Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Aviation Industry Cutbacks and Air Safety

airlinerIs air safety being threatened by cutbacks in the aviation industry?  Respondents to a recent survey seem to think so.

Ascend, an aerospace information consultancy, just released a summary of the results of a very recent  survey.  Respondents to the survey, who  were described as nearly 200 'aviation insiders' in over 40 countries, were asked to rank a list of safety threats in order of importance, from 1 (least important) to 10 (most important).  According to Ascend, these  insiders rated the top five threats this way:
  • Airline management experience/attitudes/culture +8
  • Shortage of experienced personnel +7
  • Airline financial health +7
  • Fatigue/difficult work practices +7
  • Complacency +6
A press release about the Ascend survey results notes:
The results come shortly after Captain Chesley Sullenberger’s comments that cost cutting practices, putting pressure on airline staff, are threatening safety. Speaking about his successful landing of US Airways flight 1549 in New York’s Hudson river, he said, “One way of looking at this might be that, for 42 years, I’ve been making regular deposits in this bank of experience: education and training. And on January 15th the balance was sufficient so that I could make a very large withdrawal.” Sullenberger is alarmed at practices, which he fears threaten that bank.

Ascend Safety director Paul Hayes agrees with the sentiment. “Industry cutbacks are causing concerns. Aviation personnel are aware that they are working harder for less money, and they link this with increased risks to safety,” he says.
At the same time, however, the majority of those who responded to the Ascend survey also said that aviation safety has improved over the past five years (52%), and that it will continue to improve over the next five years (58%).

And what will drive that improvement?

More than half of respondents to the Ascend air safety survey listed "Increased adoption of available safety equipment" (52%), and "New technology (Ground/ATC)" (51%) as among the top three drivers of continued improvements to air safety. Nearly as many chose "New technology (aircraft)" and "Management accountable for safety" (47% for each).

Hayes points out that "respondents overwhelmingly placed responsibility for continued improvement with management. They feared that inexperience, fatigue and complacency threaten the value of safety improvements."

"It’s important for aviation management to take these views onboard and respond accordingly, seeking to balance economic challenges with appropriate levels of safety training and sound work practices," says Hayes.

Here is a link to some charts illustrating some of the Ascend survey data.