Aviation Safety Management for Civil Aviation Essay


These days the term safety is used frequently in aviation - Aviation Safety Management for Civil Aviation Essay introduction. More importantly organizations in the aviation industry are gaining strategic advantage by creating a favorable image in the minds of the public that portrays them as genuinely caring about the safety of their employees and customers. This is done with the idea of safety at a reasonable cost and without a standardized definition of safety in the aviation setting. In many aspects the aviation industry resembles other high technology, high-risk industries such as the nuclear, oil and gas, and petrochemical industries, and therefore has similar concerns about safety. This similarity has influenced perception of safety in the aviation context.

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The aviation system is composed of various levels, each differing in their perception of safety (Curtis, 2000; Swedavia & McGregor, 1988). This would mean that the definition of safety perceived at one level, might not be the same at another level. Lowrance (1976) tackled the confusion about the nature of safety by defining it “as a judgment of the acceptability of risk, and risk, in turn, as a measure of the probability and severity of harm to human health” (p. 8). In other words, anything is safe if its risks are judged to be acceptable. With this in mind and the premise that no man-made system can be absolutely safe, one can only talk about relative safety, and the understanding that simply because a flight is completed without an accident it does not mean that the flight was risk free and, therefore, safe (Profit, 1995, p. 16). Despite the unclear nature of the term, some concrete definitions are offered such as “freedom from risk or danger” (McAllister, 2001, p. 88) and”the act of keeping safe” (Profit, 1995, p. 16). Helmreich and Merritt (2001) think about safety as an abstract concept rather than a binary condition defined by safe and unsafe conditions. They suggested that it is a continuum that covers an array of conditions, practices and resources that are likely to vary from one place to another. Every organization attempts to operate as safely as resources and conditions permit. Further, it is speculated that the very definition of safety is culturally determined (Merritt, 1998). With this in mind, it is hypothesized that the perception of safety in the aviation environment in United States would be unique.

Violation of safety in the aviation context is not uncommon. There are deliberate deviations from regulated codes or procedures (Reason, 1993). According to Reason, violations take place due to psychological precursors of unsafe acts, organizational deficiencies (line management decisions), corporate actions (senior management decisions), and inadequate defenses.

There is a motivational basis for these that need to be understood within the context of an organization (Reason). Maurino, Reason, Johnston and Lee (1995) provide a framework to understand violations and define these as deviations, deliberate or erroneous, from safe operating practices, procedures, standards, or rules and classify them as skill-based level, rule based level, and knowledge-based level. They describe that violations at the skill-based level form part of a person’s repertoire of skilled actions and that such actions often involve corner cutting and are carried out routinely in an unresponsive environment. Violations at the rule-based level tend to be deliberate acts carried out in the belief that they will not result in bad consequences and that such violations are the outcome of cost-benefit tradeoffs— with the benefits exceeding the costs. Finally, violations at the knowledge-based level occur as a result of actions taken to tackle an unexpected occurrence of a rare but trained-for situation, or an unlikely combination of individually familiar situation (pp. 16-21).

In Aviation safety report (CAA, 2002) a violation is defined as “an unintentional but not necessarily malevolent behavior that may or may not lead to a bad outcome.” Some examples from the safety report are as follows:

1. The relatively inexperienced pilot did not perceive that the flock of seagulls posed a threat to his light aircraft and flew through them during the approach, rather than completing a go around from 200 feet.

2. The check pilot signed off the first officer for an approach into an airfield after completion of only 5 of the 6 approaches required under their company regulations.

3. The visual flight rules (VFR)-only pilot frequently flew aircraft in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) weather conditions knowing that company management was aware of and did not overtly object to this kind of behavior.

4. The engineer adopted practices, which he considered normal and safe, but which provided evidence of a poor safety culture. The engineer placed unserviceable part on a shelf next to serviceable parts.

5. With the knowledge at hand that violations occur, due to a variety of reasons, the present paper endeavors to find the motivational factors behind such behavior in the civil aviation industry in United States.

The aviation system incorporates various sub-systems such as aircraft maintenance, airports, aircraft manufacturers, and airspace management for safety. In addition, human factors and organizational factors are paramount in making the system safe and efficient. Invariably, accidents occur when pre-existing and long-standing hidden failures within managerial and organizational sectors are combined with local triggering conditions on the flight deck, in air traffic control centers and in maintenance facilities that penetrate or bypass the aviation system’s multiple defenses (Reason, 1990).

