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Published:November 5th, 2006 07:58 EST
International Safety Forum Safety Challenge

International Safety Forum Safety Challenge

By SOP newswire

Thank you, Madam Secretary. Good morning, and thank you all for coming. You know, there are 194 countries on this planet, and there are more than 50 countries here with us today. Now that’s something. For those of you who are new to this forum, welcome. And to those who’ve been before, good to see you again.

I’ve been asked to deliver a safety challenge and as we in this business know, safety is just that — a challenge. The task of moving people and goods safely and efficiently and securely from point A to point B isn’t easy. What makes it even more challenging is that on the whole, we’ve been doing it very well. We’ve been able to amass a safety record that’s unparalleled.

So the safety challenge, in a nutshell, is how do you take it to the next level? What will not only maintain this fabulous record but will position us to improve on that record as operations grow? I think the answer to that is safety management systems. They allow us to dig deep. They help us uncover things and in so doing, change the way we look at our operation.

Case in point: Battery Park in New York City, one of the oldest public open spaces in Manhattan. The Battery’s been around for centuries. It’s an area of about two dozen acres right on the shoreline of the Hudson River.

Now recently, the City of New York took steps to replace the subway there. It’d been around for more than a hundred years. Enter construction crews. In December of 2005, they were digging away and hit a wall, literally, a wall that was buried about 10 feet below the surface. The wall was perpendicular to their path.

As you’d expect, everything stopped. The burning question: what the heck is this? The construction crew may have phrased that a little more pointedly. The “it” turned out to be a wall that archaeologists say was built 240 years before. Maybe by the British. Maybe by the colonists. “Who” took a back seat to what. The answer: they’d uncovered a subterranean wall three feet high, eight feet thick and 40 feet long.

Enter the conservationists, and rightly so. And while plans were being made for the identification, dismantling and relocation, a second wall was discovered; longer, taller, except constructed with logs at the base.

“Hitting the wall” is an American phrase that came from marathon runners in the 1970s. You don’t think of it in terms of construction sites, but in this case, you can imagine how they felt when they discovered wall number three. More than 100 feet long and nine feet thick.

But the question remained: why was this wall put there? Considerable conjecturing suggested that it was a seawall, providing protection from erosion.

I’ll keep that a mystery until the end, but my point in telling this story is that the deeper you dig, the more you discover about what’s going on, about what you’re doing. You won’t learn how you operate until you get below the surface. And when you do, you find precious pieces of data. You learn about how things have been done, and how some mistakes just get covered over.

Here are a handful of issues that popped up in Battery Park: What is it? How do you preserve it? Where do you put it? How do you dismantle it? Should you dismantle it? Who owns it? Will this jeopardize our funding? Will this information jeopardize our schedule? Should we just cover it back up? Maybe we should just look the other way.

There’s not a one of us here who doesn’t see the parallels to aviation. We need to be sure we’re not looking the other way. We need a rigorous and formalized approach to identifying hazards, assessing the related risk, and identifying and prioritizing the best way to intervene. Then, we measure the effectiveness of our actions. It’s a continuous loop. That’s your basic safety management system. Make no mistake about this one: Safety Management Systems are the way to surmount those inevitable walls that seem impenetrable, the walls that seem to come out of nowhere, some of them below the surface just waiting to be discovered.

It is tough to do, but I don’t know that we really have much of a choice. Right now, the commercial fatal accident rate in the United States is about two fatal accidents for every 10 million takeoffs. The forecasts anticipate that we should expect a doubling or tripling of the amount of traffic in the system over the next 10 to 20 years.

The question is elementary:  Is it acceptable to us, or the flying public, if the number of accidents double or triple as well? I don’t think so. We know that the passenger numbers continue to climb beyond a billion by 2015. We know, for example that there may be 5,000 very light jets in the system by 2016. NetJets, a U.S. fractional ownership operation, has a larger fleet than some U.S. airlines. And we know we should anticipate the emergence of unmanned aerial systems as well.

Just last week, I attended a commercial space conference for the X Prize Cup in New Mexico. They’ve got plans that are rapidly coming to fruition as well. That’s another wrinkle to an ever-expanding national (international) airspace (aerospace) system.

