An awareness of concerted safety action dawns in the Far East and Asia/Pacific.

Paul Phelan/JAKARTA

OPERATORS IN ASIA/PACIFIC regions, are having to monitor carefully, the stresses on almost every aspect of air safety, caused by the rapid growth of airlines and air traffic in the region.

The concerns span all operational sectors. It has already been acknowledged that breakdowns of air-traffic-control (ATC) separation - caused by congestion on major routes, communications "black holes" and ATC deficiencies at some international destinations - have reached a critical level. There is also nagging evidence that cockpit-resource-management (CRM) practices and other human-factors (HF) issues have yet to be universally addressed.

Meanwhile, the implications of extended-range twinjet operations are placing new and sudden demands on rescue and firefighting services at diversion aerodromes, while the integrity of other airport infrastructure, such as runways, taxiways and lighting, varies from excellent to rudimentary. Serious ramp damage to aircraft often goes unreported as ramp safety, already inconsistent between airports, tends to be further marginalised by privatisation, corporatisation and commercialisation of airports. In addition, driven by commercial pressures, some carriers are allowing excesses of in-cabin baggage, while other aspects of cabin safety are degraded by training or enforcement shortfalls.

Although historically a trade association, the Orient Airlines Association (OAA) is also the most powerful international aviation body in the region. Recognising the potential for rapid regional growth as a breeding ground for safety problems, it has assumed leadership in resolving them, and has established itself as an effective focus for commercial airline safety activities.

The OAA and Australia's Bureau of Air Safety Investigation (BASI) organised a seminar, Advancing Air Safety in the Asia Pacific Region in Jakarta, Indonesia, during April. Its aim was to identify regional safety issues and to develop strategies for a co-operative safety approach. The commercial, rather than regulatory, focus did nothing to deter a candid sharing of safety data, which is breaking through regional sensitivities and getting things done - long-established Asian carriers appear to be willing to share their safety expertise with relative newcomers which are also their commercial rivals.

Six areas, which need attention, were identified: airspace-management innovations; safety management; human factors (HF); cabin environment; advanced aircraft technology and airworthiness; and airport-safety issues.

The International Air Transport Association projects an 8% annual increase in traffic between Europe and South-East Asia over the 13 years from 1993. Because higher-capacity aircraft will be unavailable, points out Qantas captain David Massy-Greene, this will take annual movements on the route from 13,249 to 49,121. He comments: "I find the consequences of a better-than-threefold increase in movements almost impossible to contemplate," insisting that the fast introduction of the future air-navigation systems (FANS) communication, navigation, surveillance/air-traffic management (CNS/ ATM) initiatives now in train must be pursued at the expense of building new systems with conventional hardware and human resources.


The OAA is now promoting a complete industry-based study of the FANS requirements for communications availability, reliability, integrity and throughput, demanding the equal participation of airlines, states and air-traffic-service providers. This will "-enable a valid assessment of the types of communication services that will be required. Airlines and air-traffic-services providers should together develop a partnership to gain the optimum benefits of CNS/ ATM technology. This study should also assess to what extent the communications requirements can be met using current systems, modified where required." The recommendation is in line with growing FANS-user doubts over the aeronautical telecommunications network.

Following a trend now established in Australia and New Zealand and already spreading through the region, the OAA will also be urging all states to consider the construction of an integrated one-way air-route system in the area.

Acknowledging that "quite vast culture differences" interfere with the communication process, carriers and civil-aviation agencies want to improve their lines of safety communication. Although the regional blend of cultures also tends to inhibit an open exchange of safety information, those reservations have been eased by the open way in which such issues are discussed between some old-established airlines, which are vigorous commercial rivals. In the OAA forum, that process is being nurtured, and a freer flow of information promoted by initiatives such as a request to BASI that it reprint selected articles in its Asia Pacific Air Safety magazine.

"Members [of the safety-management workshop] expressed concern that, throughout the region, the aviation-safety effort was being weakened by duplication of effort," says a post-symposium report. In line with the practices of some OAA carriers already, the organisation is now urging its member airlines to establish dedicated corporate-safety departments, to integrate flight safety, ground safety, occupational health and quality assurance in a more cohesive way. Those carriers which have already done this point out that it will put chief executives more in touch with the safety and cost-saving benefits available from tools such as quick-access recorders. It will also impress upon them the advantages of enforcing safety-system compliance within their corporations.

