Use technology to help combat complacency

 - September 26, 2006, 6:12 AM

Nearly every general media report about aviation mentions the accident rate. Everyone–CEOs of airlines, repair stations, the government–takes credit for how low it is.

So what does this mean to pilots, mechanics, dispatchers, flight attendants and line supervisors? It means that we all can be proud of what we have accomplished. Beyond that, we need to be careful as we could easily lose the ground we have gained.

One thing I’m concerned about is complacency. Pilots always have to be ahead of the aircraft. However, a number of accidents are caused by the airplane getting ahead of the pilot.

The same holds true for maintenance personnel. They can never let their guard down and never let their thoughts wander while working on an airplane. In some of our repair facilities, performing certain types of maintenance has become so routine that it’s accomplished almost without thinking. Unfortunately, that often leads to serious consequences. It is clear that one of the major reasons the accident rate is so low is because of the hard work and attention to detail so many of you have expended over the last several years in keeping ahead of the airplane.

I worry that all this talk about a low accident rate is going to translate into complacency in the cockpit and complacency on the hangar floor. Can we celebrate our contributions to aviation safety without it having the opposite effect?

One way we can prevent complacency is by sticking to the basics. We have tools available to us to prevent accidents, and we need to continue to use them to build upon the excellent record that we’ve had over the last three years.

Using Safety Data

One of the tools that we have used extensively is data that provides us with a clearer picture of what’s going on in our operations. In today’s information-driven industry, data collection has become the cornerstone of our operations.

When the airlines started to collect on-time departure data, on-time departures became a major measure of our performance. When the DOT collected arrival time data and made that information available, that also became a top priority for the airline industry. The collection of data points sends a clear message that they are very important to our industry.

The same holds true in the safety environment. As we start to collect data that we call safety indicators, everyone in the aviation industry starts to treat them as important. As a result, they pay closer attention to the indicator being measured.

I have seen individuals in various work groups use data that was once used as a management tool to monitor their own performance, as well as that of the work group. When I was involved with collecting and using this data some 15 years ago, we never expected that the individual would someday be using it to improve himself.

I have seen pilots in Part 121 air carriers that have flight operation quality assurance programs seeking information about certain procedures or locations and comparing their flights with averages without waiting for the information to flow through the normal channels. However, I have now come to expect this from today’s aviation professional in both commercial and corporate operations.

One result of our good record will certainly be an expansion of the use of data to guide our companies through the competitive environment facing the entire industry. Even the FAA has begun to use data to drive the inspector workforce.

I am not referring to Air Transportation Oversight System. I mean that a computer-driven system will guide the FAA inspector’s workload and streamline the workflow through the agency. This will certainly help an industry that sometimes has to wait too long for approvals. The future for aviation is looking up after a very long period of bad news, but it is important for all of us to not lose sight of our goal of continued safe and profitable operations.