Next month, I am scheduled to give a presentation at the International Union of Aerospace Insurers’ (IUAI) annual general meeting. The topic is “2012: Blip or Step-Change.” This speaking engagement is significant on a number of fronts. First of all, the IUAI meeting is being held in Bermuda and, as most of you probably are aware, there are worse places to spend a few days in early June. Secondly, I recently marked my one-year anniversary at Flight Safety Foundation, so I’m interpreting Foundation President and CEO Kevin Hiatt’s approval to take on this engagement as a vote of confidence.
Most important, however, is the subject. Was the much-ballyhooed safest year since the dawn of time, or least since the dawn of aviation, a blip on the continuum or does it mark a permanent change? Has the industry achieved an unmatched, sustainable level of safety excellence?
As we all know by now, the data show that 2012 was the safest year on record for commercial aviation, particularly if you just look at Western-built equipment. But as we have mentioned in AeroSafety World, and as was pointed out in April in Montreal at the Foundation’s 58th annual Business Aviation Safety Seminar (BASS), the same stellar accident rate isn’t found in all geographic regions or across all aviation sectors. The commercial aviation accident rate is significantly worse in Africa than in North America; there were more accidents involving turboprops last year than involving commercial jets; and it’s tough to compare commercial aviation to corporate aviation because it’s difficult to come up with accurate exposure data such as number of flights or departures in the business aviation sector.
My presentation still is in the preparation phase, and I will depend on Kevin and others here at the Foundation to vet everything before I actually step onto the podium in Bermuda, so I’m not yet ready to answer the “blip or step-change” question. But I bring up the speech because with it looming, I find myself very attuned to what others are saying about the industry’s accident rate and aviation safety prospects, and because I recently returned from BASS, where, of course, the topic was much discussed.
At BASS, Steve Brown, chief operating officer for the National Business Aviation Association, said, “Safety is what defines the public perception of business aviation.”
Of course, that’s true of commercial aviation, as well. That perception is a positive when your accident rate is improving, but could be a negative in some sectors, such as emergency medical services, which have seen a spate of accidents recently.
Merlin Preuss, vice president of government and regulatory affairs at the Canadian Business Aviation Association, said, “It’s getting harder to avoid the big one.” He pointed to demographics and said that business aviation is seeing decreasing experience levels in operations personnel and increasing complexity and sophistication in the aircraft being used.
And George Ferito, outgoing chairman of the Foundation’s Business Advisory Committee and an executive at FlightSafety International, said that it is inevitable that there will be accidents and that “safety is not a destination. It’s a journey.”
So, where are we in our journey?