintended consequences" in the adoption of new RNAV and RNP procedures.

Gilligan said the key to making the system safer is to determine "other risks that are out there that we have not come to understand yet".

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