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) at the global level and civil aviation authorities at state levels are finding innovative ways to improve safety in the industry in an on-going manner. For example, the United Kingdom Civil Aviation Authority (UK CAA) recognizes the value of safety management systems to achieve high levels of safety performance (2002). Similarly, the Civil Aviation Authority of New Zealand (CAA NZ) has taken steps to enhance safety culture in the industry by identifying safety issues impacting the industry through safety forums (2003). These forums identified 18 problematic areas in need of urgent attention to improve safety culture in the aviation industry in United States.

In the aviation environment safety could not be guaranteed, it can only be forecasted. Its assurance comes only when the operation is completed safely. Forecasted safety depends on the perceived capability of the safety delivery system in which operations are conducted safely. A safety delivery system incorporates all stakeholders who are responsible, directly and/or indirectly, for the safe completion of an operation. With this in mind, forecasted safety is defined as a situation dependent upon the safety delivery system for a safe outcome.

For this to happen, certain vital conditions and organizational processes need to be present in the safety delivery system. Some examples of these are as follows:

1. Existence of a safety plan incorporating an effective and efficient safety management system;

2. Allocation of resources to effectively implement the plan;

3. Senior management to take interest in safety, own the safety plan and lead by example;

4. Active participation of staff in the safety plan both in principal and in the doing;

5. An effective reporting structure to deal with emerging safety issues;

6. Active participation of the regulator, the CAA NZ, in the industry to provide guidance and monitor safety;

7. Competent and safety-conscious staff; and

8. Safety-conscious culture in the organization.

In sum, favorable organizational dynamics would enhance safety. In other words, if management is committed to safety and puts in place a well resourced safety plan, implements the plan effectively, motivates staff, and upholds safety norms through leading by example, then the organization is likely to achieve the forecasted safety. Furthermore, forecasted safety is perceived as the outcome of a partnership—based predominantly on commitment to safety—between the various stakeholders such as employer and employees, suppliers and customers, and the regulatory authority.

Reasons for violation and non-violation of safety

In order to understand why some employees violate safety, it is important to know why others do not engage in this behavior. Table 1 presents reasons for violation and non-violation of safety. Findings show an interesting comparison between motivational factors leading to violation and non-violation of safety. Violations appear to be due to deficiencies in training, skills, knowledge, experience, and organizational processes. These are also attitudinal.

Improvement of safety in aviation

There are ample ideas to improve safety in aviation. These are presented in thematic categories.

Effective accident/incident reporting system

A speedy, non-judgmental and non-punitive approach is required for reporting incidents and safety issues. This would cut down the lapsed time between occurrences and feedback, and encourage honest reporting. An anonymous reporting system would encourage everyone to report safety concerns without fear. For the reporting system to be effective, everyone needs to have the confidence that the reported concerns would be addressed.

Human resource management

Job continuity and security is essential to developing a safe and viable general aviation industry. Management needs to take a keen interest in human resource issues in order to address constraints and limitations experienced by staff. For example, poor pay and a lack of career opportunities for general aviation flight instructors often create a situation wherein an instructor cannot afford to stay in the instructor’s role after reaching an experience level acceptable to airlines. Consequently, the best instructors are lost. There is a need to praise and reward staff and provide opportunities for career development to improve motivation and morale and to lift achievement level. The airline industry needs to put something back in the general aviation sector to support the training of pilots. Thus, by producing better quality flying instructors—with more category B pilots with higher experience—this sector would be strengthened. Compulsory safety training for all certificate holders on a regular basis, and more training courses for flight safety officers are needed. Training in the safety culture throughout United States, by the CAA US, would significantly enhance safety in the industry.

Effective organizational processes

Management needs to communicate, in a non-threatening manner, to all staff all incidents and accidents and their outcomes. For example, having a summary of all incidents and accidents available in written form for the crew to review would keep everyone in the safety loop. Senior staff members needs to meets regularly to practice their skills to maintain currency without threat of reprisal or failure of test.

