Aviation safety is an important aspect of flight management as it is aimed to ensure the safety of the passengers, crew and flight attendants. Flight safety can be enhanced in various aspects through efficient coordination of all the players involved. Lack of cooperation and honesty are the major contributors of poor safety observance in aviation where the professionals are blamed for failure to prevent the reoccurrence of an incidence. In addition, the culture of holding aviation professionals accountable for errors that discourage front-line operators from sharing safety information does not only increase the level of negligence at an individual level but also increases the likelihood of recurrence of an incidence.
The purpose of this paper is to explore the implications of how the climate of cooperation and honesty as well as aviation culture has contributed to the increase in safety lapse in aviation. The essay discusses whether cooperation and honesty are enough in the prevention of lapses in aviation safety. In addition, it provides possible recommendations to avert the problem.
Aviation safety in the runway ranges from the enhancement of airport marking and signage to improvement in training, new flight deck displays, alerts and controls. There are various runway safety strategies applied by big airlines such as research in flight deck design solutions and developed system to provide the crew with adequate information and awareness with the aim of promoting safety and flight operation efficiency. In the aviation context, safety is a state at which damage to persons and/or material goods can be minimized or maintained at tolerable levels through a process of risk identifications and safety risk management. A safety management system is an important quality management tool that can be used in controlling risks. Most of the airlines that are prone to incidences of safety and security lapse lack an effective safety management control structure. A safety management system can provide an organization with a constructive framework to support a sound safety culture that can be actively used to control exposure to risks. With the gradual increase in aviation activities and declining resources, the effectiveness of safety operations has declined even more. Organizations are required to seek better safety strategies and practices to develop and implement a structured safety management system to control risks and achieve the required legal responsibilities in flight operations. The essay highlights some of the common mistakes and errors done by aviation professionals in reporting, investigation and prosecution of safety incidents and how the concept of culture has contributed to the degradation of flight safety.
Reporting of Mistakes and Errors and Its Impacts on Aviation Safety
Records of aviation history have numerous accounts of accidents and tragic losses. Since the late 1950s when safety in aviation became paramount, the drive to reduce the number of accidents has been enforced leading to unprecedented levels of safety. Despite all the available innovations realized recently, one fundamental question that aviation professionals need to answer is why aircraft accidents still occur.
According to Howell, Van and National Research Council, about 70-80% of civil and military aviation accidents are due to human errors. Most accident reporting systems are not designed in compliance to any theoretical framework. Even in situations where there is an efficient error reporting system, human attitude towards error reporting and safety enhancement has contributed to poor performance in accident prevention. The roles of flight deck human errors have been revised in the recent past through massive inspection and maintenance.
Aviation inspection and maintenance tasks are often the complex part of the organization as individuals are required to perform various tasks in different environments under great pressure, little feedback, and at times difficult ambient conditions. The characteristics of these situations and a combination of general human erring capacities result to various forms of errors. For instance, failure to fix the horizontal stabilizer screw in a Continental Express flight led to 14 fatalities resulting from in-flight leading-edge separation.
Communication and reporting of such a problem were a major factor leading to the crashing of the plane. Human errors are classified based on their behavioral, conceptual, and contextual nature. This classification describes the error in terms of their ease of observation from the surface. The classification also includes the partition of the errors on such dimensions as their formal qualities like omission, commission and extraneous, immediate consequences like nature and the degree of damages or injuries, observation consequences, whether active or immediate, as well as recoverability and the responsibility of the parties. These classes help analysts in mapping of the surface characteristics to the causal mechanisms. While human errors that result in accidents are the most salient, inspection and maintenance errors have other major consequences that impede efficiency and productivity of airline operations causing inconvenience to the flying public. Such consequences include delayed flights, flight diversion to the nearest airports, air turn backs and gate returns.
