Virtually all aviation safety data sharing initiatives that have been in place for some time, such as the International Air Transport Association Global Safety Information Center, focus on commercial air transport operations. They do not collect, analyze or publish safety data for business aviation. The same is true of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which every year prepares and analyzes safety data related only to commercial operations involving transport category, turbine-powered airplanes engaged in scheduled and non-scheduled passenger and cargo operations.
Business aircraft typically fly into and out of more operationally demanding airports, and take off from and land on shorter runways, including many that lack instrument landing system or other precision approaches. The operational hazards are thus different from those of scheduled commercial aviation. The nature and frequency of operations are different. Crew composition in business aircraft operations also is unlike that of commercial airline operations, with crewmembers operating more like a “small family” and rostering and rotation of crewmembers considerably less structured.
The particular need for data collection and analysis in business aviation is recognized by the International Business Aviation Council (IBAC) and is one of the pillars of IBAC’s Business Aviation Safety Strategy, released in 2007.
“Mechanisms are needed to measure the level of safety achievement and to monitor trends,” says IBAC. “Concurrently, there is a need to determine weaknesses and deficiencies so that attention can be focused on achieving safety improvement. There is an ongoing need to collect and analyze data on aircraft incidents, accidents, safety issues, accident rates and causal factors.”1
IBAC also stresses a need to “partner with aircraft manufacturers and aviation authorities to share accident, incident and safety-related data and information and improve/validate exposure data (hours/sectors operated).”2
One possible reason safety-data sharing initiatives have so far been of limited scope in business aviation is the fragmentation of the business aviation sector. Europe, as an example, has more than 300 commercial operators of business aircraft, with 87 percent operating fewer than five aircraft. Only a few of these operators have more than 20 aircraft under management or in operation.
Despite the difficulties of data sharing, business aviation operators have a generally positive attitude. “Safety culture is automatically an inherent part of the business,” said Graham Williamson, president, Aircraft Management and Charter Services at TAG Aviation Europe, with a managed fleet of 140 aircraft worldwide.
Initiative From the Industry
While larger business aircraft operators can invest substantial amounts in safety, customer service and quality, and promote common values and ethics, smaller operators often have limited resources and need to identify economically feasible ways to share experiences and resources. In Williamson’s view, there is a good potential for cooperation on safety-data sharing in business aviation among players of all sizes. TAG Aviation Europe has been involved in the launch and the ongoing work of the Corporate Aviation Safety Executive (CASE), a regional, collaborative business aviation safety initiative.3
“Five years ago,” recalled Williamson, “we were implementing our own safety management system (SMS) within TAG Aviation Europe, and representatives of some business aircraft operators that approached us expressed a need for support to implement their SMSs after SMS Phase I gaps were identified.4 CASE arose from a group of like‐minded safety professionals, whose aim was to collate and share data.”
Since its inception, CASE has grown to become an important collaborative working group for a number of U.K. business aircraft operators to share experiences related to flight safety. CASE now has 40 members, representing around two-thirds of U.K. business aviation operations.
“The group meets quarterly to share flight safety data and experiences,” said Malcolm Rusby, European safety director, TAG Aviation (U.K.) and CASE manager. “Our meeting in early June 2013 was well attended, with excellent feedback from members.
“The second phase of growth for CASE is about to start, extending the membership to more European operators; some U.S.-based operators have also expressed an interest in participating and sharing data and best practices,” said Williamson. CASE also aims to involve more engineering companies, and helicopter and general aviation operators.
Business Aviation Safety Database
Email reports highlighting the latest safety concerns are regularly sent out and shared on Air Safety Central, an electronic reporting tool that enables CASE members to upload data and reports into the system in an organized way so the wider industry can benefit from each member’s findings.
Air Safety Central was conceived as a social media–like network that allows safety managers to post completed but anonymous safety investigations. Members can review data, comment on any aspect of an incident, and share best practices through the network. There also is an opportunity to join groups of similar operators to share safety data and draw trend analysis from a far larger pool than might otherwise be possible. Air Safety Central has been developed by aviation information technology provider Vistair and has operated for about nine months, with more than 250 reports stored.
Harmonization of SOPs
One of CASE’s biggest projects is the harmonization of standard operating procedures (SOPs) among business aircraft. “Reports filed in Air Safety Central are particularly useful because they can form the basis of proposed changes to operating procedures,” Williamson said. CASE is working closely with training providers to put CASE data into their courses so that training is more in line with what is happening in the industry.
