There's a Gap in Aviation Safety!

Patrick Ryan discusses the gap in safety that exists for Airborne Sensor Operators. Why does it exist, and how can it be addressed? Find out here...

AvBuyer  |  21st October 2019
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    There's a Gap in Aviation Safety

    Aviation safety concerns are the most relevant in all aerospace sectors, says ASO Group's Patrick Ryan. The fact that human lives are always at stake makes it worth improving. Additionally, in the civil commercial aviation sector (especially in the aerial remote-sensing community), the economic effect of an accident or regulatory violation can be a disaster regarding staying in business.
    One of the primary reasons accidents and violations happen is due to human error. The fuel that usually feeds human error is a lack of professionalism, airmanship skills and not having a positive safety mindset at different levels and within the many different career fields that make up the aviation community.
    So, what do I mean by “There’s a Gap in Aviation Safety”?
    The gap that I’m talking about is the civil “Airborne Sensor Operator” (ASO) career field. This profession is a global group of highly skilled technical individuals. Since the beginning of manned flight, ASOs have directly participated as crew members in civil, commercial aerial remote sensing operations every day and in every corner of the world (both manned and unmanned). 
    However, civil ASOs lack the global aviation standards to professionalise, train and develop a safety mindset equal to pilots, flight dispatchers, and flight attendants. Search the internet, and you’ll find very little regarding specific civil aviation regulations or associations promoting best aviation/remote-sensing practices and standards for this profession. 
    What you’ll find are many job postings for airborne sensor operators, payload operators, aerial survey operators, aerial photographer, etc. (manned & unmanned). What this says is that the aviation community has an “Orphan among its Tribe.”
    There is no Safety Gap!

    One could argue that there’s “No Safety Gap” because the airborne sensor operator is not directly responsible for the critical aspects of flight or they’re just a:
    • “Passenger”
    • “Guy in Back” (GIB)
    • “Self-Loading Luggage”,
    • “Some person who babysits a sensor on a tethered Zeppelin.”
    • “The “Dude” standing next to me operating the camera on my drone.”
    Additionally, others would argue there’s not a need. Some would say, individual civil ASOs should be self-disciplined to self-interpret pilot standards and best practices to meet critical safety and task expectations if they want to make some “money.” 
    Or, organisations should hire from the various militaries around the world for well-trained ASOs rather than bother the established civil aviation community with another area of improvement. Or, industry should not trouble with investing in developing professional ASOs within their organisations because ASOs are not a priority or a critical part of the team.
    Yes, There is a Safety Gap!

    The counter-argument to this is the true intent of civil aviation safety and risk mitigation. The absolute baseline of aviation safety is to mitigate risk. The means of mitigating this risk is to identify areas for improvement and apply the appropriate actions or efforts in a rigorous and standardised manner. 
    In this case, it’s a specific career field which operates in aircraft or unmanned aircrew as part of the operating environment, i.e., part of the safety environment. For example, if you have a well-trained manned aircraft ASO with the proper airmanship and Crew Resource Management (CRM) knowledge and skills, they’ll be an asset in mitigating the following top causes of aircraft accidents:
    • Loss of Control Inflight
    • Controlled Flight into Terrain
    • System Component Failure – Powerplant
    • Fuel Starvation
    • System Component Failure – Non-Powerplant
    • Unintended Flight In IMC
    • Midair Collisions
    • Low-Altitude Operations
    Because it’s obvious that ASOs participate in all phases of a flight, they can quickly enhance or degrade an operation. By professionally parenting the “Orphan among its Tribe,” it will:
    • Mitigate negative aviation accident percentages.
    • Improve safety awareness within the industry.
    • Protect commercial firms, bottom-lines regarding risk and profitability.
    So, how do we fill this gap?

    Standards: Recognise and establish basic operating standards of the career field in civil aviation regulations around the world (ICAO, CAA, FAA, etc.). By civil governmental aviation organisations establishing a baseline of standards for this career field, it will provide an authoritative framework for other nongovernment organisations to refine and improve regarding their specific non-pilot/flight crew safety requirements, i.e., professionalise with a safety mindset.
    Training: Establish training programmes focused on airmanship and remote-sensing applications. By non-governmental organisations (Flight Schools, Associations, etc.) developing and offering focused courses for non-pilot flight crewmembers, it will start to formally educate a group of active flying participants who in the past lacked recognition as a civil aviation crewmember (e.g., flight engineers, flight attendants, etc.). 
    This approach will help with accountability and make the ASO part of the aviation safety community in general.
    Certification: Establish professional certifications to formally validate an individual ASO’s level of knowledge and experience. Like with other aviation professions (e.g., flight attendants: “Flight Attendants Certification of Demonstrated Proficiency”), establishing a global certification system will enhance the professionalism of the ASO/crewmember career field while providing commercial and noncommercial organisations the means to mitigate risk by hiring quickly and correctly.
    Bottom line!

    The aviation community has a gap in its universal focus and safety programme. The gap is related to a particular highly skilled aviation career field, in this case, the Airborne Sensor Operator. 
    The ASO profession lacks the global recognition and formalisation to guide participants to the next level of professionalism and to achieve a safety mindset equal to other critical aviation career fields, especially in the commerical sector. By incrementally formalising this profession, the aviation community can improve its safety margins! Like you hear in the London underground, "Please, mind the gap."
    Therefore, if you want to make a difference regarding improving aviation safety, support organizations that recognize the importance of the ASO profession and efforts to develop specific standards, training and certification. The bottom line is, if you’re a stakeholder in both the aviation and aerial remote-sensing sectors (manned and unmanned), what are you waiting for?
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