Aviation’s safety record is exemplary. The latest figures show that in 2021 airlines on the IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) registry—which includes all IATA members—experienced zero fatal accidents.

And, for the first time in at least 15 years, there were no runway/taxiway excursion accidents.

On average, a person would need to take a flight every day for 10,078 years to be involved in an accident with at least one fatality.

Nevertheless, the desire to continuously improve flight safety remains, stresses Mark Searle, IATA’s Global Director for Safety. “And, as air traffic resumes its growth after a hiatus, it’s more important than ever that we identify new opportunities to mitigate the risks of an aircraft accident,” he says. “This isn’t easy because our achievements to date have delivered significant improvements in flight safety and so, looking forward, we are focused on creating marginal gains through a more refined approach to enhance safety performance.”

This desire to progress in an ever-changing, ever-safer industry has led to a new IATA safety strategy based on a holistic, end-to-end approach built on three pillars.


Safety Leadership

The first pillar in the revamped safety strategy is safety leadership. This aims to support airline executives and industry leaders across the world, set a tone that enables effective safety conversations across the workforce, and through consistent messaging ensure staff take personal ownership of safety, no matter the job title.

Safety leadership emphasizes the importance of individual safety accountability within an organization’s safety culture. It provides a huge boost to safety efforts by promoting the importance of reporting, increasing safety intelligence, and ensuring safety performance programs are delivering on the right things.

It is typified by Just Culture, which entitles an employee to make observations on their own performance or the performance of others in a non-punitive environment.

To assist safety leaders, IATA has developed the Safety Leadership Charter to support a positive safety culture within airlines. The Charter lays out a number of guiding principles, including:

  1. Fostering safety awareness with employees, the leadership team, and the board
  2. Integrating safety into business strategies, processes, and performance measures
  3. Creating the internal capacity to proactively manage safety and collectively achieve organizational safety goals
  4. Developing an atmosphere of trust, where employees are encouraged and confident to report safety-related information
  5. Establishing a working environment in which clear expectations of acceptable and unacceptable behaviors are communicated and understood
  6. Building an environment where all employees feel responsibility for safety.

A forthcoming series of talks from safety leaders—available from the IATA website in due course—will reinforce the principles of the charter.

“Leaders set an example and demonstrate, through their words and actions, a commitment to safety,” says Searle. “It is an approach that is proven to improve safety.”


Safety risk

The second pillar of the new safety strategy is safety risk—how could IATA support, in a single repository, the effective dissemination of systemic industry hazards and risks?

The pandemic provided an opportunity to collate specific issues in a constantly changing operating environment, including how the industry managed the need for staff to be retrained following furlough, how airframes and engines were being brought out of storage, and a host of new working practices introduced to comply with health regulations.

The Global Safety Risk Management Framework (GSRMF) was developed to address these emerging safety risks. The GSRMF is available to all IATA members and generates a global picture of safety risks which, through generic safety risk assessments and guidance material, highlights potential mitigations. The GSRMF will also identify, prioritize, and deliver IATA safety improvement programs to support the continued reduction in global accidents.

Additional developments will support the safety risk pillar. IOSA, for example, will provide more granular safety insights as it evolves into a risk-based audit program. “There is a lot of knowledge gained from IOSA audits that can provide additional detail through the safety conversations we have with those in the program” says Searle.

Pilot audits for the IOSA risk-based approach will be conducted later this year. The most obvious illustration of the change is a focus on local conditions to see where an airline might be exposed to greater risk.

As before, all data will feed into the Global Aviation Data Management (GADM) platform, which will further industry understanding of safety through artificial intelligence (AI)-driven data analytics.

“Everybody in aviation is pushing boundaries because it is such a competitive industry,” says Searle. “It’s important we understand the impact of new technologies, new procedures, and new working practices and act, where appropriate, to maintain aviation’s excellent safety record.”

This doesn’t necessarily mean there will be more safety concerns but rather that the precursors to accidents and incidents may change. This was the case with the utilisation of composite materials in airframes. Safety checks previously looked for damage to the fuselage or wings, but composite materials were affected differently. The end result—checking the integrity of the airframe—is the same but the factors affecting it are different.


Safety connect

The third pillar of the new safety strategy is safety connect. It is a platform designed to enhance the global collaboration of airline safety and compliance teams through proactive communication on all things related to aviation safety. Benefits include:

  • Discussion channels where safety professionals can ask and answer questions to help evolve best practice
  • Easy access to the appropriate IATA team members for assistance
  • Regular news and updates from IATA’s central and regional safety teams
  • A repository of documentation related to various safety disciplines.

“The safety mindset is maturing, and we are getting greater granularity on issues that affect the whole airline community,” says Searle. “Safety connect will make sure that this detail gets out to wider world,” says Searle. “We have the potential to help the less mature airlines through effective information exchange and, by growing the safety connect community all the time, we are reaching every corner of the world.

“We have always been committed to safety,” he concludes. “But now is the time to be overt and shout about it. The new safety strategy is an important development that will empower us to make a safe industry even safer.”


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