SMS Pro Aviation Safety Software Blog 4 Airlines & Airports

The Top Threats to Flight Safety Around the Globe

Posted by Tyler Britton on Jun 26, 2017 5:58:00 AM

What is a Contributing Threat, and Why It’s Important

Top aviation SMS threatsThe 2016 IATA safety report was recently released, and spends nearly 250 pages covering various aspects of safety all over the globe. One of their sections deals with contributing factors to aviation accidents, and details the percentage of accidents that had various threats as a contributing factor. However, what is not clear is how IATA defines a threat.

What seems clear from looking at their list, is that threats are considered very broadly, such as:

  • May or may not be inherently dangerous;
  • May or may not be a hazard; and
  • May or may not be an intermediary step between a hazard and risk occurrence.

In other words, a threat seems to be anything that can or already is compromising safety.

It’s important to understand what the most important threats are because it’s the same as understanding what is most (potentially) dangerous to your safety management system.

Moreover, you should pay most attention to what threats are most relevant to your region. This is because different regions have different rates of contributing threats. Here are the top threats to flight safety around the globe, by region.

North America Contributing Threats

The top contributing threats in North American aircraft accidents are:

  • Aircraft Malfunction 31%;
  • Meteorology 29%;
  • Gear/Tire 20%;
  • Wind 18%;
  • Poor Visibility 15%;
  • Lack of Visual Reference 13%;
  • Nav Aids 11%;
  • Ground based nav aids malfunction 11%; and
  • Airport Facilities 11%.

What can we learn about this list? For one, NA’s aircraft malfunction percentage is much higher than any other region (besides the Middle East). There are two possible reasons for this:

  1. NA needs to focus on aircraft maintenance; and
  2. NA does such a great job at mitigating other threats that malfunction sticks out like a sore thumb.

Beyond this, all other threats are remarkably implicated at a fairly similar rate (between 4% and 13%). This is a good sign of general stability in NA aircraft operations.

European Contributing Threats

European contributing threats look healthy all down the board. Their number one contributory threat is meteorology, which is essentially out of any aviation service providers direct control. Moreover, the meteorology percentage is consistent with nearly all other regions.

The top European threats are:

  • Meteorology 30%;
  • Wind 23%;
  • Aircraft Malfunction 22%;
  • Gear/Tire 13%;
  • Airport Facilities 10%; and
  • Ground Events 10%.

The first thing one notices is that Europe has three distinct threats that are far above the rest. This seems to indicate that Europe has extensive controls in place to protect against many of the other threats.

However, it should be noted that in Europe flight crew errors for Manual Handling are listed as contributory factors in 36% of European accidents – much higher than most other regions.

North Asia Contributing Threats

North Asia is a little odd in that it only has a handful of very highly implicated threats:

  • Meteorology 58%;
  • Wind 50%;
  • Aircraft 25%;
  • Thunderstorms 25%;
  • Contaminated runway 17%; and
  • Airport Facilities 17%.

North Asia is an anomaly in that their susceptibility to accidents as caused by weather (meteorology and wind). At 58% and 50%, these rates far outstrip other regions in terms of the top contributing hazard.

The question is: why? Are their aircraft not kept to standards that can handle inclement weather? Are pilots not trained well enough to handle inclement weather? We can say that North Asia does also have a 67% flight crew error for manual handling as contributing threat.

We might interpret that North Asia would greatly benefit from increased pilot training.

Middle East Contributing Threats

The Middle East features a significantly higher rate of aircraft malfunctions than other regions, which is their top contributing threat in the region. Their list of top threats includes a high number of safety elements that are within direct control of the risk management system:

  • Aircraft Malfunction 36%;
  • Meteorology 27%;
  • Maintenance Events 27%;
  • Gear/Tire 18%;
  • Wind 14%;
  • Poor visibility 14%;
  • Lack of Visual Reference 14%; and
  • Air Traffic Services 14%.

Nearly half of the Middle East’s top hazards seem to be otherwise mitigatable. It comes as no surprise that their highest latent condition factor for accidents is Safety Management, at 36%.

Middle Eastern Aviation service providers can greatly improve threats to flight safety with more robust aviation safety management systems, both in airport and airline accountability and oversight compliance.  

Latin America Contributing Threat

Latin America features similar rates of similar contributing threats as that of the Middle East, but are amplified:

  • Aircraft Malfunction 46%;
  • Gear/Tire 29%;
  • Maintenance Events 29%
  • Airport Facilities 21%;
  • Meteorology 17%; and
  • Contaminated runway 17%.

The rate of aircraft malfunctions – the highest of any region – implicated in accidents is very concerning in Latin America, as are its high incidents of maintenance events, airport facilities, and contaminated runway.

Such threats have heavy implications with safety management oversight. Similar to the Middle East, 33% of accidents have Safety Management as a latent condition.

Final Thoughts: What You Should Do with These Data

Now to the important question, what should you do with these data? Here are the four most important things you should do with these data:

  • Review this data in detail for your region;
  • Self-audit your aviation SMS program;
  • Compare audit findings against your region’s top threats, latent factors, etc.; and
  • Create a strategy to improve on areas where safety deficiencies in your SMS program are consistent with regional exposure.

This safety audit checklist can help you evaulate your aviation SMS program against that of your region:

Download Safety Audit Checklists

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