“The fact that CASE is run as a collaborative industry working group makes it possible for operators that are particularly experienced in the operation of a certain aircraft type to exchange information with less-experienced operators or those introducing the type,” Williamson said. “For example, TAG Aviation Europe operates a Dassault Falcon 7X fleet of 11. With this aircraft type, our SOPs are of proven reliability, and we can share them with smaller or less-experienced operators. SOPs can be harmonized across the industry by the strengthening of forums like CASE.”
Flight Data Monitoring
CASE also intends to build a flight-data monitoring (FDM) database to offer additional data-driven safety insights. CASE initially is working with the U.K. Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) on a project to equip three business aircraft with a maximum takeoff weight of less than 27,000 kg (27 metric tons; 59,525 lb) with quick access recorders (QARs) so that flight data from routine operations can be downloaded. The three types used for the QAR test are the Bombardier Challenger, Learjet 45 and Hawker 800. “We want to collect data on these aircraft, which often operate into smaller airports, to build more robust models of safe precision approaches,” said Rusby. “We will also harmonize this project with our SOPs to ensure the trend data is correct.”
“The funding received from the U.K. government for equipping three business aircraft below 27,000 kg with QARs is important; this is an area of business aircraft operations where data is insufficient,” said Williamson.
European regulations require operators to establish and maintain an FDM system, to be integrated into their management system, only for airplanes with a maximum certificated takeoff weight of more than 27 metric tons. This means no flight data are collected for the majority of the European business aircraft fleet. Thus, flight crew performance cannot be thoroughly monitored, and trends cannot be identified with confidence. Operators of smaller airplanes do not perform any FDM.
On the other side of the Atlantic, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is focusing on reducing general aviation (GA) accidents by using primarily a voluntary non-prescriptive, proactive and data-driven strategy to get results.
At the top of the FAA’s priorities list for action in GA safety is loss of control–in flight (LOC–I) and — in second place — controlled flight into terrain, on the basis that these are the most frequently occurring fatal accident categories.5
The FAA is working with GA associations to use data to identify risk, pinpoint trends through root cause analysis, and thus develop safety strategies. “The GA Joint Steering Committee (GAJSC) is moving toward using deidentified GA operations data in the Aviation Safety Information Analysis and Sharing program to help identify risks before they become accidents,” the FAA says. “Data from these programs can also be used for GAJSC initiatives and research conducted by the GA Centers for Excellence. The agency also reviews airworthiness directives to identify causal factors and trends.”6
The GAJSC is a government and industry group that uses the same approach as the Commercial Aviation Safety Team (CAST). “The group recently proposed 23 safety interventions to address [LOC-I] during approach and landing,” the FAA says. “Other achievements include several web-based resource guides, including the General Aviation Pilot’s Guide to Pre-Flight Weather Planning, Weather Self-Briefings and Weather Decision Making, which provide advice to pilots on how to safely make flying decisions involving weather. The GAJSC combines the expertise of many key decision makers across different parts of the FAA, various government agencies and several GA associations.”7
Business aviation safety-database development initiatives should not be set up to provide measures such as fatality rates, which are already collected elsewhere and provide a limited picture of safety performance. Industry databases should provide an insight into causal factors.
Historically, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University says, safety has been assessed in terms of accident, incident or fatality rates.8 To improve safety metrics, Embry-Riddle is running a research program for designing and testing a GA pilot survey to obtain data on unsafe acts and to question pilots on their safety attitudes and beliefs.9
Confidence in statistical analysis results and in the decisions derived from them depends largely on the quality of the data supplied in the first place, especially if the database is meant for contributions from several operators across the business aviation industry.
Data quality primarily depends on a carefully defined taxonomy. “Raw safety data (e.g., pilot reports and flight data events) need to be put into a standardized, recognizable format so that everyone can interrogate and analyze it,” says Eddie Rogan of the Superstructure Group.10
While full standardization in individual-source reporting may never be achieved, attempts should at least be made for the non-narrative categories of reported information, with all database contributors using the same reporting form with as few free-text (open-ended) data entries as possible.
To generate consistent and repeatable results, the taxonomies used must be understood and applied by those making and reporting the observations. Criteria to be observed include the following, according to Alan J. Stolzer, Carl D. Halford and John J. Goglia:
- The taxonomy’s framework has to be actively used by operational people.
- Its terms need to be derived from operational language.
- The taxonomy needs to support the human factors model of human error.
- The taxonomy needs to provide data that can support a risk management system.11
Rogan says, however, that certain technical hurdles must be overcome so all information suppliers use a standard format:
- Standard Occurrence Classification. There is no currently recognized industry standard for classifying occurrence events within business aviation, let alone classifying the root causes discovered during investigations.12
- Flight Data. Many operators monitor similar events, but the parameters are selectable, differing in definition and purpose.
