Incidents and accidents involving aircraft will always gain significant media attention, yet there is no doubt that commercial air transport is the safest form of travel today. It is incumbent on the industry to keep it that way, continually improving its record, particularly in areas of the world where a safety culture is not as developed.
The way that aviation approaches even routine functions is being increasingly used by other sectors to improve their safety performance. Task checklists, regularly used by pilots in the flight deck for years, are now being applied to the medical profession and in high-risk work environments, for example nuclear power stations.
But the simple checklist is not the only area where industries can learn from air transport. The development of a robust and open safety culture is where real progress has been made.
A system called ‘Crew Resource Management’ promotes a culture of open communications and teamwork by all parts of the operation. Where problems arise, or have the potential to arise, any member of the crew (in the aircraft or on the ground) should feel comfortable with speaking up and raising the issue. Some air navigation service providers advocate a system known as ‘Just Culture’ whereby air traffic controllers and air traffic safety personnel are encouraged to report safety-related information without fear of punishment, except in cases of gross negligence or wilful violations.
Both Crew Resource Management and Just Culture prioritise teamwork and open communication. The information obtained from these open, interactive environments can be distributed to all levels, creating organisational learning and growth opportunities.
The industry also goes to great lengths to learn from faults that have caused accidents in the past, to ensure that these do not occur again. That is why the process to investigate aircraft incidents is a coordinated effort.
These methods have proved invaluable for the evolution of aviation safety and are being applied to other sectors, such as healthcare and firefighting, where complex systems and hierarchies have the potential to create risks.