Basic aviation risk management can be performed even in the most challenging conditions, as shown by United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) aviation operations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Flight Safety Foundation Board of Governors member Cameron Ross reported back to the Foundation after reviewing the operations.
Ross, who was named in August as the Foundation’s representative to the WFP Aviation Safety Board, is also the manager of aviation safety for BHP Billiton.
He said that his three-week review, which ended in June, examined risk-based aviation safety assurance programs used by the WFP; he also conducted aviation risk-management workshops for WFP aviation personnel.
The WFP’s programs are “very robust and focused on a series of risk evaluations by the WFP aviation safety unit of the aircraft operator and aircraft,” Ross said.
The risk evaluations also include regulatory oversight by the state, the aircraft operator’s safety management system, aircraft operational service inspections and aviation field operations risk evaluations, he said.
He added that he witnessed some of the daily challenges faced by WFP flight crews in the form of poor regulatory oversight, significant infrastructure challenges, lack of radar surveillance of air traffic and weather conditions that include poor visibility during the dry season and “significant weather systems” during the rainy season.
“The WFP Aviation Services require weather radar, traffic [alert and] collision avoidance systems, terrain [awareness and] warning systems and dual GPS [global positioning system receivers] for their contracted aircraft, and in environments like the DRC, it is easy to understand why,” Ross said.
Ross’s observation flights were conducted by flight crews with extensive operating experience in the DRC, he said, adding, “The importance placed by the WFP on crews having operating environment experience, alongside total operating experience and experience on aircraft type, meant that numerous daily threats to the operation were well understood, recognized in advance and ultimately managed to ensure that the risk remained acceptable.”
As an example, he cited the crews’ frequent briefings on coping with runway incursions by local residents and livestock.
The Foundation’s Business Advisory Committee (BAC) is involved in another ongoing initiative to aid WFP aviation operations — an effort directed by the University of Southern California (USC) Aviation Safety and Security Program and the program’s director, Thomas Anthony, to develop an automated security checklist and risk assessment tool. Anthony is a BAC member.
Most existing aviation security programs are intended for use by large international air carriers operating from large international airports, said Anthony and BAC Chairman Peter Stein, director of flight operations for Johnson Controls.
A “significant need … exists for a security tool that is effective and useful in the WFP operating environment,” they said, adding that WFP operations frequently take place “in areas that present security challenges far greater than routine scheduled operations.”
Over the past two years, Stein, Anthony and USC instructor Sue Warner Bean have conducted training sessions in Nepal, emphasizing subjects that included threat and error management; emergency response planning and family assistance; and pilot professionalism, decision making, risk-management strategies and safety culture.