For Latin American and Caribbean airlines and their regulators, today’s threats are far more alike than different compared with those facing airlines in other parts of the world, according to regional aviation specialists who also say flight data analysis and unprecedented sharing of information hold the key to further significant safety improvements.
Flight operational safety has no single owner; the responsibility for safety belongs to everyone on both the public and private sides of aviation, said Jaime Alarcón Pérez, director general of the Dirección General de Aeronáutica Civil of Chile (DGAC). That means, in effect, that every new initiative implies both sides working together with greater unity of purpose than ever. He was among presenters in October 2012 at Flight Safety Foundation’s International Air Safety Seminar in Santiago, Chile.
Chile has followed the internationally accepted road map for all states in implementing a national program for operational safety in aviation, recently publishing version 2.0 of its integrated policy for aviation management, setting upgraded standards for air traffic service providers including a safety management system (SMS) rule, an SMS rule for airports, an SMS rule for aviation maintenance centers and an SMS rule for other types of aviation businesses. Alarcón said phase one elements of the road map have been completed successfully, the second phase is in progress, and the final phase is slated to be done by the end of 2015. More than 50 SMS courses have been taught in Chile since 2006, and 32 percent of the 1,050 DGAC staff have attended so far, with 80 percent expected to be SMS-trained by 2015.
David McMillan, then director general of Eurocontrol and new chairman of the FSF Board of Governors, quoted Alarcón’s characterization of the situation as an “explosion of growth” in both Chile and the region. “It’s important to be sure that we deliver the safety which is necessary,” McMillan said, comparing these circumstances with those in some other regions, such as Europe, now facing tough cost-cutting among airlines and air navigation service providers alike.
“The issue is how you … make sure that safety gets the resources it needs at a time when tough action is indeed being taken to address those costs,” he said. “Europe has a great safety record. But as you know, it took a lot of work to get there, and it’s extremely important not to fall into the trap of complacent thinking or to think that excellent safety practices can be sustained without effort.”
Regional Aviation Safety Group
The Regional Aviation Safety Group–Pan America (RASG-PA), a government-industry partnership, was formed in 2008 in Costa Rica under the framework of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Global Aviation Safety Plan and Global Aviation Safety Roadmap to support a performance-based aviation safety system.
Chile, which has not had a fatal accident involving a major air carrier in 24 years, inspires regional leaders to mitigate their key risks, said Loretta Martin, secretary of RASG-PA and regional director for ICAO’s North America, Central America and Caribbean Regional Office, which encompasses 20 states and 12 territories.
According to ICAO definitions, Pan America had 52 accidents, including four fatal accidents, in 2011. The five-year moving average for the period ending in 2011 showed “basically, globally, that [the trend is] going down slightly and very slightly in the Pan America region,” Martin said. RASG-PA currently focuses on “three main killers” that account for 73 percent of all accidents worldwide — runway excursions, loss of control–in flight and controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) — because of their equal regional relevance.
RASG-PA has promoted the use of standardized CFIT awareness training, tool kits for runway excursion reduction and runway safety teams; conducted research on go-arounds and mitigation of unstable approaches; added to flight training an advanced maneuvers manual and tool kits on pilot monitoring; conducted safety workshops; issued a runway-maintenance manual in conjunction with Airports Council International; and issued the first in a series of safety advisories, covering airplane automation mode awareness and energy state management risks.
“We had air navigation safety and aviation security, but until this group was established, we never quite had a forum for states together with industry to [focus on operational safety] — RASG-PA is it,” said Oscar Derby, director general of the Jamaican Civil Aviation Authority and government co-chair of RASG-PA. The group especially has been strong in providing states with data-driven guidance on compliance with eight critical elements defined by ICAO and making the world’s best information resources readily available — and mostly free of charge — through the group’s website <www.rasg-pa.org>.
From the beginning, RASG-PA leaders realized that implementation of safety management systems was hampered by inadequate event reporting linked to absence of voluntary, nonpunitive reporting systems. “In some [legal] systems, if you make a report, it is mandatory that you be prosecuted for making the report,” Derby said, “And so it took us three years to develop a legal framework that would suit the various legal systems and allow for the protection of safety information.” This work has enabled the group to conduct training sessions and seminars that equip states to roll out this legal framework.
Derby cited regional versus global data on air transport accident rates.1 “The 10-year moving average from 1990 through 2000 for all regions … was 1.2 [accidents per million departures],” he said. “The [Latin America and Caribbean region’s comparable] 10-year moving average was 3.8. … In the 2010 10-year moving average, Latin America has made huge strides in moving that accident rate down [to 2.3], with the world rate going down to 1.0 per million.”
