Professionalism & Safety Management

Cliff Jenkins, SCASC Vice-Chair: An overloaded Pilatus PC-12 with 13 passengers and its pilot were killed while attempting to land in Butte, Montana on March 22, 2009. The cause of the crash was determined to be the failure of the pilot in command to add anti-icing fluid to his fuel, and ice formed in the fuel system causing the engine to quit. At the time of the crash one fuel tank was completely full, and the other completely empty. The pilot had ample time to divert to a closer airport once he realized that there was a fuel problem.

On July 13, 2003, a Cessna 402C was ditched in the Atlantic Ocean about 7 nm west-northwest of Treasure Cay Airport in the Bahamas. Two passengers were killed, and five passengers and the pilot received injuries, but survived. The probable cause of the crash was determined to be the pilot’s “failure to adequately manage the airplane’s performance after the engine failed.” The NTSB also said that a contributing factor to the fatalities was the fact that the pilot did not conduct an emergency briefing.

The NTSB has decided that pilot and air traffic controller professionalism is one of its top ten “Most Wanted” items to improve safety and to prevent accidents. The NTSB as well as the South Carolina Aviation Safety Council believes that there has been an erosion of professionalism within the aviation community in recent years, and that we need to focus on ways to improve this if we are to reduce aircraft mishaps in the future.

In the early days of aviation, after an accident, the industry looked at the mishap and basically decided not to repeat what caused the accident. This was a reactive measure to prevent mishaps in the future. Of course, many people lost their lives as new procedures and policies were put in place. Checklists were often said to be “written in blood”. As time went on, we began to realize that most accidents were repeats of old accidents. Mechanical failures were no longer the primary cause of a crash, but instead human factors were the leading culprit. Since humans tend to be creatures of habits, many accidents were repetitive in nature. With this knowledge, and better understanding of human factors, the safety industry began to move to preventive safety management. In other words, don’t wait for an accident to happen, but instead prevent it from occurring by avoiding old habits and procedures that caused the mishap in the first place.

Although there will always be a need for both reactive and preventive safety measures, it is possible to actually move into predictive safety management with the collection of data that is available these days. The term that is often used today is Safety Management Systems or SMS. SMS is a systematic and professional approach to safety that employs reactive, preventive, and predictive measures to make aviation safer, and thus actually lowering the cost of flying. Yes, lowering the cost of flying. Every time that there is an accident it costs the industry as a whole more money, and often ushers in new regulations which are by nature reactive measures. Not that a regulation is necessarily a bad thing, but if we can police ourselves better by maintaining a high level of professionalism then perhaps we can lower overall industry costs, and prevent an already over regulated industry from becoming even more regulated and restrictive.

In general, an SMS contains four components or pillars if you will: 1) Safety Policy 2) Safety Risk Management 3) Safety Assurance, and 4) Safety Promotion. A private pilot can utilize an SMS just as well as a professionally paid airline or military pilot. The key is to make your SMS simple and scalable to the type of flying that you are doing. One size does not fit all in regards to SMS. There is no “one way of creating an SMS”. It must fit your operation. But make no mistake about it, if you employ an SMS into your flying, whether it is flying for hire or flying for pleasure, you will greatly improve your safety as well as professionalism.

Over the next few weeks the SCASC will be doing a series of articles covering in more detail the four components of an SMS. In addition, we will provide simple solutions for a GA pilot or mechanic to develop a personal SMS. As always, do not hesitate to contact the Council with questions.