Role of CAA US

The CAA US needs to arrange and/or sponsor industry seminars for instructor courses and make attendance compulsory at these events for renewal of ratings. For example, a team of instructors could be set-up to run such workshops around the country. The CAA US should carry out audits more frequently, but needs to keep its safety investigation reports separate from its infringement investigation reports. This is essential to remove the culture of fear currently operating in the industry. The cost of government charges for publications and tests is extremely high; this leads to operators having to use outdated publications and materials. Finally, the CAA US needs to be forceful and actively enforce standards and rules.

Conclusion and Recommendations

The findings of this study support the notion that safety is somewhat subjective and therefore difficult to conceptualize, as it varies in different environments (Helmreich & Merritt, 2001). The concept of forecasted safety depicts reliance on the capability of the safety delivery system for a safe outcome. This shows that safety is to be conceptualized within this framework. In other words, safety is not perceived to be an absolute phenomenon, but rather a calculated prediction based on one’s confidence in the ability of the safety delivery system to ensure safety from beginning-to end.

It is therefore expected to vary across systems and organizations. The hypothesis that the perception of safety in the aviation industry in United States would be unique appears to be confirmed. However, this definition needs to be further explored with a sample within the United States aviation industry.

Findings on violation of safety are somewhat similar to those indicated in the literature (Maurino et al., 1995; Reason, 1993). However, violation of safety due to poor attitude toward safety, and for personal and financial gains is new and somewhat of a concern. This may be the psychological precursors of unsafe acts (Reason, 1993). This aspect needs to be further explored as it may indicate intent of malaise. The intent may be attitudinal and quite often innocent, but could have serious implications for safety, as the aviation system works because of compliance of standards and regulatory procedures.

This is not to say that some legitimate deviations are not allowed.

Suggestions about improving safety in the industry have highlighted a number of deficiencies in the aviation system. Interestingly, these deficiencies have also been mentioned as reasons for violation of safety (see Table 1). Specifically these are organizational deficiencies such as poor communication, inadequate management and supervision, and poor safety culture. Furthermore, participants have highlighted some local triggering conditions such as lack of knowledge of complexity of issues in the industry and deficiency in flying training and experience among industry professionals. These may be the pre-existing conditions and long-standing failures in organizations waiting to penetrate or bypass the defense system (Reason, 1990).

By cross-examining the responses to reasons of violation and nonviolation

and ways to improve safety, the survey questions can be validated against each other, and against reasons of safety violation established in the literature (Maurino et al., 1995) and those identified in the Safety Reports of the CAA NZ (2002). Unfortunately in this pilot study it was not possible to collect information on respondents’ own reasons of violations and non-violations to make comparison with those identified in the study. While this step in the validation processes remains to be carried out, the survey questions have shown strength for identifying causes of safety violation and non-violation.

The findings of this study have indicated the need for further research in a number of areas. The subjective notion of forecasted safety is interesting. Violation of safety due to poor attitude toward safety and personal and financial gain is of concern. Strategies identified to improve safety in the aviation system appear to be valid and worthy of consideration. Finally, the questions asked in this preliminary study have received some intriguing responses. These require further exploration in order to validate the concerns raised.

Table 1. Reasons for violation and non-violation of safety

Some employees violate safety because…

Lack of knowledge and/or experience

Lack of knowledge of complexity of issues in the industry

Lack of flying experience

Lack of training and awareness

Lack of communication of verbal and written materials

Lack of safety courses and briefings

Poor management and supervision

Poor safety structure

Poor auditing

Anti-authoritarian attitude

Financial gains

“Gotta get there” attitude

Some employees do not violate safety because…

Inherent self-preservation

Responsible individuals


Fear of an accident, of “getting caught”

Professional, conscientious and dedicated to work at the highest possible standards

Personal pride and professionalism

Being safety conscious

CAA/FAA rules and regulations

Audits by CAA

Proper procedures for accountability of checks


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Aviation Authority of New Zealand Web site: http://www.caa.govt.nz/fulltext/ Towards_2005_Discussion.pdf.

CAA NZ. (2002, December 19). Aviation safety report. Wellington: Civil Aviation Authority of New Zealand.

Curtis, T., 2000. Understanding aviation safety data. Warrendale, PA: SAE

Publications Group.

Helmreich, R. L., & Merritt, A. C. (2001). Local solutions for global problems: The need for specificity in addressing human factor issues. Retrieved from


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