Derby noted that RASG-PA has been acutely aware of the disparity in safety performance among operators of large commercial jets versus operators of turboprop airplanes in some parts of the region, and the group’s issue analysis team soon will determine whether new targeted mitigations are warranted.
The group nevertheless has a few areas of concern. “One of them is infrastructure,” said Alex de Gunten, executive director of the Latin American and Caribbean Air Transport Association (ALTA) and industry co-chair of RASG-PA. “We’ve got a major concern as to where … are we going to land [a much larger fleet of] airplanes in the next 20 years, because our airports are already saturated.”
None of the region’s airlines that participate in the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) program has had a fatal accident in four years, de Gunten said. “We’ve got a few priorities in the region, number one is IOSA. … If we look at the accident rate of IOSA versus non-IOSA [carriers] for Latin America over the last four years … the Latin American carriers are about the world average, actually slightly below the world average. But where you see a big jump is in the non-IOSA carriers, and this is an area that concerns us all. … We have a number of governments that have already taken IOSA as part of their certification and requirements; Chile is one of those countries, Brazil [is another]. However, we still need to make sure that we do not create two levels of aviation in the region.”
RASG-PA and IATA in 2012 collaborated on data sharing and shared trend analysis. As of November, data from flights reflecting more than 80 percent of available seat kilometers have been collected in a new data exchange program, de Gunten said. A small related program has brought together a trusted regional team “working and sharing information, trend information to again identify opportunities, identify risks and mitigate them, and we have already had some very significant results in terms of changes of procedures, reductions of [traffic-alert and collision avoidance system alerts], etc., and a similar program is now also working in Brazil [and] Chile.”
Among other issues vying for attention, despite ICAO’s standards for pilot–air traffic controller phraseology, “we are not where we should be in the region based on a recent RASG-PA survey [of the two professions],” he said. “We … asked them if they knew the standard ICAO phraseology; about 31 percent said ‘no.’ We asked those who knew [it], ‘Do you apply it 100 percent of the time?’ and about another 25 percent said ‘no.’ … This is an area of concern.”
Contrary to other presenters, de Gunten downplayed the anxiety seen among regional lawyers and some safety professionals about potential abuses of confidential safety information. Data-sharing initiatives so far are flourishing regardless of those fears “because at the CEO level of the airlines of ALTA, they strongly feel that the risk is much smaller than the benefits that we can get by sharing that data,” he explained, and the gaps in protection often have been overcome by sheer creativity. “ALTA gathers the data, puts it together and shows it; we don’t print it, we don’t give it to the authorities because we’re still not protected,” he said. “They look at it, we work together, and then we go and we do our work.”
Panama’s Data-Sharing Emphasis
Despite an iceberg-size volume of advice floating around about SMS for air carriers, difficulty in practical implementation of the theories and processes can leave an airline with the sense that something essential is still “hidden below the waterline,” said José Eduardo Rodríguez, a captain and director of safety and quality assurance for Copa Airlines. A year-long project at his company recently reviewed elements of its SMS — including nonpunitive safety reporting methods — in consultation with the Autoridad Aeronáutica Civil of Panama (AAC) and Flight Safety Foundation.
The current focus of the project is working closely with the pilot union, and subsequent phases will involve the remaining unions to encourage a strong voluntary reporting culture. “Trying to build [this] within the company is not an easy step,” Rodríguez said. “It’s something that takes time. It takes a lot of training from the organization, a lot of reception and trust from the rest of the coworkers.” The only precedent had been mandatory occurrence reports.
Nonpunitive reporting also involves safety action groups in operational areas, with ultimate oversight by a safety review board, which keeps the CEO apprised of how risks are being managed inside the company and how accidents are being prevented. Goal-setting and a regulatory and internal structural framework for a related initiative called Pan American Voluntary Safety Information Program — involving a memorandum of understanding among the civil aviation authority, pilot union and Copa — recently have been in progress. First on the agenda will be analysis focused on a set of 300 events involving a loss of required air traffic separation, and steps to ensure that employees will trust the system enough to voluntarily submit reports to specialists who can update risk assessments. The agreement empowers the civil aviation authority to resolve disagreements.
The second phase of the project will extend this voluntary reporting to ramp operations staff, maintenance technicians and flight attendants. Protective measures have yet to be added to regulations, and for that reason, the company has partnered with the Panamanian authority to reconfigure the regulatory structure.
