Aviation Safety Programs
According to the FAA, aviation safety is an organizational responsibility that ensures production approval, airworthiness of an aircraft, pilot and mechanical certification, and other safety-related positions. An aviation safety program is a set of tools and processes that ensure the safety of personnel and property. It comprises four functional components: safety policy, safety risk management, safety assurance, and safety promotion. Firstly, the safety policy establishes the management’s commitment towards safety practices, defines methods, processes, and organizational structures required to meet safety goals. Secondly, safety risk management determines the need and adequacy of new or revised risk controls based on the assessment of acceptable risks. Thirdly, safety assurance evaluates the effectiveness of implemented risk control strategies and supports identifying new hazards. Finally, safety promotion encompasses training communication and other activities that create positive safety cultures in all workforce levels. Despite the rapid gains in aviation technology, human conditions remain crucial since these factors contribute to or directly cause accidents in the aviation industry. Approximately 80% of aircraft maintenance errors results from human factors.
Ethics are intrinsic values that may or may not influence the outcome of an individual’s decision-making. Ethics and professionalism are critical aspects of the aviation industry. From the designer to the pilot, all stakeholders must possess high levels of ethics and professionalism to ensure the safety of flight operations (Bastola, 2020). Every stakeholder in the aviation industry has an ethical role to play to guarantee the overall safety of the aviation industry. Aircraft designers and manufacturers need to exercise integrity during construction and should not compromise the safety of the passengers or the crew due to time and cost-cutting measures, as was the case by Boeing while manufacturing the 787 max aircraft. The ground team and the mechanical engineers should be accountable, responsible, and honest. Upholding these virtues will guarantee their safety and that of the passengers and crew.
Technicians work in high-risk environments and therefore need to observe safe working practices outlined by the organization to ensure their safety.
Technicians should also avoid shortcuts and dishonesty while undertaking maintenance works on aircraft as it may endanger the lives of those on board the aircraft (Bastola, 2020). Passengers entrust their lives to the pilot when onboard an aircraft. The pilots should therefore exercise high levels of professionalism when executing their duties. Unethical behaviours such as flying while intoxicated and lack of concentration in the cockpit can result in catastrophic incidents. Passengers must also respect the flight attendants since they are there for their safety (Bastola, 2020). Passengers should honour and adhere to the safety rules and instructions issued by the flight attendants. Finally, due to the large amounts of greenhouse gas emissions by the aviation industries, airline companies have an ethical responsibility to engage in corporate social responsibility towards removing carbon from the atmosphere through investments in renewable energy.
Human factors are social and personal skills that complement our technical skills and affect how people do their jobs. They are critical for safe and efficient aviation. Eighty percent of maintenance errors involve human factors and have directly contributed to workers’ injuries, wasted times, and serious aviation accidents (Oster et al., 2013). The aviation industry has strived to understand better how humans can safely and efficiently integrate with technology resulting in updated training manuals, policies, and procedures for better performance and aviation safety.
The FAA has listed a dozen human factors that may reduce the professional ability of aviation personnel to manage complications, ultimately leading to incidents and accidents. These human factors include; poor communication, limited technical know-how, complacency, stress, norms, distractions, fatigue, pressure, and limited finance.
Ineffective communication is a key human factor that can lead to incorrect or faulty maintenance. Maintenance engineers must effectively communicate with each other and conduct proper work handover when changing shifts. Pilots and control tower operators should also strive to relay information in the clearest way possible. The use of a checklist, communicating the most important things first, and repeating them at the end are highly encouraged. According to the NTSB, 70% of the reports in the ASRS database attribute miscommunication as the underlying factor to several high-profile incidents (Kim et al., 2020). Investigators of the American Airlines flight 965 crashed in Columbia concluded that miscommunication between the American crew and the Columbian ATC was due to a language barrier.
Complacency sets in due to overconfidence. When aviation personnel gain experience from repeated tasks, a feeling of false confidence sets in. As a result, critical tasks such as inspections that can compromise the aircraft’s safety are overlooked. Complacency was one of the main instigators of the Aloha Airlines flight 243 accident on April 28th, 1988 (Oster et al., 2013). Technicians inspected the aircraft several times before the flight; however, the maintenance team failed to detect disbanding and damage on the fuselage, resulting in explosive decompression.
