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Are you behind the times in your approach to safe flight operations?

Do you assume you are safe in your company airplane? Did you know there is no direct correlation between the success of a company and the safety of its aviation services? That was the consensus among a prestigious group of aviation safety experts I recently queried.

I routinely talk with the leaders of Fortune 500 companies and very high net worth individuals about their Business Aviation operations. These powerful people expect (and support- at least) Best Industry Practices for their company’s aviation safety. I assume you are no different.

When it comes to safety and your business aircraft- have you trusted that what you expected was what you were getting? You probably also trust that your doctors are among the best (you suppose so- because they haven’t hurt you…yet!). The problem is that there is no easy way to inspect what you expect from either your physicians or your flight department - until now.

Reactive Safety
The first aviation safety efforts were reactive. Reactive safety management focuses on a “You will not” approach. It is the basis for most regulations. Yet- the most highly regulated mode of air travel is on-demand charter services. Surely it would follow that if you could regulate safety into action then charter operations would have the best safety record of all modes of air travel. It doesn’t- though.

As a matter of fact- charter has an accident rate that is four to five times as great as that of the major airlines- the large fractional aircraft programs and professionally-flown Business Aviation (all three of which have nearly identical accident rates). Reactive safety management alone is simply not enough to assure safety.

Proactive Safety
The second giant step - proactive safety management - started in the mid-1980s. Full motion simulator training- Crew Resource Management (teamwork for crews)- and a number of technology improvements have proactively enhanced the avoidance of repeating tragic events of the past.

The pay-off has been that the airline and professionally-flown Business Aviation accident rates have been cut in half. But a key element is still lacking from Proactive Safety: effective metrics. If you cannot measure it- you cannot manage it: “Accident Rate” does not ultimately measure aviation safety. Instead it only measures failure.

Predictive Safety
The third major step in aviation safety is to remedy the missing element to Proactive Safety. Whereas Proactive Safety’s focus is on the measure of failure- Predictive Safety shifts our metrics to those of success. They are predictive of safe performance. After all- you cannot manage history - but you can certainly influence the future!

Predictive safety management identifies- and mitigates known or predictable threats or risks. Basic risk assessment tools are matrices that look at the probability of an event (rare through certain) and its consequences (negligible through catastrophic).They have helped us understand the issues and opportunities associated with predicting safe performance. They have helped us focus on the hundreds of elements on each trip leg that affect the levels of risk that can be identified and managed.

Risk management tools are evolving rapidly. A number of software programs have come onto the market that look at the various areas of risk (human- aircraft- weather- airport- etc) and break each down into specific risk elements. For human risk there are dozens of elements like fatigue- flight experience- crew pairings and aircraft experience. Those elements are further divided into sub-elements; each sub-element being scored based on its probability and impact (threat).

Up to a certain cumulative score of elements- the leg of a planned flight can be accomplished without further review. Above this first hurdle- the leg must be assessed by a manager who works with the crew to confirm that the risks are understood and the steps to effectively mitigate them are in place. If the leg yields a score above a certain level- the planned trip cannot be flown without mitigating the critical risks in a manner that is acceptable to both the crew and the manager.

The current technology is semi-automated. The process is burdensome and not easily applied. But the results are useful. The elegant answer will be integrated software packages that draw from aircraft performance- crew- weather- airport and other databases to comprehensively assess all the trip factors and highlight the ones that need attention.

One of the greatest benefits of predictive safety metrics is that they will allow you- the owner and passenger- to set standards of risk levels and receive meaningful reports on risk mitigation performance. For the first time you will have factual information about how safe you really are - and how well protected your all-important passengers are aboard your airplane on any given journey.


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