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The human operator, the least reliable element of an aerodyne, but the most essential...!
Frank Caron (1991)

Last update:
26 September 2016

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Air Safety - Why air safety improvement is too slow (organisation)?

The public opinion and the aviation industry are endlessly complaining the air safety is not really improving as fast as expected... even though became safer during the last 30 years. It is a fact a huge amount of energy seems to be spent every year in this matter but the result gives the impression not reaching the level of expectations.

Different reasons may explain this, but even though it seems a complex issue the explanations may be not as numerous.

First of all we have to bear in mind that "Aviation with all its technological improvements and advances is still a human endeavour and unfortunately air accidents and serious incidents will continue to occur," said Mark Rosenker, chairman of the US National Transportation Safety Board in November 2007.

Besides that, we probably should have a different look on the air safety. Safety concern passengers and aviation staffs, therefore human being. But safety is also managed by humans being who may reach some limitations... Let's elaborate some of them.

Pilots are not safety specialist
In an industry (and a social world) that put pilots on pedestals, these naturally become the key for the positions in charge of developing, defining, managing or advising safety departments.

But these very experienced pilots or former pilots are only pilots... This means they are masters and experts for managing a complex (technical) tool in complex environments. They are trained to be part of a safety system, usually to perform some micro safety management (inside and closely around their airplane). But they are not trained to deal with safety on a company scale (macro safety system) with its links and consequences with the aviation (safety) industry.

In any way pilots are real safety specialist. Most, if not all, know little about their (company) safety department, about the safety programs, the SMS, etc. But here, safety departments have a sound responsibility for not (really enough) advertising, communicating what their role, functions and goals are.

chose true safety specialist or train heavily the pilots wanted in the safety organisation.

Pilots are not macro systems managers
Pilots are micro systems manager. They are very good managing their aircraft with the personnel on board.

But except if they have previous experience, pilots are rarely trained to manage hundred/thousand people in a structured organisation. The assumption that pilots can deal with almost every airline office position reach here its limits.

train the pilots to management competencies.

You hire what you know and what you like...
The point here is that pilots are scared about those who are not pilots (I have heard this too many time during the safety trainings I provided...). Therefore, the industry (mainly lead and managed by pilots or former pilots) hires only pilots to take care of safety.

As a consequence, the aviation industry is lacking true safety specialist. I mean people who are really trained and experienced in safety, or maybe safety experts before being a pilot... In the best cases, pilots are sent to any of the worldwide safety training organisations to get complementary but short (safety something) training courses...

Back in their company, these newly promoted behave with a very slim background of knowledge, and no experience about. Think twice about, is safety really a matter of only one week, two or even four weeks training?

chose real experienced safety specialists.

Safety does concern ALL aviation professionals
It means every profession is concerned: not only pilots, but maintenance engineers, ramp personnel, cabin crews, etc. And we presume here each group is a micro system inside a company.

Outside the company exist many different professions that have links to safety: refuellers, ramps personels, refuellers, air traffic controllers, etc. Here again each group is a micro system.

But this entire professions works together with direct or indirect links and it is essential to have a safety organisation that works with all the involved groups.

1) dot not limit safety inputs to flight crew ;
2) expand the concepts to all the industry professions.

But pilots are human...
And today incidents and accidents are ALL human factors related. But not everyone seems to agree with that. It is typically human to express some reluctance to accept operators should be seen as "responsible" of the mishap, especially for pilots.

Do not misinterpret what it is said. I do not try to blame. I am a strong supporter for corrective instead of punitive actions! But, for each event that is analysed, how many corrective actions are really IMMEDIATELY implemented?

The public opinion does not see the aviation as a system with its different players, neither understand how the system works. The last line of defense (the pilots...) are often seen as the only responsible. Understandably pilots struggle to clean such a cliché. But as every human, pilots express a very strong reluctance to blame themselves.

Again the point here is not blaming but providing corrective actions not only for pilots, as other players are often involved.

really develop human factors inside the company.

Lack of innovation
Another consequence for not being a safety expert is a sound lack of innovation. Numerous sources lead to incidents or accidents. It is essential to try every possible action to reduce these events.

There are very costly, but probably lengthy solutions like providing extensive training about many situations...

Beside that the best solution to solve human factors issues is to bring the operator what he/she needs. But how to do this is another story. But it is here that innovation, creativity, ambition and looking forward would be the best tools of safety departments.

invent and experiment new safety concepts as much as possible.

And (unfortunately) imposters...
To close this topic, I must mention that in every organisation I work for, I always faced pretended qualified "safety something" expert who were claiming loudly and repeatedly they were the best qualified among the others.

As matter of fact, just real pure imposters. Just keep in mind, when you are one of the best in a specific field, you do not need to say it... your behaviour simply shows it...

Next: Why air safety improvement is too slow (culture)?


Frank Caron
, February 2007.

quick links

5 steps to convince about safety

Why air safety improvement is too slow (organisation)?

Why air safety improvement is too slow (culture)?

Why training is the main solution to human factors issues

Human factors still the current challenge of the industry

No limits for the understanding of human factors

Suggestions for a discipline committee

Too long briefings

Current CRM have reach its limits

Aviation safety international legal definitions

Two statements about fatigue every manager must know