Stress and fatigue are also major human factors that can lead to maintenance and pilot judgement errors. These factors affect the ability of aviation personnel to make sound and informed decisions. An example of an incident related to stress and fatigue is the Easy Jet AirbusA-319 incident in Glasgow, the UK, on September 30th 2018. The Captain was forced to fly on his own after the first officer left the flight deck due to flying related anxiety attack.
Lack of teamwork arises due to personal differences at the workplace, which can be catastrophic, as was Melburn Mcbroom, who was an authoritative pilot (Kim et al., 2020). The co-pilots were scared of him, such that they failed to inform him about the empty fuel gauges while he was focused on the landing gear. This resulted in an accident that claimed several casualties.
From a crew management point of view, assertiveness refers to the ability to express and retain one’s viewpoint, deliver information without questioning, resolving uncertainties, dismissing unreasonable requests, and approving the most rational approaches. A lack of assertiveness by the aviation personnel may lead to aviation incidents such as the United Airlines flight 173 (Kim et al., 2020). While making its approach into portland international airport, the Captain failed to respond to his members’ advisories on the fuel status of the aircraft. A lack of assertiveness made the Captain misjudged the fuel condition leading to fuel exhaustion.
Lack of knowledge can lead to disastrous outcomes. Aircraft have different technologies, and maintenance procedures vary from one aircraft to another. Maintenance personnel, therefore, need to continuously embark on training to understand the various maintenance techniques to employ on different aircraft models. Technicians who lack knowledge in a specific aircraft model should desist from undertaking any maintenance works on that craft (Oster et al., 2013). In the Airbus A320-200 incident, when the left-wing dipped, the Captain tried to recover the aircraft only to dip further (Kim et al., 2020). The first officer recovered from the deed after switching the side stick priority to his side. Investigators later discovered that the maintenance engineer who lacked sufficient knowledge in the aircraft model had switched the two pairs of pins in the connector coincidentally.
Aviation personal experience various distractions when flying. These include communications between the cockpit with either ATC or crew members, reading flight management systems, and approach charts. Responding to unprecedented situations such as extreme weather and emergencies may be distractive for some pilots (Kim et al., 2020). A high-profile incident caused by distraction was the Eastern Airlines flight 401, which crashed in the Everglades on December 29th, 1972. During the last four minutes of the flight, the crew failed to pay attention to the flight instruments, resulting in an unpredicted descent that the crew failed to detect early enough. The crew was focused on resolving an issue regarding the position of the nose landing gear.
Accident Prevention and Risk Management
Risk management is a decision-making process of identifying hazards, assessing the degree of risk, and determining the best course of action. A hazard is a present condition or circumstance that can contribute to an undesired outcome. A risk, on the other hand, is a future impact of a hazard if not eliminated. Its severity, probability, and exposure measure the risk level.
Risk management process
Risk management identifies operational hazards and takes necessary measures to minimize the severity to personnel and property. Aviation safety requires personnel to identify risks, assess the degree, and develop a mitigative course of action.
Step 1: Identify the risk
Detecting hazards and their associated risks can be quite difficult. Situational awareness should be employed when identifying and classifying risk for any flight. Aviation personnel can incorporate the PAVE checklist in all stages of flight planning. Using PAVE, the pilot can divide flight risks into four stages; “Aircraft, , and External Pressure Pilot in command and Environment” (Oster et al., 2013).
Pilot in Command: One of the risk factors is the pilots themselves. Pilots should consider whether they are ready for the trip by considering their experience, emotional and physical conditions. The IMSAFE (Illness, Medication, Stress, Alcohol, Fatigue, and Emotion) checklist is a critical tool that assists in providing sober judgments.
Aircraft: The pilot should assess the limitations the aircraft can impose on the trip. Pilots should consider whether they are conversant with the model of the aircraft, whether the fuel is enough for the return trip, the capacity of the aircraft to operate at the desired altitude, and the ability of the aircraft to carry the required load.
