News: Blogs

28 August 2018


Blogs: CAST’s Approach to Air Transport Safety Reminds Us That By Pulling Together We Will Save More Lives

by Gretchen Haskins, CEO HeliOffshore Ltd

This month I was delighted to be invited to participate as an observer at a meeting of the U.S. Commercial Aviation Safety Team (CAST). The gathering in Seattle was a very welcome opportunity to reconnect with a group of aviation safety professionals whose collaborative work continues to be a powerful inspiration for HeliOffshore. I came back more convinced than ever that our collaborative approach to improving safety is the right one.

CAST was established in 1997 as a voluntary collaboration between U.S. airlines, aircraft/systems manufacturers, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and representatives of airline pilots and air traffic controllers. The Flight Safety Foundation also attends and supports this work.  In the 1990s, the industry had suffered a spate of serious accidents and had come to the conclusion that the trend had the potential to discourage passengers from flying and threaten the sustainability of air transport. Between 1998 and 2008, the group calculates that its efforts reduced the fatality risk for commercial aviation by 83 percent (having set themselves a goal of reducing it by 80 percent). This excellent work is continuing under the co-chairmanship of Ali Bahrami, FAA’s Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety, and Michael Quiello, Vice-President for Corporate Safety at United Airlines. I attended the meeting to see what the helicopter industry might learn from our fixed wing counterparts.

The meeting was an important reminder of the factors that have made CAST so successful in reducing fatal accidents: 

  • • collaboration between air transport stakeholders;
  • • firm commitment by senior leadership to do what it takes to improve safety; and, 
  • • a data-driven approach to identify priorities, actions and to ensure actions have the desired effect on frontline safety performance.

Among the main event types the CAST team identified were loss-of-control, controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) and runway safety. In trying to eliminate safety risks, the CAST team conduct detailed cost benefit analysis to assess the projected effectiveness of their proposed actions. They are also very clear with stakeholders as to who is to take what action and when, setting well-defined objectives along the lines of “OEMs to explore the feasibility of pilots getting more effective alerts for ground proximity to reduce CFIT.” 

In fact, the ground proximity issue is a great example of how the CAST approach works and why a collaborative approach to data gathering and analysis is so important. The team gathered ground proximity data from all participating airlines and when they put it altogether what they found is that, between them, they had more than 100 incidents for one particular approach to an airport. If individual airlines had looked at their data in isolation, or even if one OEM had looked at data for its fleet, they wouldn’t have got this clarity over where the risk hotspots were, and this breakthrough cleared the way to resolving the issue. The analysis found that around 50 percent of ground proximity alerts had been false alarms and this prompted adjustments to enhanced ground proximity warning systems (EGPWS). But the remaining alerts were real and pilots had regularly been bringing their aircraft too close to an area of the ground because they didn’t have an accurate read on the profile of the area in question. This resulted in system manufacturers making changes to the way GPWS functions and regulators making changes to the approaches involved. By working together, the stakeholders were able to design the risk out of this situation, in a proactive way, rather than as a lesson learned from a tragic accident. This is just one of 229 safety enhancements achieved by CAST so far, and you can see the detail on what’s been achieved here.

It was an inspiring meeting that culminated in a tour of Boeing’s massive airliner factory in Everett. The meeting was the first held by CAST outside FAA headquarters in Washington, DC, and it was it was also an opportunity to honour the retirement of life-long safety professional Terry McVenes, System Safety & Regulatory Affairs Director of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, who spoke at HeliOffshore’s Annual Conference in May.

Here’s what stuck in my mind most:

  • • CAST is driven by an absolute sense of collaboration. Their work isn’t about any one particular company. It’s a true joint commitment to safety shared by competing companies who acknowledge that safety is in everyone’s interests.
  • • We toured Boeing’s Safety Promotion Center in which watches have been set at the times when specific accidents happened, alongside displays detailing the casualties in each case.  It really made me pause and think about the impact our work has on people’s lives.  The Center also details innovations achieved by the air transport industry to save lives.
  • • CAST stakeholders – this was a results-oriented group with a strong emphasis on who needs to do what by when and regular review of whether actions were happening and achieving the desired outcome.  They have made time to deliver strategy-driven, industry-wide improvements in safety alongside day-to-day delivery of their business plans. 
  • • Data can make a big difference in how well safety risks are understood and how they can be mitigated. They also allow you to know whether safety improvements are having the desired effect. CAST gathers raw Flight Data Monitoring and Air Traffic Management data from all U.S. airlines and every flight. When they create a Safety Enhancement, the feedback the companies that have introduced the change and the effect it is having to the group.

While I was in Seattle (my hometown, by the way!), I drove over the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. This is another significant icon in the annals of safety learning because it replaced the original Tacoma Narrows Bridge, which collapsed just four months after it opened in July 1940. The event was to inspire breakthroughs in civil engineering as the causes and effects of resonance became better understood. Just days after I returned from Seattle, Genoa’s Morandi road bridge collapsed with the loss of 43 lives. Of course, it will likely take some time to understand the true causes of this disaster, but it got me pondering again the need for all industry’s to be ready and able to take a proactive approach to dealing with safety threats. As CAST and HeliOffshore can attest, this process begins with:

  • • Creating a space in which the right people can raise the right issues at the right time;
  • • Using a joint industry voice to help stakeholders move to action to prevent accidents before they occur; 
  • • Gaining concensus on leading indicators and monitoring them to give early warning of potential problems
  • • Effective communication and education of all key stakeholders to aid effective risk mitigation.

All of this reminds me of the people and families who rely on us to safeguard their lives. It is not easy to see and avoid accidents, but the CAST team has inspired me again to believe that it is possible, especially when we work together.