Why are we seeing a spike in near-misses (runway incursions) at airports across the United States and globally?
Why this is important: For decades, the aviation industry, through sweat, blood, and tears, has prided itself on having the best track record for safety compared to other modes of transportation. This pride and reputation have been duly earned. However, in recent years we have seen a spike in near misses and mishaps at airports globally. While the precise reasons for this phenomenon could never be pinpointed, a few things might worth be considering:
- Gradual changes in the safety culture of the aviation industry might be negatively impacting its safety record.
- The use of outdated technology in non-aircraft-specific operations might have led to older systems becoming overwhelmed by an ever-increasing demand for them.
- The shortage of expert/technical employees, such as pilots, aircraft traffic controllers, and other expert/technical personnel overtime might have led to a slight reduction in hiring standards.
A gradual change in the safety culture within the aviation industry.
- While most of us are well aware of the changes in the safety culture at Boeing, other cultural changes are less visible. Boeing’s situation was highlighted primarily because of the crash of its two Boeing 737 MAX aircraft. If we observe, we will see that what happened to Boeing over time has happened to the overall aviation industry. It seems across the board there is a more laissez-faire attitude within the aviation industry as it regards safety. No doubt, aviation professionals take their job seriously, but it seems complacency may be setting in, and that can be the death knell of any industry where risk management is one of its top priorities.
- From the operations at airports with ground personnel to aircraft traffic controllers, and pilots it seems as if more incidents are occurring at airports due to what appears to be complacency across the board.
Outdated technologies that are unable to keep up with increased and changing demands are showing their effects.
- Readers of this newsletter will remember the Southwest Airlines debacle with their scheduling system. This was allegedly caused by Southwest using an outdated system that could not accurately account for disruptions in their operations. However, Southwest was not the only one responsible for massive delays over the past year or two. The Air Route Traffic Control Centers (ARTCC) had some serious issues as well that led to massive amounts of delays in the United States, as well as Canada, and other places around the world. While this is caused in part by staffing shortages – discussed later in this article – it was also caused in part by outdated technology.
- While technology generally serves the purpose for which they are built, it is always important to remember that all technology is built for a specific environment under certain conditions. Inevitably there will be changes in the circumstance, environment, or the operations under which the technologies are being used. Organizations compensate for this by updating their technology periodically. However, there comes a time, when even the updates are insufficient to cope with the cumulative or acute change that the technology needs to adapt to, and therefore new technologies may be needed.
On Aviation™ Note: We believe that technology is not the answer to our problems, per se, however, technology helps us to accelerate and scale the solutions that we have found to those problems. Relying solely on technology to solve problems, creates even more problems.
A shortage of expert/technical personnel might have led to more relaxed hiring standards generally across the board.
- We are all aware of the pilot shortage, but we may not be aware of the shortage of highly skilled technical personnel to do the jobs of aircraft traffic controllers, maintenance technicians (airframe and powerplant – A&P), and other technical personnel.
- While the operators within the aviation industry understand the importance of safety. There’s such a thing as “Standards Creep“. We define standard creep as the overwhelming need to fill a job or get something done that inadvertently, we slowly over time, reduce our standards for the input factors to getting the job done. This diminution of standards can be easily seen in the general aviation segment of the aviation industry. Where the effects of the diminution of standard skin readily be observed.
- While this might be somewhat anecdotal, there are some indications that the hiring standards at the ARTCC within the United States have been somewhat reduced to fill staffing shortages. It might be that these reductions in some of the standards might be a contributing factor to some of the increase in near-misses that we are seeing.
On Aviation™ Note: We are aware that the general aviation segment of the aviation industry is probably the least regulated. Therefore, one might believe that this is the reason for its lower safety track record when compared to the airlines, for example. However, we also believe that it is these limited regulations that lead the general aviation community to be better able to respond to safety challenges and innovate somewhat faster across the board than other segments within the aviation industry.
The factors laid out above showcase what some of the possible reasons could be for the diminution of the safety standards across the aviation industry in general. We believe that by understanding these factors, we may better be able to address them moving forward. What we advise against, however, is piling on massive amounts of regulations to try to fix the problem. We believe that standards are extremely important, yet, we believe that those standards could be set by those who have the most to lose – aviation operators, professionals, customers, and enthusiasts – rather than a centralized government regulatory approach. While we understand that there will be oversights that are needed from the government side, the solution should be built from the bottom up by the aforementioned stakeholders within the industry.
Thank you for reading this week’s On Aviation™ full article. What do you think the solution to the increased safety issues within the aviation industry should be? Please share your thoughts in the comments below. Remember to check out our On Aviation™ Podcast and continue the conversation on our Twitterand Instagram.
Orlando – On Aviation™