"Promoting the science of aerospace medicine"

5th of September 2012

Safety experts seek predictive evolution

Prediction and risk reduction are the next steps in aviation safety investigation, industry specialists agreed at a convention last week.

Speaking at the International Society of Air Safety Investigators (ISASI) Annual Seminar in Baltimore, where the theme was "Evolution of aviation safety - from reactive to predictive," Flight Safety Foundation director-technical programs Jim Burin said comprehensive data and the support of decision makers were crucial to this safety evolution.

"Just because we can predict does not mean prediction will be successful in reducing risk," Burin said. "Decision makers, particularly bureaucratic decision makers, are reactive by nature ... we need to be able to show the risk, and show the ability to reduce the risk by addressing the probability or the severity."

Burin said the availability of data was key to demonstrating risk. "Data will also allow us to address the age old safety dilemma: how do you prove that you prevented an accident from happening if it doesn't happen? By utilizing incident and normal operational data in our prediction process we will be able to show that we reduced the risk of an accident and hopefully avoid having to react to one," Burin said.

In her keynote address, US National Transportation Safety Board chairman Deborah Hersman said data, forensics and industry collaboration all have a role in predictive accident investigation work.

Southwest Airlines senior director, operational safety Tim Logan also stressed the need for trust. He said many of the US voluntary Safety Management Systems (SMS) programs were created in an environment of "little to no trust" with a "catch me if you can mentality."

Logan said better public awareness would help overcome this perception. "We're really good at safety but terrible at marketing," he said, suggesting that industry, FAA and labor groups should produce and promote an education program for US Congress and the public to demonstrate the benefits of proactive safety information collection. Information should be more visible "to the point where we're going to take a risk a little bit," Logan said. "We can't keep keeping this info within ourselves ... we have to lift the veil a little bit."

SMS programs include the Aviation Safety Action Partnership (ASAP), Flight Operations Quality Assurance (FOQA), Line Operations Safety Audit (LOSA) and Voluntary Disclosure Reporting Programs (VDRP).