- Funding. Who pays and how much is such a service worth?
- Occurrence reporting. Not all potential information providers have a software tool that can export data/information.13
For ensuring data quality and reducing the work of each reporting organization and the central management of the database, a software tool is important. As noted by one study, “The aggregate analysis of measures of a system such as ours in aviation, in which we can have thousands of employee self-reports per year, or millions of observations from which events are detected, absolutely requires automation to support the analysis. Especially for larger service providers and data-sharing programs, the size of our datasets is much too big for manual analysis.”14
The use of a standardized and well-defined taxonomy also allows establishing a baseline safety performance for the business aviation industry against which contributing operators can benchmark safety performance and assess risks. Database contributors may even be able to benchmark themselves against their own past performance and other operators in their region.
However, says Rogan, “Benchmarking safety information needs to be done cautiously and thoughtfully; for example, if you have an information provider with a very good and open reporting culture, then this could mistakenly be seen as a negative performance comparison which would undermine the ultimate reason for sharing information.”15
Despite all best efforts on behalf of a safety database — including, certainly, the deidentification of reported information — additional barriers remain that inhibit contributors from consistently reporting and sharing everything requested of them. Rogan lists some barriers to participation which might prevent successful sharing of business aviation safety information:
- Legal: Fear of information being used against them in court or by the regulator.
- Internal politics: Information is power, and sharing might expose weaknesses in employees or work groups.
- Economic: The cost of collecting and distributing information.
- Unions: Staff fears of sharing information involving them.
- Media: Fear of information being published or broadcast.
- Competition: Revealing operational secrets that affect presumed competitive advantages.
- Warranty: Giving information manufacturers could use against a warranty claim — for example, when an aircraft has been operated outside the normal range of its aerodynamic envelope.
- Workload: The perception that it is too much hassle to share.
- Incentive: “What’s in it for me?” Getting direct feedback and benefit from sharing.16
Unless these barriers are tackled and overcome, “We would be forced to accept the lowest common denominator approach … and, ultimately, this would mean a less effective safety information scheme,” Rogan said.17
For a safety-data sharing initiative to succeed, responsibility rests partly with each operator’s top management as well as with regulatory authorities.
An accountable manager creates a cultural environment where safety is an inherent part of the business. Such an environment increases the likelihood that lessons are learned from both good and bad experiences.
“I sit on the U.K. Safety Improvement Advisory Board, which has been doing a great deal of work to improve safety culture in the U.K.,” said Williamson. Looking at further improvements in safety culture across the various domains of aviation, Williamson has suggested that the CAA host a meeting of all the U.K.’s accountable managers, possibly later in 2013.
In the overall picture, initiatives in several world regions are taking shape at last to collect and analyze safety information that is especially relevant to business aviation. For safety-data sharing initiatives to succeed, the derived information needs to support safety risk assessment with relevant and reliable measures; report forms need to be standardized among contributors; and addressing some operators’ lingering concerns about sharing — such as the fear of repercussions from reporting their information — are key factors.
Mario Pierobon works in business development and project support at Great Circle Services in Lucerne, Switzerland.
- IBAC. Business Aviation Safety Strategy — A Blueprint for Making a Safe System Safer. September 2007.
- For a more detailed description of CASE, see <www.fly-corporate.com/article/4-things-you-need-know-about-case-0?utm_source=weekly_feed_20130904&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=fly_corporate_weekly_feed&utm_content=feed_ad> [link no longer available].
- Phase I of an SMS implementation typically begins with aviation service providers designing their framework to satisfy civil aviation authorities’ SMS requirements, such as those mandated by ICAO, the FAA, the European Aviation Safety Agency or Transport Canada.
- Learmount, David. “Business Aviation Safety Performance Over 20 Years.” Flight International, May 8, 2012.
- FAA. “Fact Sheet — General Aviation Safety.” May 14, 2013.
- Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. “Aviation Safety Information Analysis and Sharing for General Aviation.”
- Rogan, Eddie. “Sharing Aviation Safety Information.” Paper written for the Flight Safety Foundation Icarus Committee. June 2009.
- Elaborated from Stolzer, Alan J; Halford, Carl D.; and Goglia, John J. Safety Management Systems in Aviation. Ashgate, 2008, pp. 169–176.
- Author’s note: Even if there could be some standardization of the wording, there is considerable divergence among operators in the structure of an air safety report. Considerable room is left to free text, making it difficult to map database information and perform statistical analysis.
- Stolzer, Halford and Goglia.