Throughout the past year, Flight Safety Foundation has been focusing on several important issues, including runway safety and go-arounds; data analysis, sharing and protection; and operating in remote and dangerous environments. Late last year, we added airborne conflict to this list. These are all areas that affect aviation safety — and all areas where we can make a difference.
The absence of recent large-scale airborne conflict accidents does not mean the system is without risk. In fact, our data-driven approach to safety, in which we look specifically at incident precursors during normal operations in order to identify not only the areas of greatest risk but also paths to mitigation, shows that we have had some alarming near-midair collisions recently. These “near accidents” remind us that, while we may have escaped disaster, we need to examine what happened and ensure that the safety buffers we have built into the system are sufficient and not being compromised.
In these near accidents, the system worked, as it does every day when the layers of safety protection we have developed over the years kick into action to prevent tragedy. But we must continue to report and analyze these and other similar incidents so that we can ensure our system is strong enough to withstand the risks lurking out there.
We are seeing the results of an increased effort to encourage more and better reporting of safety incidents by individuals. With a just culture and the protections put into place surrounding data, the reporting of these incidents is becoming more robust. This data is invaluable in advancing our understanding of the risks in the airspace. Ours is a system that ultimately is operated by humans using the best tools and technology that we have developed over the decades.
But humans make mistakes, and technology can sometimes let us down. And the airspace is getting more crowded every year, with commercial and business jets, and private pilots in single-engine aircraft — not to mention the promised influx of unmanned aircraft.
The Foundation can play an important role in the discussion of airborne conflict. We recently hosted a meeting in Brussels, Belgium, to bring together experts on this issue. Working with Eurocontrol, the European Regions Airline Association and our advisory committees, we’ll use what we learned in Brussels to help address the problem.