Since being introduced nearly 20 years ago as a mandatory requirement for membership in IATA, the IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) has had a significant impact on aviation safety.

In aggregate, airlines on the IOSA registry outperform their non-IOSA counterparts. For example, in 2021, airlines on the IOSA registry had zero fatal accidents. And their all-accident rate was more than six times better than the rate for non-IOSA airlines (0.45 vs. 2.86).

The data is clear and has attracted non-IATA airlines to the scheme. Of the 400 or so carriers on the registry, more than 100 are not IATA members.

This track record of success is not being taken for granted, however, and the industry focus is always on getting safer. “Safety is about continuous improvement,” says Mark Searle, IATA’s Global Director of Safety. “There are major advances in aircraft technologies, and a multitude of other factors that have enhanced flight safety. Audit programs must do the same. We cannot stand still.”

Accordingly, IOSA is moving from a compliance-based approach to a risk-based approach to auditing.


Opportunities to improve

A risk-based methodology to safety audits is already utilized by leading aviation authorities, such as the UK Civil Aviation Authority. The aim is to provide a deeper dive into specific areas of risk, thereby providing greater understanding of the issues involved and identifying opportunities to improve.

Safety Management Systems highlight the point. The IOSA Standards and Recommended Practices (ISARPs) check that an airline has an SMS in place. Moving to a risk-based approach means going beyond box ticking to evaluate the effectiveness of an SMS in practice.

“For example, what if an airline has opened a new route that involves some difficult geography, such as a mountain range close to the destination, that is unlike any other route on the network?” asks Searle. “Risk-Based IOSA would want to understand how new risks, relating to this new operation, were being managed.

“It becomes a bespoke audit,” he continues. “Is the airline doing anything differently that has changed its risk profile, and what is it doing about it?”

This makes the risk-based approach a more dynamic process. That could provide some initial challenges to airlines, as they adapt to the new methodology, but at the same time it will allow them to get fresh insights into safety issues that wouldn’t have been available by going through the 960-strong IOSA audit checklist. Searle notes that many airlines are looking for this deeper dive to help them derive greater value from the IOSA process, given the investment in time and resources that IOSA entails.


What happens next?

There will be a phased approach to introducing the new look IOSA, and five trials of the new process are underway. In 2023, the plan is for 20 official, risk-based audits, which will allow the capabilities needed to perform the audit to be ramped up. Some 100 risk-based audits will follow in 2024 and the transformation will come into full effect in 2025.

IATA will act as the guardian of the program and begin to contract auditors directly. Bringing the auditing function in-house will help ensure consistency, through greater auditor standardization, even as each audit differs somewhat depending on the individual airline’s risk factors. And though IOSA audits run on a strict bi-annual basis, the risk-based approach makes a variable audit cycle possible in the future. That could mean airlines need to dedicate less time and fewer resources to an audit, saving cost.

How regulators evaluate or use IOSA in their own safety programs will also need to adapt. “The relationship with the regulatory authorities will be key,” admits Searle. “Risk-based oversight can be hard for some governments to understand. But we know that the US Federal Aviation Administration and the European Aviation Safety Agency support this approach.”

The Memorandum of Understandings that IATA has with countries concerning IOSA will be updated to reflect the new risk-based methodology.

“It is right that we come out of the pandemic with a determination to keep safety at the top of every airline agenda,” says Searle. “Risk-Based IOSA is a great opportunity moving forward and evolves the industry’s unwavering commitment to keeping everybody safe.”

Risk-based IOSA and other topics affecting industry safety will be discussed at the forthcoming IATA Safety Conference, Dubai 25-27 October.


Credit | Kritsana_Bunpok / Shutterstock