When it comes to a commitment to safety, the aviation industry has been at the forefront of “doing what is right for many, many decades,” according to Sir Charles Haddon-Cave, Right Honourable Lord Justice, who addressed the IATA Safety Conference.

Further, the safety lessons from the aviation industry have gone out to many other sectors, including medicine, railways, and oil and gas, he said.

The Lord Justice, who led the accident investigation into the loss of RAF Nimrod XV230 in 2006, which caused the single biggest loss of life of British service personnel since the Falklands War, recounted the series of missteps over many years that led to the loss of the Nimrod through an on-board fire. In the end, the tragedy represented a failure of leadership, culture, and priorities, his investigation concluded.

Under the title, “Safety Leadership is Everyone’s Job,” he delivered a stark message to attendees: “These are difficult and I’m afraid potentially very risky times for the commercial aviation industry. Rebuilding the skills base and experience base…hollowed out by COVID, is a huge recruitment and training challenge.” Doing so while there are “huge operational and financial imperatives” to get back to full schedules and profitability “will not be easy. Resisting pressure to cut corners, to use people who are not quite ready for the job…will be very, very important,” he said.

The Lord Justice also cautioned against complexity, which he called “the enemy of safety;” change for change’s sake, which “can be dangerous as well as wasteful;” and complacency: “Don’t assume because we were good at this before, that we’re still good at it today or tomorrow, when 50% of our workforce has been on furlough or gone off to do something else and we’re having to recruit and train.”

The panel discussion that followed maintained the focus on safety leadership and a just safety culture. Robert Palmer, Air Canada’s Managing Director Safety and Security, cited the need to talk about prioritizing safety above all other considerations, including customer service and on-time performance. That message needs to permeate and be firmly believed across the organization, he said. It also needs to be linked to a just culture.

Hideaki Miyachi, 787 Captain and Deputy VP Flight Safety, Japan Airlines, made the point that discipline is not equivalent to accountability. The basis of a just culture is that employees are encouraged to report mistakes and are not punished for doing so. But Miyachi also acknowledged cultural challenges to creating an open reporting culture.

Mark Burtonwood, Emirates Airline Senior VP Group Safety, said that if airlines do not create a reporting environment “you will drive the knowledge underground” losing valuable safety information.


Credit | IATA