Currently, the airline presents a monthly report of safety data trend analysis, based on internal flight data analysis, to the AAC. As Copa is Panama’s only air carrier, sharing of data or trend analysis within the country has not been possible. The company also participates in industry-level flight data sharing — for example, unstable approach data for six Central American airports through a program based in Costa Rica.
In November 2012, flight data monitoring specialists from Copa Airlines were scheduled to visit their counterparts at Copa Colombia and officials of the Aeronáutica Civil of Colombia. A good fit will be possible partly by replacing traditional management “silos” with horizontal, process-driven organizational structures under SMS, he said.
FOQA at LATAM Airlines Group
The 2012 merger of Chile’s LAN Group and TAM Linhas Aéreas of Brazil required an intensive four-month process to use flight operational quality assurance (FOQA) to quickly identify and mitigate new risks associated with the gradual changes in flight operations, said Enrique Rosende Alba, corporate director of safety and security, LATAM Airlines Group.
Up-to-date FOQA technology and methods will help LATAM to meet publicly declared safety commitments and aspirations, Rosende said, while becoming the largest air carrier in the Latin America and Caribbean region. The new holding company has nine affiliate airlines operating 309 aircraft among 116 destinations in countries such as the United States, Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Argentina. Plans call for fleet expansion to approximately 500 airplanes around 2015.
Human errors will be understood as opportunities to improve operational safety, but constant emphasis will be placed on avoiding violations of company norms and standard operating procedures. He called operational safety the one “non-negotiable value” among four in the new holding company’s values statement.
Given its mode of “permanent growth” in fleets and new routes, LATAM Airlines Group has been submitting each contemplated change to formal risk analysis, Rosende said. This was recently completed for Airbus A320 operations and was set to begin for Boeing 767 operations. The risk analyses extend to issues such as violations of regulations and operational policies on alcohol and drug consumption. During 2012 alone, more than 10,000 employees received corporate-level training on safety aspects of the holding company–related changes under way.
Over the years, FOQA has been valuable from an operational efficiency viewpoint as well as in risk management, he said. One example has been monitoring the rollout of required navigation performance instrument approaches and verifying that flight crews use them as intended. Another example has been verifying crew compliance with “lean fuel” practices that the company desires and airframe manufacturers recommend.
Confidentiality of FOQA data is assured partly by a team that has centralized gatekeeper responsibility at an office at the holding company, collecting data from all the affiliate airlines. A few conditions in which data confidentiality can be terminated are specified by policy, such as a crewmember’s repeated responsibility for the same type of event.
Almost Infinite Information
Systems to identify and mitigate unstable approaches have been refined significantly in the context of LATAM changes, Rosende said. A previously effective LAN Group method was judged unsuitable for meeting new demands. With multiple affiliates in mind, version 2.0 of the unstable approach program has been pilot-tested at the holding company level. Essentially, this FOQA analysis takes a deeper and finer look at parameters over a longer period of time during each approach.
This more accurate, TAM-derived process — beginning at 1,000 ft above ground level — is best suited for cross-affiliate comparison and aligned with industry best practices, Rosende said. Analysts already have seen improvement in the incidence of unstable approaches — a noticeably inverse proportion to the increasing level of FOQA program monitoring and associated training of pilots. The process inherently encourages pilots to improve, he said, and LATAM also is willing to share the lessons learned with other airlines through ALTA.
No related operational changes have had to be introduced to pilots, however. Adherence to existing SOPs and education of pilots about the more precise measurement have been sufficient. Beginning in January, LATAM expected to have this version 2.0 measurement process fully in place to help reduce unstable approaches.
Next on the agenda is concentration on hard landings, deep landings, rejected takeoffs and normal go-arounds — often involving operation of aircraft to/from relatively complex airports in the region, Rosende said. A preliminary look at one set of 46 hard landings, 34 unstable approaches and 59 deep landings actually found no variable in common between one event and another, reflecting the analytical challenges. Other current interests are mitigation of bird strike risks and in-flight shutdown of engines.
“We firmly believe that this information is valuable not only to operators but valuable to the aviation system,” Rosende said. “Therefore, given the conditions we’re in, we’re predisposed to voluntarily deliver this information with the ultimate purpose that we all will win from the viewpoint of operational safety.”
- Data represent ICAO-defined hull loss accidents, by airline domicile, involving Western-built transport airplanes with maximum takeoff weight of 60,000 lb (27,200 kg) or greater, and using known departures coupled with indirect estimates of missing departures data from maintenance logs.