Improving airline safety means continually improving policies and procedures based on the most recent evidence. The FAA, ICAO and other professionals in the airline and air freight industry are under continuing pressure to make certain that their policies and procedures represent state of the art, particularly in the area of safety. Air traffic continues to increase on a global level, leading to the need for a greater level of standardization and uniformity. This research explores the problem of risk manage in aviation and efforts to improve the industry safety record. It suggests areas that need to be studied in the quest for safer aviation.
Risk Management in Commercial Aviation
Risk management in commercial aviation has many facets. Many types of risk management affect the aviation industry. The first type that people think about is safety issues. Risk management concerning safety issues is by far the most well-known, but there are other risks in the aviation industry as well. The FAA provides oversight of civilian aircrafts with the intention of catching mistakes that could lead to significant safety risks. Yet, despite their efforts, some safety risks escape the inspection process. This research will explore the FAA's approach to safety risk management as it applies to civilian aviation. It will propose a study to help resolve the current issues in the industry and to increase the safety of passengers and crew.
Key Issues in Aviation Safety
Safety in the air transport sector utilizes accident rates based on scheduled commercial air traffic for aircraft with a maximum take off weight (MTOW) of 2250 kg. This eliminates smaller aircraft from the statistics. Aircraft accidents are categorized by their cause upon investigation. Trends in air travel and cargo transport took an understandable drop after the bombing of the World Trade Towers. However, in 2010, air traffic underwent resurgence. The accident ratio was 4.0 per one million departures (ICAO, 2011). This was a marginal increase compared to the previous year, indicating that improvements need to be made.
North America processes the largest volume of air traffic per year than any other part of the world. Asia processes the second largest air traffic volume, closely followed by Europe.
Accident rates differ by region, therefore allowing safety officials to concentrate on areas that are experiencing specific safety challenges (ICAO, 2011). Air traffic will continue to increase making the job of inspectors and safety personnel even more difficult as they attempt to handle more inspections during a given time period. Speed cannot compromise safety, which is the key dilemma being faced by FAA inspectors in the airline industry themselves.
Creating a culture of safety is the purpose of the FAA's directives regarding civilian aviation. In April 2008, the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure ordered an investigation over safety issues of Southwest Airlines and potential lapses in FAA oversight. The investigation was sparked by whistleblower complaints that Southwest allowed 117 of its planes to fly in violation of FAA regulations (Peters, 2008). One of the key findings that affected the FAA's ability to manage risk and civilian aviation was inconsistency and regulatory ideologies. Some field office staff were generous in generating variances, which created the potential for errors in regulatory decision making processes (Peters, 2008). Mechanisms for controlling inconsistencies among personnel was found to be the most private problematic area among those studied.
The air transportation oversight system (ATOS) is the process that inspectors used in performing their daily duties. In a study that involved interviews with inspectors from 15 different FAA Field offices it became apparent that the ATOS still needs revision and improvement (Peters, 2008).The proposed study will examine the current state of affairs regarding consistency among FAA field office application of the safety rules. It will explore the reasons for differences in the interpretation of safety rules and the extent of the problem. The study will use vignettes of potential safety violations and inspection results on aircraft. Subjects will rate the vignettes in terms of seriousness and will provide feedback as to what measures if any, need to be taken to correct the issues contained in the vignettes.
Recommendations for Possible Resolution
To resolve inconsistencies in field office staff application and understanding of the regulations, the FAA proposed mandating rotation of managers and/or supervisors on a three-year or five-year basis (Peters, 2008). The theory behind this proposal is that relationships develop between regulators and regulated entities. This also allows regulators a fresh perspective on the operations of the airlines. This increases the potential for capturing risks that may be overlooked simply due to the field office staff becoming familiar with the daily routine of the airlines. This does not reflect intentional complacency, but the effect of familiarity in the oversight role.
Improving the Inspection System
The FAA proposed three directives that are designed to improve airworthiness inspection results in terms of consistency. The first is that the FAA should retain the right to ground any plane that is not in compliance with safety regulations. In the past, FAA inspectors had to complete a risk assessment before taking any action. It is suggested that this risk assessment be eliminated and that inspectors be able to ground any plane that does not meet inspection without conducting the risk assessment. (Peters, 2008). Differences in individual risk assessment techniques were found to be responsible for many of the differences in inspector opinions about whether the safety risk was significant enough to ground the plane or not. This would provide inspectors with the ability to ground a plane without having to justify their reasons to the company they are sent to inspect.
The second recommendation is a commitment to provide timely information about changes and requirements well in advance of compliance dates to all FAA field offices. The field offices are then to provide responsive assistance in the form of "progress towards compliance" audits well in advance of compliance dates (Peters, 2008).
The Federal Aviation Administration provides training and communication to inspectors and attempts to provide consistency as they carry out their job of increasing safety and mitigating risks. They continually monitor processes and data to improve their programs in the safety oversight system. Training is an integral part of the safety oversight system but there is still room for improvement in training efforts. The complexity of aircraft and aircraft systems continually increases. As the aircraft and aircraft systems increase in complexity, more places for error are entered into the system. FAA training must continually update inspector knowledge about new aircraft and new aircraft systems so that it can develop effective and consistent systems for the inspection process (GAO, 2005).
Evaluation of training programs is an important part of maintaining the most effective inspection force possible. A lack of criteria was found to be a major concern in 2005. In addition, the FAA lacks a nationwide enforcement database that would allow inspectors access to historical information that could help them to evaluate their own safety inspection practices and improve their own abilities. These were two key issues that represent priorities to be addressed in the improvement of FAA's inspection training program (GAO, 2005).
The Effects of Globalization
. One of the key challenges facing the airline industry is the process of globalization. The FAA finds itself in a position where it must operate in conjunction with other global entities. Increased globalization means increased International air traffic. A lack of consistency is a key problem that the global air traffic travel community faces. The FAA must update its own policies to make certain that it maintains the highest level of consistency possible as it attempts to work with other global entities. Establishing global consistency in air safety issues will not be possible if the individual nations lack consistency in their own policies (ICAO, 2011).
Several common risks are inherent to the airline industry as planes travel from country to country. Airlines must contend with standardization of fatigue and risk management systems, extended diversion time operations, runway safety, accident investigations, language difficulties, transport of dangerous goods into other countries, and natural hazards such as disease (ICAO, 2011). Hazards such as hurricanes, volcanic ash, and other natural phenomenon that can affect air traffic safety are also special concerns for the development of domestic and International air safety policies. Standardization will be the key to improving air traffic safety on a global basis.
The ICAO has similar plans to the FAA for improving training through courses and seminars on emerging issues throughout the industry. The ICAO has also begun to form cooperative groups with safety organizations from around the world. They plan to offer group training to pilots. In the past, the financial and human resource burden for enforcing air safety was carried out by the United States (ICAO, 2011). This new program allows other countries to share the risk and holds them accountable for improving their own safety records. In the past, the United States was an active participant in crash investigations, but the focus and responsibility…