Criminalization of Aviation Accidents
Criminal investigations and prosecution of the parties involved in major aviation disaster continue relentlessly worldwide. In the last decade, various criminal proceedings have been commenced to solve aviation accidents in various countries like Greece, Brazil, France, Turkey, Spain and Indonesia. While the criminal investigations have existed for decades in the aviation industry, the current proliferation of these investigations is alarming. In fact, only 27 criminal proceedings that stemmed out from airlines or aviation industry were opened in the period of 19 years in the 20th century, compared to 30 criminal prosecutions during the first decade of the 21st century.
Investigation on Delta Airline Flight 191 Crash over Dallas Texas
In August 2nd, 1985, Delta airline flight 191 was on regular schedule providing domestic service from Fort Lauderdale in Florida to Los Angeles through Dallas. This Lockheed L-1011 flight encountered a microburst as it approached the taxiway 17Lat Fort Worth International Airport in Dallas. The pilot was attempting to escape the weather event, but it was unfortunate that the aircraft crashed onto the ground about a mile along the runway. The aircraft hit a moving car north of the airport and also impacted on two water reservoirs, which disintegrated it completely. This accident resulted to the death of 136 passengers and 11 crew members on board as well as the driver of the car. Only 16 passengers survived the crash.
Investigations by the National Transport Safety Board revealed that the crash was caused by the pilot’s decision to fly across a thunderstorm, lacking training on the procedure of avoiding a microburst and lack of hazard information on the display screen. Numerous agencies dealing with public safety responded to the crash and begun investigations immediately. However, the main blame for the accident was put on the pilot’s error basically because he decided to fly through a thunderstorm. NTSB also condemned the airport authorities for the lack of a system that would notify the emergency services in the neighboring towns in good time. Even though the on-site emergency services were notified immediately, the communication center could not notify the other emergency services immediately thus delaying the rescue operations. The DPs also failed to request more ambulances from the neighboring communities like Hurst, Irvine and Grapevine; although Hurst ambulances responded almost immediately after the crash report had been overheard from a radio-frequency scanner.
According to Adair, Captain Edward Connors had been an employee of the airline since 1954 and had qualified as a TriStar pilot upon passing all proficiency checks. The NTSB noted that the flight crew aboard the flight had flown with the captain for a considerable amount of time to understand one another. Since he qualified in 1979, Connors subsequently passed all proficiency tests of the en route inspection, and he had received constructive comments from his assessor in regards to cockpit discipline and standardization. In his entire career, Connors had logged for over 29,300 flight hours, and three thousand were on this particular type of plane. Rudolph Price was the first officer and was described as an ‘above average first officer’ with excellent knowledge of a TriStar type of aircraft having logged 6500 flight hours and 1200 on the TriStar. Nick Nassick was the second officer with 6500 flight hours logged 4500 of which was in the Tri-Star and was described as observant, alert and highly professional.
Despite the Crew’s experience and long-time service in the TriStar type of airplane and conversance with the route, the NTSB passed the blame on the pilots on the allegation that they were not able to decide effectively on the course of action after the microburst. This investigation triggered massive criminal accusations against the crew, and it was evident that had they survived the crash, they would have been brought to justice. Unfortunately, the criminal allegation against the pilots was unwarranted, even though it is too commonplace in investigations of aircraft accidents. Sanctions and criminal investigations should be reserved for deliberate acts of sabotage, and these kinds of criminalization in aviation accidents are not in anyone’s’ best interest. The notion that criminalization of accidents serves as a deterrent measure is unjustifiable. According to contemporary aviation professionals, laying blame on the aircraft crew is just a scheme by airport authorities and aviation companies to seek better ways of enhancing security and public safety in their aircrafts. As illustrated by Howell, Van and National Research Council, aviation firms and individuals already have their internal ways of deterring bad acts since they are in the safety business. Flight crew risk their own life all the time in the flight deck as they exercise judgment, and any effort to delay in getting the plane down in case of emergency can lead to a tragedy.
