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SAFETYSkybaryThe criminalisation ofaircraft accidentsAs massive growth in civil aviation continues, is the real threat to aviation safety the criminalisation of aircraftaccidents? CAROLINE MALTBY reports on whether a worldwide Just Culture is achieveable.It is widely accepted that flying is one ofthe safest forms of transport.According to the NationalTransportation Safety Board, of theUS’ 34,925 transportation-related fatalitiesthrough 2010, the aviation sector accountedfor 472 deaths. Though roughly equating toslightly under 1·4% of all fatalities within thetransportation sector in the US, aviation canhowever be further broken down into itsvarious components; as opposed to generalaviation which was attributable for 1·28% ofthe total, the results reveal that commercialairlines accounted for 0·0057% of mortalitiesacross the entire transportation networkwithin the US in 2010.In its 2011 State of Global Aviation Safetyreview, the International Civil AviationOrganization’s (ICAO) statistics state that, in2010, the world accident rate for scheduledcommercial air transport, of maximum takeoffweights greater than 2250kg, stood at arate of 4·0 per million departures. Of30,556,513 scheduled commercial flights,this rate reflects 121 accidents globally, ofwhich 19 proved fatal.A need for changeTaking into account industry projections,stakeholders of the aviation industry have14ODecember 2012 Aerospace Internationalrecognised the necessity to reduce the globalaccident rate. Upon the assumption thatBoeing’s market forecast for the subsequenttwo decades is realised, i.e. the world’scommercial jet fleet is set to almost doublefrom the 19,890 aircraft in service in 2011 to39,780 by 2031, it can be supposed thatmaintaining today’s accident rate will similarlyresult in a near twofold increase in thenumber of global accidents which, at best,translates to slightly under 40 fatal airlineaccidents per year, or an average of almostone per week. In reality however, this calculationmerely reflects an oversimplifiedglobal projection that fails to consider a vastnumber of variables; acknowledging this factalone would imply that, essentially, theindustry is dealing with an unknown quantityby which an annual figure of 40 fatal accidentswould instead likely reflect a minimum.A significant factor contributing to theuncertainty relates, in part, to the rapid emergenceof markets, coupled with the levels ofgrowth that are anticipated within theseregions in forthcoming years. Whilst moremature markets have gathered and maintaineda wealth of knowledge and experiencethroughout their rich aeronautical histories,evolving markets do not have this asset uponwhich to rely.Notwithstanding mild year-on-year fluctuations,in recent years there has been anoverall decline in the global accident rate ascompared to those of the past. It has,however been argued that, as a fundamentalconstituent of human nature, all man-madesystems, irrespective of their complexity, aresubject to potential human error. On thisassumption, it has also been argued, andindeed widely accepted, that the total eradicationof aviation accidents is not possible.Yet despite this, the industry’s attention tosafety has never been so paramount.A safety cultureCore to its activities, safety represents an areathat ICAO has played a key role in developing.Safety Management Systems (SMS),defined by ICAO as ‘a systematic approachto managing safety, including the necessaryorganisational structures, accountabilities,policies and procedures’, are being progressivelymandated across the industry’s sectorsas an obligatory constituent of an organisation’ssafety programme. In a similar respectto other management functions, safety isbecoming increasingly viewed as a necessarycomponent of the respective organisation’soperation. As opposed to merely outliningrequirements from a regulatory perspective,SMS are intended to provide the tools withwww.aerosociety.com


SAFETYsmall titanium strip of metal, having fallenfrom a departing Continental Airlines DC-10he had previously worked on, had shreddedthe tyres of the supersonic airliner during itstake-off roll and ultimately ruptured theaircraft’s fuel tank. The charges against AirFrance and Concorde’s designers weredropped and the operator of the Charles deGaulle, Aéroports de Paris, was not heldaccountable further to its failure to perform aninspection of the runway.Unfortunately, the accident and subsequentinvestigation outlined here is by no means anisolated example, the loss of a Helios Airways737-300 in 2005 and a ValuJet MD-80 in 1996serving as two other high profile illustrations.Society’s need to seek out those responsible,attribute blame and ultimately sentence thosedeemed accountable for the actions giving riseto an event is not unusual; we must howeverquestion the applicability and indeed validityof this practice in relation to aviation accidents.The prosecution of frontline employeeswill not prevent similar accidents in the futuredue to the fact that it does not address theunderlying safety issue; nor indeed does theprosecution of the managers of frontlineemployees, a focus, according to IATA,commonly exemplified in Japan.Although the benefits of a Just Culture withregard to an organisation’s overall safetyculture are tangible, these advantages arethreatened by a lack in policy concerning aglobal standard in relation to the permissibilityof the safety information previously generatedthrough reporting systems in terms of its useas evidence within a criminal investigation.According to IATA’s Gary Doernhoefer: “It issimply counter-productive to global aviationsafety if lawyers can freely mine data gatheredfor safety analysis and use it as evidence in acriminal court case resulting from an accident”.To grant free access to this data wouldbe to erode the foundations of a Just Culture,Recovery of AF447s flight data recorder.ultimately serving to obstruct the influx ofsafety-related information and, as a result,instead pose what is perhaps the greatestthreat to aviation safety.A global challengeWhilst the aviation industry does indeed maintainan enviable safety record, the figuresportrayed previously represent an industryaverage only. It is not unnoticed that the statisticspresented at the outset of this articlereferred to that of the US. Had they insteadreferred to Africa, however, the data wouldhave painted an altogether different picture.In 2010, there were 17 accidents in Africa,three of which proved fatal. While the numberof accidents in itself contrasts positively tothat of other regions such as North America,Europe and Asia which accounted for 35, 24and 24 accidents respectively, it is Africa’s accidentrate which gives rise to the greatestconcern. When considering accident statistics,it is also necessary to consider the significantvariation in traffic volume that is attributableto each region. Of the six global regions identifiedby the United Nations, Africa accountedfor the lowest traffic volume (1,013,063) in2010, roughly one-tenth of that witnessed inthe US which played host to the greatestvolume (10,624,134). Despite this, Africamaintained an accident rate of 16·8 permillion departures. This compares to an accidentrate of 3·3 per million departures inNorth America, 3·3 in Europe and 3·1 in Asia.Although Africa represents what maybe themost troubling statistic, at rates of 5·4 and 4.8per million departures respectively, the regionsof Latin America & the Caribbean andOceania also gave rise to a somewhatconcerning number of accidents relative tothe volume of traffic that they witnessed.While the implementation of voluntaryreporting systems represents a valuable toolwith which a proactive industry may gather keydata as a means of eliminating unsafe conditionsand preclusion of avoidable accidentsand incidents, to truly reduce the industry’saccident rate at both a regional and a globallevel, the industry must share the information ithas gathered. The exchange of safety informationis a means of facilitating the continuousimprovement of an industry whose very core isreliant upon safe operations. To succeedhowever, the reporting system itself must beconfidential and non-punitive; equally, thesystem must maintain the support and backingof the industry that utilises it. The criminalisationof accidents serves only to damage therelationship of trust which underpins the JustCulture and to undermine all that the aviationindustry has achieved thus far; can the industryafford to play host to almost one fatal accidentper week?OBEAwww.aerosociety.com December 2012 Aerospace International 17O

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