As acting chief operating officer, I am pleased to help Ken Hylander lead Flight Safety Foundation during this interim period while we work to find Kevin Hiatt’s successor as president and chief executive officer. As Ken said last month, during this period of transition, the Foundation must not be static, but continue to move forward as new challenges arise and old ones come into sharper focus.
Stabilized approaches and go-arounds fall into the latter category, and are what I want to focus on in this month’s message. Ken told you in March that this was one of three areas of particular emphasis for us this year, along with safety data–sharing and protection, and advancing safety in challenging operations, primarily through our Basic Aviation Risk Standard (BARS) program.
An industry focus on stabilized approaches and go-around policy is not new — and that’s actually part of the problem. We’ve been dealing with this issue for many years and have clearly benefited greatly from the industrywide effort to establish stabilized-approach criteria, monitor performance against those criteria through our flight data management/flight operational quality assurance programs and emphasize going around when appropriate without fear of second-guessing, criticism or punishment.
The problem is that our well–thought out, well-defined and closely tracked stable-approach criteria are not triggering the desired go-around decision, including when truly necessary. This is clearly demonstrated by the fact that 97 percent of unstable approaches, as determined by current criteria, are continued, and the vast majority result in incident-free landings.
The Foundation believes the time finally has come to address this inconsistency aggressively and head-on. We need to recognize that while stable-approach criteria are effective, necessary and worthy of continued emphasis, we have to step back and face the reality that a new construct must be considered to drive pilots toward a go-around when it is, indeed, absolutely required — that is, when the risk of continuing rises to an unacceptable level. The basic problem with today’s stable-approach criteria is that while they serve as an excellent guide on how to fly an aircraft with precision on approach, a small deviation from the stringent criteria at 1,000 ft (or even 500 ft) does not necessarily create a risk worthy of triggering a go-around decision at that point and, therefore, pilots appear to be tuning out the criteria — about 97 percent of the time.
The Foundation’s Go-Around Safety Initiative has been focusing on this issue since 2011. Extensive analysis has been done, and we think the time has come to expand and accelerate the effort to find a solution. By the time you read this, we will have had the opportunity — in Orlando, Florida, U.S., in mid-March — to bring the issue into focus at the Approach and Go-Around Safety Seminar, sponsored by the Foundation, JetBlue and the Regional Airline Association. We intend to make it a “call to action” to bring industry experts together to address this issue. We want to develop recommendations that help us make the distinction between that portion of the 97 percent of approaches that can continue with low risk and the smaller portion (including those we tragically saw at San Francisco and Birmingham last year) that must be aborted and turned into appropriate, effective and successful go-arounds. I hope I will have had the opportunity to talk with some of you in Orlando as we start to come to grips with this inconsistency in our stabilized approach and go-around policy and procedures.
Until next time, keep the blue side up!