This kind of assumption by the airport authorities and airlines is erroneous because it increases the likelihood of reporting errors and hazards to the relevant people as they happen. Just like in the case of Flight 191 of Delta Airlines, the airport authorities failed to warn the pilot of bad weather leading to the crash. Such decisions have a negative impact on aviation safety because various departments required to improve on several aspects would not otherwise do so because the crew are to blame for most of the reasons in case of an accident.
The Concept of Just Culture in Aviation Safety
Just Culture is a culture where the front line operators and other highly responsible personnel go unpunished for actions, errors omissions, and decisions they take, which are commensurate to their experience and training, but due to gross negligence, willful violation and destructive actions that cannot be tolerated. It means that punishing the pilots and the air traffic controllers with fines and license suspension can discourage other front-line operators from reporting any kinds of errors and mistakes leading to the consequential reduction in safety information. It is thus fundamentally important to encourage the development of an environment where various occurrences are reported and acted upon through the investigation and development of preventive actions like retraining and improved supervision.
The concept of just culture does not necessarily mean that there is a complete protection of the frontline operators in case of an aviation accident or incidents. No one should be above the law. The process of interpreting the suitable and undesirable actions and behaviors is the responsibility of the judiciary. In fact, the administration of integrity and justice in different domains of criminal laws constitutes the pillars of the state’s sovereign functions even in civil aviation organizations.
This concept should replace the blame game in aviation industry because it can help to constantly improve the aviation systems at the core because all the employees can feel a little safer to raise their hands when they spot a mistake; they make an error or bad choice. This approach can support the system in self-updating its performance to reduce the occurrence of high risk events. If the entire aviation industry learns from the experience, it can be more efficient and safer in the future because the safety can be improved through the process of uninterrupted learning. The profitability of airlines can be strengthened due to increase of stability, efficiency and risks that are proactively managed. The morale of the employees can be highly increased because every person has a chance to be treated fairly and empowered to do the best within their position other than leveling blame to people who did not have another choice apart from doing what they did.
Flight safety is usually a shared responsibility and a collective effort because it involves the cooperation of all flight departments and personnel involved in running a flight. Airport authorities, Air Traffic Controls (ATC), aeroplane and avionic manufacturers, as well as the flight operators, have a special challenge and responsibility to ensure that there is a sustainable safe environment at the airport. Airports authorities must focus on providing visible and understandable signage signs as well as well-maintained and defined surfaces. They must provide safe and efficient airplane controls including the separation procedures and services. There is always a need to facilitate improvement through effective guidance and oversight.
Blaming culture has been a common excuse for poor performance in aviation in regards to human safety. Negligence, lack of responsibility and accountability have been the major contributors of accidents and incidents in-flight and off-flight. Reporting mistakes and errors lack had its impact on the declining state of aviation safety among some airlines and airports. Poor safety control and measurement have also led to criminalization of the wrong people and leaving the culpable serving in the unsafe aviation industry. Therefore, a change would be required to transform the mode of operation in and out of the flight to improve the rate of operational safety.
Aviation safety management is part of the airport operation which comprises of taxi, take-off, approach and landing operations that take place from the ground up to 2500 feet within a distance of five nautical miles from the airport. The solutions to flight deck designs should be developed along the following areas along the runway. To reduce this effect of blame and criminalization of the flight crew upon the occurrence of an accident, it would be necessary for all airlines and responsible units to develop the concept of ‘just culture’ in their operations to ease the problems related to aviation safety.
Once the causal factors in specific areas have been determined, the flight’s research and product development team can identify potential flight deck designs to assess their practicability, effectiveness and feasibility. These measures can help improve the rate of cooperation and honesty among aviation professionals by promoting the culture of information sharing thus improving the rate of aviation safety. With the right tools and system in place, reporting incidences can be enhanced by reducing the blaming culture because every department and the personnel involved can be held accountable in case of occurrence of an avoidable incidence.