What is Operational Risk for Airline SMS Programs
Operation risk is the primary concern of airline SMS programs. Safety programs in such aviation service providers will revolve around identifying and controlling these safety elements.
We can breakdown operational risk for airlines and similar service providers to the following categories:
- Loss of Control in Flight (LOC-I);
- Runway Safety;
- Fatigue Risk Management; and
- Controlled Flight into Terrain (CFIT).
Breaking down your system risk profile into these four categories will help categorize risk and focus resources on mitigating the likelihood and/or severity of occurrences in that category. In general, the four types of control measures used for mitigation efforts are:
- Aviation safety training;
- Awareness (i.e., identification); and
Here are the 4 types of operational risk for airline SMS programs.
1 - Loss of Control in Flight (LOC-I)
Fortunately, loss of control in flight is relatively rare occurrence in aviation SMS programs. Of all documented accidents from 2012-2016, this type of risk accounted for only 8% of all accidents.
Unfortunately, loss of control is generally a severe type of risk as it usually results in egregious damages. Accordingly, 90% of LOC-I accidents resulted in fatalities. Some ways to help reduce the likelihood of these risks happening are:
- Understanding how environmental factors affect flight control;
- Reviewing historical occurrences in the airline service provider industry of flights that features loss of control;
- Flight recovery training;
- Understanding most common hazards (dangerous conditions) that lead to loss of control; and
- Understanding the threats and root causes that eventually result in loss of control.
Mitigating LOC-I occurrences will only marginally reduce the total number of aircraft accidents, but it can significantly reduce the overall number of flight-accident fatalities. The best types of risk controls should focus slightly more on mitigating damages, as likelihood for LOC-I incidents are already fairly low.
2 - Runway Safety
Runway safety incidents are the “annoying rock in the shoe” of aviation SMS programs. The following kinds of occurrences have historically (and currently) plagues airlines and airports:
- Runway incursions and excursions;
- Runway overshoot/undershoots;
- Hard landings; and
- Tail strikes.
Runway safety incidents are the exact opposite of LOC-I. For example, last year (2016), runway excursions accounted for a whopping 19% of accidents – the most common type of accident by far. However, only 6% of these types of accidents resulted in fatalities in the 2012-2016 period.
Situational awareness will play the biggest role in preventing runway safety incidents. The best mitigation efforts will focus slightly more on reducing likelihood of runway safety incidents, as the relative severity of runway incidents is fairly low.
3 - Fatigue Risk Management
Flight crew and cabin crew fatigue is ubiquitously considered as a hazard that will impact general safety function. By “general safety function,” we are talking about wide ranging degradation of human ability to:
- Practice safety behavior; and
- To respond to safety incidents.
This is especially true in terms of how fatigue effects:
- Situational awareness;
- Ability to communicate;
- Mission focus; and
- Energy to follow procedures (i.e. fatigue leads to complacency).
Obviously, humans cannot go without sleep, and therefore fatigue will never go away. There are two approaches to managing fatigue-risks as recommended by ICAO Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs):
- Prescriptive fatigue management: operations remain within prescribed limits (by regulator) for flight time, duty periods, and rest periods; and
- Fatigue Risk Management System: operators use an FRMS system specifically designed to identify and manage fatigue as it arises during operations.
FRMS allows for more flexibility than prescriptive operations, but do require more resources, work, and responsibility on the part of operators.
4 - Controlled Flight into Terrain (CFIT)
Controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) probably represents the most severe type of operational risk for airline service providers. This is due to the extremely high fatality rate and hull loss rates when these safety incidents occur.
For example, there were 67 CFIT accidents between 2005 and 2014, which causes 1346 fatalities. This is an average fatality rate of 20 persons every time this incident occurs. Moreover, in this same period of time, those accidents featured a 99% hull loss rate (i.e., 66/67 aircraft featured hull loss).
The number one contributor to CFIT is human performance deficiencies. IATA found that in all CFIT incidents (100%) in the 2005-2014 time period, undesirable behaviors contributed to the accident – specifically, situational awareness.
Final Thought: Future and Emerging Operational Risks
Emerging risks that will increasingly need to be considered in the conversation of operational risk for aviation service providers are:
- Unmanned Aircraft Systems (i.e., drones);
- Cyber security; and
- Concerns over conflict zones as tensions rise in many places worldwide.
Here are some more resources that will help understand operational risk: