Nigeria: Air Safety - a Global Perspective


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Capt Daniel Omale

As the World fleet multiplies and passenger traffic is counted in billions, one of aviation's major challenges is to drive down the accident rate. And meeting that goal, requires a new method of prevention, harvesting terabytes of data from safety reporting systems, to identify causal precursors and stop the smoking hole from happening (Aviation Week & Space Technology, October 1, 2007). We are living in an era of unprecedented aviation safety, both in the U.S and around the World. Last year, the U.S. recorded 0.223 total accidents, and 0.018 fatal accidents, per 100,000 departures (according to International Airline Association). 2006 was declared "the safest year ever" for world aviation with 1.0 accident per 1.5 million departures, and 0.65 fatal accidents for every 1 million departures.

From 1946 to the present, the U.S fatal accident rate dipped due to interventions put in place. In this period, the traditional post-accident diagnostic method of prevention was in play: first, the crash occurred; second, an investigative agency found probable cause; third, recommendations, regulations were enacted to prevent reoccurrence. Common- cause accidents are now rare in North America, and Europe. Each and every accident these days has unique circumstances.

The future is about identifying what could potentially happen, and the key to its success is working with industry to resolve the safety issues before us. Through analyzing data, precursors will be noted and interventions put in place before an accident occurs.

To move from diagnostic to prognostic accident analysis on a world scale, FAA is developing the Aviation Safety Information Analysis and Sharing (ASIAS) program that will be accessible to the global aviation community. ASIAS will gather safety data from government and industry sources. These include FAA's air traffic control data, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) accident/incident base, and established non-punitive safety data reporting systems, such as Flight Operational Quality Assurance and Aviation Safety Reporting Systems. The terabytes of dada are de-identified, grouped and studied to pinpoint trends.

How would data translate to saving lives? For example, following the NTSB's determination of the probable cause of the August 27, 2006, crash of Comair Flight 5191 at Lexington Blue Grass Airport, the flight crew's failure to use available cues to determine the aircraft's position led to a take off from the wrong runway that ended in a crash that killed 49 of 50 people on board. Parties to the investigation looked beyond that, and asked if there was cause for pilot confusion at select airports.

The ASIAS office examined 5.4millon records to discover that in a 20-year period, there were 117 isolated instances where flight crews reported confusion, while operating at certain U.S. airports. The available data is a challenge on how to determine what event(s) are of concern and require a paradigm to address them.

When a data indicated a rise in Category A runway incursions (where the greatest chance for collision exists), the FAA in August converted an unprecedented Call to Action with industry decision makers to address the urgent global issue of incursions.

The future demands joint efforts by the industry and government in finding solutions when data drive them together. The call for action translates into practical safety measures. Air Wisconsin for example, has initiated a simulator training scenario that begins at the gate and includes taxi out to the runway, rather than at the traditional starting point, the departure end of the runway. The airport community also must weigh in on runway markings that require improvement.

If the system is to work, aviation laws will require harmonization, with frastructure (both regulatory and physical) standardized worldwide. When it comes to safety, sovereignty has no boundary.

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As industry globalizes, it has to be more involved in global issues as well. A strong regulatory capability to build and enforce a safe system is required. If the regulator does not engage, one is handed an un-winnable fight. Though, it is difficult for most developing nations like Nigeria to live up to the safety record of the rest of the world because of economic growth, efforts and the vision of attaining safety standards cannot be compromised. Sadly enough, regulators in third world countries cannot keep up oversight responsibilities. Unfortunately, in Nigeria, fees and charges aimed for support of aviation growth are not necessarily being directed at infrastructure, but toward the regulatory mechanisms that must be put in place. Safety must be made a political issue, and we must apply pressure among peers of regulators like National Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) and Air Accident Investigation and Prevention Bureau (AAIP) and the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA). Our regulatory agencies must work in a web of enforcement to overcome many regulatory and safety problems.

China's creative solution has limited the rate of economic growth and is holding safety as the constant by raising pilot training requirements. China's traffic grew nearly 19.5% in the first half of this year; 4000 aircraft are anticipated to be flying in 2020 compared to 1,038 now in operation.

The globalization of aviation is increasingly evident. The International Airline Transport Association's Operational Safety Audit (OSA) program, a requirement for members, is aimed at setting an operations standard. IATA formed a working group to examine the new airline pilot licensing standard and is offering workshops on implementing the Safety Management System (SMS), a program described as an absolutely vital and efficient way of attaining levels of safety.

SMS is a structure of voluntary, non-punitive reporting methods set up within a company to foster safety awareness throughout the organization, from boardroom to maintenance bay. Though Nigeria is yet to fully comply, some regulators have already instituted broad-based safety programs. In 2005, Transport Canada mandated its airlines to adopt SMS.

We have been screaming our heads off that the Nigeria Air Accident Investigation and Prevention Bureau be funded properly to carry-out aircraft investigations and report the probable cause, at any cost, but to no avail. When the worst occurs, it remains the investigative agency's job to follow the post-accident diagnostic methods, discover the probable cause and issue recommendations. The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has been proactive in terms of preventing accidents from reoccurring through recommendations, which has led to the downward rates of airline accidents in America.

The more data available, the better equipped the agencies are to deal with accidents and incidents, and a better understanding of the trends can truly make a difference in recommendations.

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The NTSB also is engaged in the new predictive methodology, and is in the initial stages of building a data bank for internal use that will provide "good hard data" on causes of U.S. general aviation accidents and incidents. This sector, while much improved, recorded 6.64 total accidents and 1.32 fatal accidents per 100,000 departures in 2006.

In building safety on a global scale the highly respected accident investigation body, is a tremendous influence on world safety issues. The NTSB is invited by many developing nations, including Nigeria to assist in investigations, provide guidance in building counterpart agencies and aid in the training of investigators and other personnel.

A lot of accidents have occurred in this country that would have been prevented, if we had established a well-funded and dedicated accident investigation and prevention bureau, which was created last year by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Act of 2006.


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