Over the past decade, scheduled passenger airlines in the U.S. have amassed a remarkable safety record. On February 12 next year, Part 121 air carriers will have operated nearly 160 million flights over a 10-year period with only a single passenger fatality. On the other hand, the business aviation community, in particular the Part 135 on-demand operators, by comparison has been less safe.
Using last year’s NTSB accident rates, on-demand 135 operators had an accident rate almost eight times that of the scheduled airlines. Following a series of fatal Part 91 and 135 accidents, the NTSB recently pointed to the need for business aviation operators to adopt the many safety programs employed by the major airlines. According to John DeLisi, director of the NTSB’s Office of Aviation Safety, a lot of things have come together to have fatal airliner accidents “completely wiped off the map.” The trick for smaller operators will be to frame these programs to best fit into their organization.
Some of the factors cited in the improvement of airline safety include the implementation of safety management systems (SMS) and other underlying programs such as flight data monitoring (FDM), aviation safety action programs (ASAP) and line operations safety audits (LOSA).
Each of these programs provides a critical source of unique data that make an SMS thrive by supporting safety risk management, assurance, and promotion. Remember the old adage “you can’t manage what you don’t measure.” Without data, an SMS will simply wither on the vine.
Over the course of the next several months, this blog will explore the attributes and nuances of each program. Additionally, we’ll provide some guidance and resources to adapt these programs to non-scheduled operations.
While these programs are the cornerstone of an individual operator's comprehensive safety system, the U.S. airline industry overall has begun sharing data and information in earnest through the Aviation Safety Information Analysis and Sharing (ASIAS) program.
ASIAS allows an open exchange of information among participants with the goal of improving safety. Today, nearly 30 airlines share flight data, ASAP reports, and other information to create an extensive warehouse of safety data that operators can query; they can then use the aggregate data to benchmark their individual performance against industry metrics.
One of the most encouraging aspects of ASIAS is the growing number of general aviation participants. This is evident by the growing number of business aviation operators, both Part 91 and 135, participating in the biennial FAA Aviation InfoShare meetings during which ASIAS members openly share the “lessons learned” from their safety programs.
Modern safety systems are largely data driven; an often overlooked aspect is the humans that make this entire enterprise work. These safety professionals with their individual contributions and inherent chronic unease make the airlines safer. Data analysts, safety specialists and SMEs tirelessly cull through and convert reams of data into actionable information. Without the hard work of these individuals, all of this data would simply lie dormant in a database.
The safety record of the U.S. airlines is enviable; the business aviation community has some room to become “safer” and should follow this proven path. As NTSB’s DeLisi said, “It’s not going to be easy, but if our goal is to prevent fatal accidents, what a great roadmap has been laid out for us.”
Pilot, safety expert, consultant and aviation journalist Kipp Lau writes about flight safety and airmanship for AIN. He can be reached at email@example.com