Article by Capt Bertrand de Courville, ECAST Co-chair.
His speech was dedicated to key managers and beyond, to all personnel involved. Some may think we cannot compare. I do not agree. His message was: “Be proud of what you are doing, know the hazards, never underestimate the risk, never forget that human lives are involved, and that people who trust you are watching you”. How do the expectations of the aviation industry differ from these? They don’t.
Today our customers’ expectations make commercial aviation very challenging. We are operating in a “zero tolerance” environment regarding accidents. At the same time we must stay economically viable. Flying has always and will always produce risks. The documented processes, safety equipment, standard operating procedures, and certified training programmes which we must utilize might be perceived as pure administrative or bureaucratic costs. In reality, most of them reflect the lessons learnt from years of experience, billions of flight hours and a significant number of past accidents analysis. A few weeks in major airline operations gather more experience than the whole career of a single individual agent. For this simple reason we have to respect these rules. Because all these requirements are documented, checked, crosschecked, and audited we can prove that we are in regulatory compliance. While fundamental this regulatory aspect of our business will not make us safe enough.
If we look at our aircrafts’ cockpits and cabins, we may notice that a lot of work has been done during the past 20 years. In addition to design improvements, key characteristics of safe and efficient crews have been identified and put into practice. When we observe the following evidence: captain’s leadership, commitment to comply with the rules, clear tasks sharing, open communication, appropriate level of risk awareness related to each task and phase of flight, error management, ability to listen and to actively look for information to make safe decisions, then without hesitation, we can say we have an optimum crew. This goes much beyond meeting regulatory requirements.
What is true for our crew today is also true at a corporate level. We need good management leadership, strong culture of compliance, open communication at every level enabling a continuous learning and adaptation process, ability to look for information and ideas from outside to adopt best practices, recognition of human error as part of every human activity, use of “fail safe” processes and procedures in accordance with error management principles.
When such a professional culture at the front line meets its equivalent at the corporate level, all the prerequisites are there to be a safe organisation. When the question of cost will be raised, “production” and “protection” aspects will be addressed with an equal attention. The safest possible “balance” will be maintained.
Definitely, we are not “in the business of making shoes”.