June 01, 2012
FRANKFURT—European air transport is already very safe, but there have to be ways to make it even safer. This is the idea behind the European Aviation Safety Agency's (EASA) first European Aviation Safety Plan that it launched last year. Even though the industry has reached a pretty high standard (and it really should), some of the most recent high profile accidents have involved European airlines: the Air France AF447 crash, the Turkish Airlines accident on approach to Amsterdam and the loss of an XL Airways Airbus A320 during a test flight in France.
All three of them featured loss of control type events, by the way.
EASA has invited representatives of European Union member states to its headquarters in Cologne on May 29 (after our presstime). European government agencies will evaluate how the safety plan is implemented in the states and try to improve coordiantion. EASA hopes it will “make a difference in the way we manage safety in aviation.”
If EASA has its way, the agency will try to convert reactive safety management to a proactive approach. Governments, EU institutions and the industry are to define key safety areas that need to be addressed.
One such area is the tendency of aircraft manufacturers to outsource the design of significant aircraft parts to partners. That increases the number of interfaces, EASA argues. And therefore a study should be done to evaluate the safety issues and identify possible mitigation of potential risks in outsourcing.
But how much real value is there in such a pan-European plan? Is it realistic to assume that it will lead to tangible improvements or is it just a way for EASA to improve its own standing in the European arena that includes other, partially competing, authorities? The aim is hugely ambitious.
The historic pattern in aviation safety regulation has been reactive. An accident happens and afterwards industry and government have tried to figure out how to prevent it from happening again. That approach reduces the risk of future accidents of the same kind, but it does little systematically to improve safety in areas that are not on the agenda because of a recent event.
In many ways, the old way of doing things has nevertheless worked. Accident rates have reduced dramatically and it is events that show broader trends.
While in theory it is commendable to try and turn around the approach, it will be difficult to succeed in practice. And, Europe is probably one of the worst places to try this from a regulatory point of view because it has 27 member states, all with different agendas. It also works with many regulatory authorities, agencies, industry representatives, working groups and research institutions. To get an impression into how complex it is to try and implement the vision, the best thing to do is to take a look at the 2012 revision of the European Aviation Safety Plan.