MEBAA Convention News

Saudi Aviation Investigation Bureau raises profile, authority

 - December 7, 2018, 1:00 AM

Saudi Arabia’s Aviation Investigation Bureau (AIB) is looking to improve ties to the business-aviation industry in the kingdom, as it asserts its primacy in the air accident investigation process, and seeks to involve additional industry participants beyond scheduled operators.

Founded in 2013, the AIB operates independently from the General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) and is tasked with overseeing air accident investigations and aviation safety in the kingdom.

Addressing the “effect of incident reporting on business-aviation safety,” Ismail Y. Kashkash, director of the AIB’s engineering laboratory, told the Middle East Business Aviation Association’s (MEBAA) Jeddah Conference on September 4 that the AIB is looking to raise the profile of business aviation in the kingdom, despite the slowdown witnessed by the industry in the second half of 2017, driven by a government-mandated crackdown on corruption.

“We are doing another round of certification next year, and we look forward to the participation of the business-aviation industry,” he told the conference.

Director General Abdulelah O. Felemban wrote in the AIB’s 2017 annual report that it handled 628 notifications last year, an increase of 4 percent on 2016. He said the number of reported incidents had increased by approximately one-third, or 32 percent, while the number of non-reportable events fell by approximately one half, or 48 percent, indicating a significant improvement in the Saudi aviation community’s reporting culture. “There were only three accidents reported in 2017, all involving light sport aircraft, and all are still under investigation,” he said.

The AIB also gave a presentation to a body known as the General Aviation Security Command on reporting aviation accidents last year. “A facilitation agreement to transfer the investigation teams to accident sites is currently under review,” the annual report says.

Kashkash urged all operators in Saudi Arabia to consider coming forward, even when in doubt. “You are encouraged to report all incidents. We do not just investigate accidents and serious incidents, we may investigate repeated incidents that may impact safety,” Kashkash said.

“We provide non-punitive analysis to facts. However, the facts may be beneficial to the owners or operators for insurance claims. Lawyers and legal [teams] may also use the factual information of a safety investigation, but not the analysis, conclusion, or the safety recommendation in any context.”

William Mermelstein, a former co-chair of the region’s Gulf Flight Safety Council (GFSC), said that while accident investigation in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) remained a highly sensitive issue, especially when local pilots are involved, much progress has been made to improve the safety culture on the ground.

According to its website, the GFSC, founded in Oman in 2000, is an organization that consists of members from all over the region and around the world, including manufacturers, regulators, air traffic service providers, business-jet and VVIP operators, airlines and cargo operators and many more.

“While, historically, in the region, incidents and accidents were treated more sensitively than in the West, today’s professional culture, due in part to safety management systems [SMS] and enhanced safety training, is rapidly changing to be much less of an issue. All of the GFSC members, both private and commercial operators, are very professional,” Mermelstein told AIN.

“The Saudi AIB was actually created in a quite timely manner. The airspace was transferred to civil control just a few years prior. The model is based on the freedom, transparency, and openness of the US NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board), so that an impartial investigation and analysis could be performed outside of GACA, just as the NTSB is outside of the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration).”

The AIB recently inaugurated the Memory Access Retrieval System (MARS), which allows retrieval of flight recorder data at chip level, eliminating the difficulty of acquiring bench units for damaged recorders. MARS was developed in partnership between the AIB, the Canadian Transportation Safety Board, the National Research Center of Canada and Canada’s Plane Sciences.

“The AIB is very much an impressive team, and they have been given the authority to further and [promote] the Saudi aviation sector in all matters concerning safety, and learning from any past and present incidents, accidents, and concerns. They are very open to continuous improvement and furthering the cause of safety,” Mermelstein said.

“The GCC countries are working hard to further safety goals together, and sharing information to learn and improve the safety culture and SMS throughout the region. The GFSC has been instrumental in bringing all of the civil aviation authority (CAA) and AIB groups together to learn, share, and work in harmony to the extent possible.”

Speaking to AIN, Ali Alnaqbi, MEBAA chairman, said AIB invited him to join the organization’s board following the Jeddah event. “I am very pleased with the result of the AIB’s reporting of incidents and accidents, [especially] business-aviation incidents. It is very important for us to participate in order to get the message across in the Middle East and North Africa on business-aviation safety reporting. I am grateful to the AIB for the opportunity to participate on the board.”