Putting Trans-Atlantic Brainpower To Work On Aviation Safety

This week, the leaders and a wide range of experts from the FAA, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and industry are gathered in Washington D.C. for the annual International Aviation Safety Conference. The conference provides a forum for experts and authorities from both sides of the Atlantic to get around the same table and share new ideas, initiatives and best practices for reducing accident risk. It also demonstrates a shared commitment to open communication and collaboration from global aviation partners to improve safety.

Global aviation, particularly here in the United States, is remarkably safe. That’s not a question of luck, but a result of hard work, design revisions, testing, maintenance, training and data analysis by stakeholders across the aviation community. Behind the scenes, and often away from public notice, governments, airlines, pilots, manufacturers and suppliers are all continually working together to improve aviation safety.

From an industry perspective, millions of hours go into the design and manufacture of the airplanes we fly. Most of the design changes for safety are improvements voluntarily put in place by industry, and those design changes go through an extensive certification process before they are ever deployed by airlines in their fleets.

One of the topics that is sure to come up in our discussions this week is the response to last month’s Southwest Airlines flight 1380 accident and preventing another occurrence. There is a well-tested process in place for root cause analysis, which the National Transportation Safety Board is following. We look forward to seeing the results of that analysis, identifying areas for improvement and implementing the necessary changes to prevent further occurrences.

It’s important to know that we’re not just focused on the incidents that get national attention. Every aviation incident is logged and reviewed for implications, not just to a particular airplane but to that fleet of aircraft, and also other aircraft. The FAA, manufacturers and airlines do root cause analyses into every incident, focused on correcting potential faults in the systems. The lessons learned from these analyses inform further safety measures, best practices and design changes to make flying safer.

Some have suggested diverting limited FAA resources from its mission of ensuring overall system safety to focus solely on the Southwest incident. We think that would be counterproductive. Commercial aviation’s strong safety record didn’t come from a focus on preventing the last incident – instead, it came from a focus on preventing the next incident.

While we at the FAA-EASA conference talk about what we can do together, there are two important things we believe Congress can do to help improve aviation safety. The first is to pass FAA Reauthorization to provide necessary political direction and streamline the certification process so that innovative safety developments can be deployed more quickly. Operating under short-term extensions – or even without authorization altogether – robs the FAA of its ability to plan for the medium and longer term. It also has a ripple effect on industry, introducing additional delays and costs.

The second thing is to provide timely and sufficient funding for key FAA programs and NASA aeronautics research efforts. Continuing resolutions have much the same effect as operating under a short-term Authorization extension – they rob the agency of the ability to plan, to start new programs or to ramp up existing programs. Put them together, and programs like the Next Generation Air Transportation System, which will make our skies much safer and more efficient, suffer delays and cost overruns. Important research efforts into safer, cleaner technologies also get delayed.

Having the safest possible aviation system is a goal we all share. Government, airlines, pilots, manufacturers and suppliers all have a role to play and we look forward to continuing to partner on this important goal.