AINsight: LOSA Provides Insight into Crew Performance

 - December 21, 2018, 8:01 AM

For business aviation operators planning to build a modern safety system, the “roadmap” begins with establishing a safety management system (SMS). Using SMS as the foundation, the operator can build on this system by implementing other subordinate safety programs. These programs include the “big three” FAA voluntary safety programs: flight data monitoring (FDM/FOQA), aviation safety action programs (ASAP), and line operations safety audits (LOSA)–each with its own unique attributes and data sources to fuel the SMS.

LOSA Table

In this blog, with the help of James Klinect, we’ll explore the attributes and a few of the nuances of conducting a LOSA in a business aviation environment. Klinect is the recognized founder of LOSA and has authored the industry source material on the subject. Following his work at the University of Texas at Austin, Klinect founded The LOSA Collaborative in 2001. To date, The LOSA Collaborative has assisted more than 80 operators in conducting nearly 150 LOSA projects with 25,000 observations worldwide.

By definition, according to FAA AC 120.90, “a LOSA is a formal process that requires expert and highly trained observers to ride the jumpseat during regularly scheduled flights to collect safety-related data on environmental conditions, operational complexity, and flightcrew performance. Confidential data collection and non-jeopardy assurance for pilots are fundamental to the process.”

LOSA by design attempts to capture “normal” line pilot performance using peer-to-peer observations in a non-threatening environment. Observers—acting as a “fly on the wall”—capture information using the threat-and-error management (TEM) framework that is unlike any other data source. LOSA provides a snapshot of the “health” of an operation that identifies both weaknesses and strengths.

As Klinect describes, “LOSA began in the 1990s as an audit methodology to determine if CRM concepts taught in the 'school house' were reflected in normal line operations.” At the time, simulator and line check observations were great at identifying proficiency and other training issues but fell short of capturing normal crew behavior. To solve this problem, a collaborative partnership was formed between Delta Air Lines and the University of Texas Human Factors Research Project.

According to Klinect, “For LOSA to be successful in an organization, the focus needs to be on how it’s executed to produce quality data, not whether it’s executed.” Klinect adds, “LOSA is defined by ten operating characteristics based on the capture of TEM performance.” For the business aviation operator to ensure the integrity and quality of the process, it is recommended to follow the operating characteristics of LOSA as outlined in AC 120.90.

LOSA Operating Characteristics

  1. Jumpseat observations during normal line operations
  2. Joint management/pilot association sponsorship
  3. Voluntary crew participation
  4. De-identified, confidential and non-disciplinary data collection
  5. Targeted observation form
  6. Trained and calibrated observers
  7. Trusted data repository
  8. Data verification
  9. Targets for enhancement
  10. Feedback results to the line pilots

Of these operating characteristics, one challenge for the business aviation operator is that often an aircraft is not equipped with a jumpseat. In some cases, such as the recent HeliOffshore (an industry safety initiative) LOSA, operators were able to make arrangements to have observers seated in the forward cabin with a view of the flight deck.

Although originally designed as an air carrier safety program, the LOSA concept in recent years has been adopted by many different operations and aircraft types (including unmanned aircraft systems). For instance, The LOSA Collaborative—in addition to a large list of airlines—has managed LOSA programs for the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy, Air Methods, PHI, and a number of large offshore helicopter operators. Likewise, other organizations have adapted the LOSA model to observe maintenance, ramp, and other safety-critical activities.

Currently, the LOSA concept is gaining in popularity and is in “vogue” in many segments of aviation. For the business aviation operator, there are a number of organizations providing services that come up short of the true intent of LOSA and do not follow the guidance as outlined in either the FAA advisory circular or ICAO document 9803. Capturing true crew performance during line operations can only be accomplished if the LOSA recipe is followed; otherwise it’s simply a line check or some other observation.  

Pilot, safety expert, consultant, and aviation journalist Kipp Lau writes about flight safety and airmanship for AIN. He can be reached at