The OAA is determined to "-break down commercial sensitivities or barriers with respect to human factors". Member concerns include cockpit- and cabin-crew fatigue countermeasures, FANS-related HF issues, the quality and performance of check and training pilots and the integration of HF training for technical crew with that of cabin, ground-handling, ramp, and maintenance staff (a concept which blends neatly with the proposal for integrated corporate-safety departments). Also of concern are HF aspects of ATC. The association will become a clearing house for HF information, with a recommendation that it install and institutionalise an OAA Internet web site for that purpose.


One of the OAA's greatest challenges will be to bring some order to the cabin-safety arena, where powerful commercial pressures militate against full safety compliance, and even against adequate passenger-safety briefings. It remains possible to buy such items as a full-sized television set in a duty-free shop, and airlines expect that passengers will continue to try to board carrying overweight articles, and that they will face competitive disadvantage by rejecting them.

Competitiveness in cabin practices affects airlines based outside the OAA's region, but operating extensive services to it, so British Airways chose the seminar as a forum in which to reveal its new cabin-baggage policy. Leading by example, project manager Tony Mahood detailed a comprehensive strategy which includes a fare-based cabin-baggage allowance aimed at providing for all passengers to carry their due cabin-baggage allowance in approved stowages.

The strategy details plans for system-wide support for the policy, and implementation tactics and specific responses to issues such as flexibility, differentiation between long- and short-haul flights, and the strategies of partner airlines. "British Airways will be the leader in cabin-baggage policy change, and will offer our customers a more consistent policy than those of our competitors. It is more likely that competitors will follow our lead, rather than compete," says Mahood.

The issues of cabin-crew duty time and of cabin crewmembers working on multiple aircraft types and variants meets with a similar lack of consensus. Individual airlines within the group complain privately that others have "almost no standards" relating to cabin safety.

The cautious tone of the seminar's resolutions highlights the sensitivity of these topics, with commitment in most areas limited to "developing recommendations", although the group does plan to establish an OAA "-body of expertise, to provide assistance with a safety audit".

Cathay Pacific Airways, following a daunting 18-month period during which it introduced 12 new Airbus A330s and A340s, is the world's first airline to have a significant line-pilot group with both twinjet and four-engined type-ratings on their licences simultaneously.

A sharing of experience gained by pilots and engineers in setting up that pioneering operation has characterised the type of co-operation which the OAA hopes to achieve in other areas. The two years, which Cathay captains John Bent and Rick Fry spent in detailed preparation is a warning to carriers tempted to compress the process. Bent warns: "Pilots must be taught how to fly sophisticated aircraft by the shortest, most straightforward methods, especially in terminal areas where weather and other traffic should dominate their interest. The obsession with peripheral system details, and the saturation of minds with facts and figures about which one can do nothing, are concepts applicable to previous aircraft. There must also be raised awareness of the need for enhanced CRM skills in the two-pilot high-technology cockpit."


Regulatory harmonisation, and development of rule-making processes which stay abreast of technological advances, have been noted as priorities, and, with the compliance of OAA carriers, BASI will conduct an advanced-technology-aircraft safety survey to define solutions.

The late George White, a Dublin University HF expert, believed that ramp accidents cost the industry worldwide $2 billion annually, with some individual major carriers admitting to uninsured losses in excess of $100 million. Hull insurers apply "deductibles" of at least $1 million per accident, so the airlines bear the entire cost of ramp incidents directly. "The financial costs to the industry and individual airlines are staggering, and their acceptance to date is almost incomprehensible," said White.

In authoritarian cultures, where admitting (for example) to driving a vehicle into the side of an aeroplane is likely to incur instant dismissal, the potential for the crew to take off without knowledge of damage to the aircraft is heightened. "The key decision to create a 'no-blame' accident-investigation system will contribute substantially to the elimination of unreported damage. The establishment of structures allowing effective information flow, up and down the organisation, is a major priority," White insisted.

The unspoken admission, which emerges from the seminar, witnessed by the cautious wording of resolutions, is that there remains a deeply rooted worry that competitors might still cut corners to win passengers, particularly in the cabin-safety area. The logic of joint regional action is seen as impeccable, but the old instinct to "-wait and see" before acting casts a cloud over the proceedings. The future will tell whether logic or habit prevail.

Source: Flight International