Friday, 8 April 2011

Air Safety- A need for more widely ranging crash investigations.

Following the publication of the Lebanese investigators' preliminary report Flight International leads this week with an editorial on some similarities between the Ethiopian Beirut and Kenya Airways Douala 737 crashes. At the same time the discovery of more wreckage from the Air France A330 crash gives hope that the flight recorders may be found and more clues emerge about the cause. Airbus will be particularly keen to identify and factors which could affect the future safety of its other aircraft ranging from the 318 to the 380.We may also get some information as to why the Air France crew decided to continue on a path which looked as if it took them into a storm when others were navigating around the worst of it.

Investigations of accidents and incidents great and small are always valuable and contribute to the experience bank of all concerned ,thereby helping to avoid repetition or enabling any repeat of the circumstances to be better dealt with. Operational, technical and crew issues are usually well covered and aim to track the causative factors back to source. Eventually one or two people or groups are left holding the baby, one all too frequently being the operating crew who just happen to be flying on the day and in the pressures of the moment don't handle things as well as subsequent simulations show they could have or that either individually or that as a team they were just a disaster waiting to happen anyway.

One factor though is usually missing.The corporate culture, behaviours and real attitude to safety in the Head Offices. The searchlight seldom focuses on what happens in the CEO's office, around the Board and executive management tables and within the departments concerned. We see little about the morale and motivation of the company,the managment style and all the things which feed through to how the crews feel they are expected or have to function on the day. How is selection and promotion done and on what criteria? How transparent is it? How are poor performers managed? How do the unions behave? Is safety their top priority or do other factors take precedence or cast doubt on the ethic? Are staff at all levels and in all functions aware that safety comes first and even if it is said to do they believe it? Does actual management behaviour support a safety first culture and those who make even uncomfortable decisions to guarantee it on the day. Do politics and politicians internal or external have an effect? A total audit of all these questions should be attached to every major accident report and indeed be kept current by an independent, insightful and courageously forthright specialist assessor at least annually.

An accident or incident is usually manufactured well before and far from the day and scene of the event. If a crew were less than a match for the situation ,who was responsible for the processes by which they came to be sitting in the seats they were and what criteria had they used to allow that to happen? A bigger and more penetrating searchlight on this is needed,- and all over the world.

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