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Flight Safety Foundation's perspectives on 100 years of safer flying

The Flight Safety Foundation's current president Bill Voss puts the history of aviation safety into context: "The modern state of aviation safety has been achieved through advances on numerous fronts and the application of lessons learned. The introduction of the turbine engine into civil aviation provided a significant step change not only in reliability, but also power, allowing the design of larger aircraft that delayed for decades airspace and airport congestion."

Voss suggests that airspace and airport congestion has now arrived. Eurocontrol's SESAR and the US Federal Aviation Administration's NextGen air traffic management strategies testify to that recognition.

Voss says: "The emergence of human factors as an applied science has led to an understanding that human error is a normal condition that is more effectively dealt with by layers of defences rather than the punishment of error. This has encouraged the assembly of knowledge through the voluntary reporting of information about occasions of error.

"Historically, the most common fatal accident category, controlled flight into terrain, has been virtually eliminated by the use of the single most valuable avionics invention in the last half of the 20th century," Voss says, citing the terrain awareness and warning system, also known as EGPWS.

Commenting on the first data-driven safety strategy led by a major national aviation authority, the US Federal Aviation Administration, Voss observes: "The formation of the Commercial Aviation Safety Team [CAST] gathered major aviation industry stakeholders into a group empowered to take firm action to reduce accident risks.

"CAST developed the understanding that strategy should be guided by the power of data collected not just about accidents, but from the much larger universe of near-accidents and incidents."

What Voss did not mention is that it was the FSF and its industry members that realised, more than five years before CAST was formed in 1997, that the power of digitally assembled data could be harnessed to identify priorities for safety action according to risk and maximum potential benefit in lives saved.

It was the FSF's ability to tap into - and rally - industry expertise that brought today's data-driven solutions to aviation safety problems.

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