Aviation is the safest form of transportation. How many times have you heard that? How many times have you said that? But people outside the industry — and even some in it — sometimes don’t understand that safety is not a destination that you reach and then move onto other matters. Safety is dynamic. There is always more work to be done.
It’s not good enough to keep accident rates at current levels because, as traffic increases, the absolute number of accidents will increase if everything else stays the same. So, we must continue to drive down the accident rate. We cannot afford to be complacent and adopt the mantle of “good enough.”
Of course, saying we need to continually drive down accident rates and improve safety is much easier than actually doing it.
The future of aviation safety is about moving beyond the traditional approach of learning from past accidents to a predictive approach focused on detecting risk and implementing mitigation strategies before accidents or serious incidents occur. The key to this strategy is data — aviation safety data, to be precise.
Modern aircraft, their engines and other systems generate a staggering amount of data on every flight. Data collected over a period of time across a fleet could quickly become overwhelming, but they also can be extremely useful if they are collected and processed in a timely manner.
When you add to that pool such things as flight operational quality assurance data and line operations safety assessment data, various types of audit information, and voluntary safety reports filed by front-line employees, you have an extremely valuable pool of information that can provide a truly holistic view of an operation and its risks.
The challenge is to process it all in such a way that it is meaningful and allows you to begin to identify the precursors of accidents. Then you share that knowledge across your organization, and up and down the chain of command, so that everyone understands the risks and can help develop mitigation strategies.