I am often asked, particularly by friends and acquaintances outside of aviation, about the industry’s stellar safety record. Most people want to know if the industry is as safe as is commonly believed. When I say “yes,” they then want to know how it got to be so safe. As many of you probably do, I have a canned response that mentions learning from past accidents, technological advancements and the dedication of career aviation people, among other points. If my wife happens to be within earshot, I usually don’t get to too many of the other points because she will swoop in and change the subject, fearing that I’m about to bore some poor, unsuspecting civilian into a coma.
The truly curious, however, eventually will circle back to ask another, more difficult-to-answer question: How is the commercial aviation industry going to maintain its safety record? Of course, the industry spends a lot of time contemplating this same question. Data sharing, analysis and protection is at or near the top of the list of acceptable answers, as are improving technology, training and the widespread implementation of internationally agreed standards and practices.
“Leadership” also is an acceptable answer, but I find it often is difficult to define and explain the concept. Sometimes it is easier to use an example, which brings me to the International Civil Aviation Organization’s Regional Aviation Safety Group–Pan America (RASG-PA). Susan Lausch, senior director of membership and business development, and I represented Flight Safety Foundation at the 7th RASG-PA Annual Meeting, which was held in conjunction with ALTA’s (Latin American and Caribbean Air Transport Association’s) 5th Pan American Aviation Safety Summit in Curaçao in early September.
During both events, and at the RASG-PA Executive Steering Committee meeting that began the week, I was impressed with not only the quality of the content but also the pragmatic and systematic approach to dealing with issues. Data, and not just any data, but scrubbed and vetted data, determine where RASG-PA focuses its attention and resources. Projects are not launched on the basis of opinions, and results are measured to determine success.
A number of successes were noted. For instance, since RASG-PA’s inception in 2008, the risk of fatal accidents in Latin America has been reduced by nearly 24 percent. The goal is a 50 percent reduction by 2020. And areas in need of improvement — such as those in the implementation of safety management systems — were noted as well.
Perhaps most impressive is that RASG-PA is a legitimate government- and industry-led organization. Beyond the fact that there is an industry co-chair and a government co-chair, there is a sense of all the parties involved working together effectively to identify and mitigate risk.