So with all that on the table, with a system that’s growing rapidly more complex by the day, we can no longer rely primarily on forensic studies of accidents to determine our next steps. It’s a straightforward approach. The accident occurs. We analyze it. We take steps to prevent its recurrence.

The forensic approach got us largely where we are, and that’s the world standard for safety — the best of the best.

But to get to the next level, we need to move beyond forensics to data analysis. From an analysis of what has happened to an analysis of what the data show might happen with a certain degree of probability.

It comes down to managing risk. You have to know the hazards — the consequences of what can hurt us. Then you must assess the likelihood that it will happen — the risk. And then, of course, the severity. The purpose of a safety management system is to provide a systematic way to eliminate, mitigate, or manage risk and to provide assurance that those actions are effective.

The key to the future of aviation safety hinges on the sharing of information. And that information must be shared. We need to remove impediments that would prohibit sharing. ICAO calls it a “just culture,” and they’re absolutely right. ICAO reports that “lack of full and open reporting continues to pose a considerable barrier to further safety progress in many areas.” Let’s face it: there’s no place for fear in safety. A safety culture is a just culture. We need to instill a mindset, a mindset that revolves around a safety culture. Continuous efforts on safety improvements must come from lessons learned. And that’s the by-product of a conducive reporting environment — a just culture.

With that as context, the information we gather and share will require hard study and analysis. It will require that we take a disciplined, methodical approach, and that we are all united against quick snap judgments and sensationalizing the data. It will require a long, hard continuous look at what’s happening every day, not just in our airline and airport operations, but in our operations as oversight authorities if we want to take safety to the next level.

I’m proud to say that at the FAA we’re making that move. On October 16, the FAA’s aviation safety organization was determined by an independent auditor to meet the ISO 9001 standards. It’s the first U.S. Government organization of its size and complexity to achieve certification to this prestigious standard. That means we have established a system that covers multiple services, including national and international sites. In this case, that’s 6,462 employees.

As many of you know, ISO is the world’s largest developer of voluntary international standards. Our certification covers the Flight Standards and Aircraft Certification services, and the offices of Aerospace Medicine, Rulemaking, Accident Investigation, Air Traffic Safety Oversight, Suspected Unapproved Parts, and Quality Integration.

We’ve taken a step up. We’re applying the same rigorous standards to ourselves that business must meet. The regulator and the regulated must toe the same line. And that, let me say, is exactly as it should be.

I’m sharing this with you because data sharing is an important part of the safety message. Sharing safety data is essential to achieving a stronger future for aviation safety. Today, we don’t even know how much safety information is out there. Operators, manufacturers, repair stations, suppliers — all the way across the aviation community board. Nick Sabatini, the head of the FAA’s aviation safety organization, maintains that we collect barely five percent of the available data. Where’s the other 95? Good question. If we’re going to continue to put downward pressure on the accident rate, we need far more information about emerging trends, precursors. We need to know more about what is going on every day in the operating, maintenance, and manufacturing environments.

When we share this information, we put ourselves in the place where diagnostics becomes prognostics. Remember, the low-hanging fruit is gone. Sharing information on what we see, what we find, that’s the way of the future.

So here’s where we are. The system is growing here in the States and abroad. The vehicles are changing. The technology is changing. From a safety standpoint, we can’t tolerate any increase in accidents, and we want to drive the rate down.

Let me say in closing that the answer to the safety challenge is not only technology.

Technology is important, and you’ll see the new technologies here on exhibit from NextGen to RNAV to RNP to ADS-B, ATOP — the sea of alphabets is out there. But we’re also looking at international safety policies, the backbone of any global safety system. You’ll hear about emerging risks at the airports. Global manufacturing and maintenance. Performance based air traffic control. The role of safety recertification and regulation in privatized ATC.

You know, I could go on and on but let me just say this — there are a lot of people both here and abroad that care a whole lot about aviation safety and I’m glad that we’re all pulling in the same direction.

I’ve covered quite a bit of ground but the metaphor I raised at the beginning is something we need to keep in the forefront as this conference proceeds. The wall, the archaeological experts believe, is from the original gun battery that gave Battery Park its name. The deeper you dig, the more you learn. For aviation, the deeper you dig, the more you learn, the safer you get. We can’t afford to be content with the status quo. We’re the safest of all time and we can’t afford to hit the wall.

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