Focus on aviation safety

By Thanbani Mthinyane

The aviation industry offers one of the safest ways to travel, and one of the safest workplaces. However, aviation accidents garner more than their fair share of media coverage. I suppose that is understandable given the nature of what we do, but it also imposes a huge onus on all of us involved in the aviation industry to focus relentlessly on safety, to move from talking about and researching safety – to integrating it into the way we do business as an aviation industry.

Research has shown that one of the biggest contributors to aviation incidents and accidents is the human factor—up to 75 percent of all accidents and incidents within aviation can and may be linked to human error. That fact has led to the development of a discipline within aviation relating to how humans perform within aviation and, more importantly, how to improve their performance.

When the study of human factors in air traffic control began, it focused on equipment and workplace design. These remain important, of course, but a more integrated and sophisticated approach is required. A key development in this area has been the development of simulation programmes that allow controllers to build up their knowledge and experience in a safe situation, and also to permit the gathering of data that will influence technology and process design in the future. Another has been the growing focus on seeing aviation not as a set of fairly distinct parts, but as a complex social-technical system. Thus, in the context of air traffic control, there has been a very useful focus on how the flight deck interacts with the air traffic control.

Aviation is a highly technical field, whether one is talking about the engines that power the aircraft, the materials and techniques to build them, the comfort and safety of passengers inside the cabin and, of course, the management of an airspace. All of these disciplines rely on bright young minds with the right skills to take them forward. We rely on all our stakeholders, academia, research institutions, the media to name but a few, to provide much of the research that fuels innovation.