Environment: Pilots should consider environmental risks posed by weather conditions, mountainous terrain, crosswinds at the airports, and airspace restrictions.
External factors: These are external influences that create a sense of pressure to complete a flight, often at the expense of safety. Managing external pressure is key to risk management since it is the only risk factor category that can cause the pilot to dismiss all other risk factors. Using standard operating procedures can help manage external pressures.
Step 2: Assessing Risk
Assessment of risk is a crucial part of risk management since every flight has a particular hazard and risk. Risk assessment can assist pilots in differentiating between high-risk and low-risk flights and developing risk mitigation strategies. There are several risk assessment models that can assist in assessing the level of risk. Perhaps the most common is the risk matrix that measures the likelihood and the severity of the risk.
Step 3: Risk mitigation
Risk mitigation is the final stage of the risk management process. It is the payoff of successfully managing the risk management process. Effective risk mitigation allows aviation personnel to execute planned flights successfully or ensure alternatives are selected in the rare event flight cannot be completed (Oster et al., 2013). For example, a pilot who wishes to fly from one point to another fifty miles apart under marginal visual flight rules might either drive, wait for visual flight rules, delay the flight, or cancel the flight altogether.
The risk management process allows a pilot to identify risk in the flight and determine whether the risk or a combination of risks can be successfully mitigated for safe flight resumption. A good example is when a pilot has ten knots of crosswind experience, yet the aircraft can sustain a maximum crosswind component of fifteen knots. It would be unsafe for the pilot to exceed the 10-knot crosswind component without undergoing additional training. The pilot should thereby be able to identify what is legal as per the regulations and what is smart as per their experience.
Risk Management Tools
Since all flights have a certain level of risk, pilots need to differentiate between high risk and low risk for effective mitigation strategies. A flight risk analysis tool (FRAT) allows quick hazard identification and risk visualization (Oster et al., 2013). FRAT allows the pilots to create realistic numerical thresholds that can scrutinize a go/no go decision for a flight. A realistic FRAT has three score levels often categorized into green, yellow and red sections.
Red (high): The risk likelihood and severity are high and must be reduced before the flight takes place. If the risks cannot be mitigated, the flight has to be canceled.
Yellow (serious): The risk level is relatively high and needs to be lowered. Mitigation strategies can be employed to reduce high-scoring risk. The pilot can consult flight instructors or mechanical engineers to assist in lowering the level of risk. Successful mitigation will lead to the resumption of the flight.
Green (Medium): Flight can operate as scheduled; however, in some cases, the level of risk and severity may be reduced.
Strategies to adapt to changing weather phenomenon
According to the ICAO, changes in rainfall, temperature and wind patterns, more frequent storms, sea-level rise and storm surges, increased clear-air turbulence and changing wildlife migration patterns are all factors that the industry must consider as it looks to its future.
Aviation companies have established that it is impossible to eliminate errors. They have to use an alternative approach of identifying, correcting and minimizing the consequences of the mistakes. Implementing an aviation safety program will lead to the early identification of hazards and controlling of risks. Continuous human factor studies will lead to constant improvement minimizing aviation risks (Oster et al., 2013). The role of human factors and ethics in aviation cannot be understated. It is crucial to ensure that flight crews and technicians are in peak performance, both physically and psychologically. They must continue being knowledgeable, dedicated, flexible, ethically sound and efficient while exercising the best judgment (Oster et al., 2013).
On the other hand, the aviation industry needs to make continuous investment in personal training and aviation safety systems with long-term implications. Technology keeps on evolving much faster than humans can predict or interact with it. The aviation industry can no longer depend entirely on experience and intuition to guide decision making related to human performance (Kim et al., 2020). Instead, a sound scientific basis is crucial in assessing human performance implications regarding design, training, and other procedures. Improving human performance will highly help the aviation industry reduce the rate of commercial aviation accidents and incidents (Kim et al., 2020). The industry should focus on designing a human-airplane interface and the development of procedures for both the flight crews and maintenance engineers.