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Latest ERA Air Safety Group meeting

This was the first meeting of the ERA Air Safety Group for 2019 and hosted by Vistair in Bristol, UK on 19–20 March. The meeting was complemented by a full agenda of various safety issues affecting members and attended by over 20 participants.

Proceedings commenced with Jack Durcan of ASL Airlines Ireland and Chair of the group welcoming all the attendees to the meeting. Rob Morgan, CFO and COO for Vistair, then provided an additional welcome address including an historical overview of the city of Bristol, steeped in aviation and engineering history, plus an overview of the expertise Vistair provides the aviation community with.

For the first agenda item the group welcomed back Air Commodore Dai Whittingham from the UK Flight Safety Committee who discussed the criminalisation of air accidents. The group were shown a variety of examples with varying outcomes, ranging from the British Airways B747-100 ‘November Oscar incident’ in 1989 where an unstable approach and low go-around took place resulting in a conviction of the pilot for negligent endangerment, to the 2015 Shoreham Air Show crash where the pilot was recently cleared over the deaths of 11 people.

The conversation continued again onto tension between Just Culture and blame society and the need for education. Whittingham advised that this education needs to be handled by legal professionals to ensure they fully understand the nature of aviation and that some occupations (similar to medical professions) are closer to safety implications than others and that something can change quickly from recoverable to unrecoverable.

Chris Mason, ERA Manager Policy and Technical provided details of incidents and accidents involving regional operators and/or aircraft since the last meeting. This included some interesting photographs highlighting what had gone wrong, including the recent loss of Ethiopian Airlines flight ET302 and the subsequent grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft. Investigations are underway and a conclusion regarding the cause is yet to be identified. However, the group did discuss the possible causes based on the information currently in the public sphere.

Following Mason’s presentation, members were invited to present on a recent event that had an impact upon their operation. Due to the success of the ‘Safety Information Exchange’ during the last meeting in Tallinn, the group agreed for this session to be split into two parts for this meeting, with a session on each day, to accommodate all of the members' presentations.

This first session included some interesting items, including:

  • aircraft safety trends;
  • managing fatigue and people;
  • RNP approaches; and
  • banned substances incorrectly packaged as cargo.

The final talk of the day was an interactive approach to Just Culture by Captain Cees Jan Meeuwis, who is an Investigator Pilot for KLM Cityhopper. As most airlines have implemented the basic principles of a Just Culture, this session discussed looking toward the next stage. The group was initially set a task, working in pairs, to appraise one another and write down firstly what they saw and secondly what they thought. This exercise aimed to show the difference between observation and interpretation/judgement, namely fast and slow thinking. Meeuwis explained that quick reaction becomes more prominent when an incident occurs, as there is a predisposition to blame someone.

However, Just Culture, as Meeuwis went on to explain following further exercises that outlined the basis of two what are deemed ‘families’ - Blame Culture versus the System. Simply, both of these families are about asking what is responsible, not who, focussing on improvements and safeguards rather than reprimand.

After day one of the meeting closed, the delegates enjoyed a networking dinner, kindly hosted by Vistair.

Day two of the meeting commenced with Chris Mason (ERA) discussing with the group the latest EASA SIBs (Safety Information Bulletins) and NPAs (Notice of Proposed Amendments) published since the previous meeting of the group.

Whittingham returned to provide an update on the latest activities of the UK Flight Safety Committee. Whittingham explained how it is now illegal for lasers to be aimed at any form of transport in the UK and that the first conviction of six months recently was given. It is believed that this is having a positive effect and laser-related incidents are decreasing. Equally, legislation on drones was recently changed in the UK to prevent the unmanned aircraft being flown within 5km of any airport.

The possibility of a new EU regulation by 2020 was also discussed, though no concrete details were provided. This led to greater safety conversations, discussing not only the impact a drone would have on an aircraft, but also the safety risk caused as a result of closing down an airport to avoid one. During the Gatwick Airport incident at the end of 2018, Whittingham stated that four maydays were sent. As this demonstrated, congested airspace, fatigue of staff and the potential to run out of fuel are all other safety factors that must be considered. Further to this, there is a risk that corners could ultimately be cut following the event in an attempt to get back on track.

Finally, Whittingham outlined the cost-saving benefits of True North Navigation systems, the need for greater education on lithium batteries and for ground handling regulators were equally all highlighted.

Whittingham was followed by the second Safety Information Exchange session, that welcomed members presentations covering the following topics:

  • Runway Incursion Altering System (RIAS);
  • burst tyre on landing;
  • successive engines power roll back in adverse WX conditions; and
  • aircraft engine suffering severe damage and crew reaction.

In addition to safety, there are several other active groups within ERA, including the Operations Group. Russell Dudley, ERA Manager Policy & Technical, leads this group and attended the meeting to share more about the group and its priorities. This included ADS-B Outlook exemption plans, flight crew licensing and industry skills shortages. It was agreed by many of the topics mentioned would be of interest to their companies and that an effort would be made to attend.

Chris Mason, ERA, provided a brief overview of the recent EASA Ground Handling conference, held on 7 March in Cologne. With an airport ramp being a complex working environment covering many differing requirements employed for the same or similar procedures, the need for standardisation is essential to eliminate the risk of error. Chris outlined that ground handling incidents statistically representing one of the largest threats to aviation safety, discussion focussed on six essential areas to understand better the differences in their application across EU member states and what steps need to be taken to introduce greater consistency based on industry standards and ICAO documentation.

Before the meeting concluded, there were several topics listed under AOB. Stuart McKie-Smith (Vistair) advised that the ERA Industry Affairs Group (IAG) are preparing a paper on the huge costs of compensation payments for passenger delays under Regulation EU261. The IAG asked for an input on the flight safety aspects of aircraft delays, which lead to these payments. As this is a very sensitive issue, Chris Mason (ERA) informed the group that all reports will be deidentified and reported only as bullet points. Oliver Bradburne (JLT Speciality Limited), who are contributing to the paper from a legal perspective, advised that the deadline has been pushed back until April as it was deemed more time should be spent on the issue to ensure all the pertinent data was captured.

Chris Mason (ERA) then provided a short overview of the new EASA Disruptive Passenger campaign, entitled ‘Not on my Flight’, aimed at raising awareness within both the industry and passengers about the threats of such behaviour. The campaign includes a short, three-minute video highlighting (in a somewhat humorous fashion) examples of disruptive behaviour and is scheduled to go live on 3 April.

The next meeting of the ERA Air Safety Group will be during the September 2019, with exact dates and a venue to be notified in due course.