Aviation Safety Letter 4/2004

A Systems Approach To Managing Risk

The history of aviation has been one of continuous change. In 2003, Canada joined the world in marking the 100th anniversary of powered flight — recalling the December 17, 1903, flight of two brothers and bicycle makers from Dayton, Ohio. A little over five years later, at Baddeck, Nova Scotia, engineer J.A.D. McCurdy started the story of Canadian flight in the Silver Dart, creating a magnificent heritage for aviation. Those pioneers were also risk takers; however, they had no idea how to manage the risks in this new environment. As we head into the second century of flight, our business has become more focused on managing risks effectively to improve both safety and economic performance in aviation.

A systems approach to managing risk will be the cornerstone of our strategic plan to 2010 — a natural evolution, but revolutionary in its approach. At the forefront of this approach — which is more about integrating the processes that already exist in most aviation organizations, and less about creating new ones — are processes that establish clear lines of accountability. The future we are building towards is one where industry operates at the maximum level of delegation possible, with the flexibility to meet safety requirements in the most cost-efficient manner. This means that the regulatory framework must be increasingly performance-based to permit the implementation of systematic approaches to provide continuous improvement in safety performance.

Implementing this new safety policy for the future of aviation safety in Canada is our first priority. However, implementing a new policy carries its own share of risks when the old policy has resulted in an excellent safety record. The accident rate continues on the downward trend that it has been on for the past few years, and the preliminary results of the latest public survey indicate that confidence in flight safety is on the mend, with a 67 percent rating, up from the 2002 rating of 60 percent. So why change?

First, studies of future demographics indicate that the current safety framework is not sustainable due to a lack of technical personnel in the industry in the future. This will translate into a shortage of qualified personnel to oversee the current system from the regulatory perspective. Second, the accident rate has all but stagnated in the last ten years. This current accident rate, applied to a growing industry, will — by some estimations — result in an unacceptable number of accidents, which will in turn reduce public confidence in the system.

While Civil Aviation's safety focus has not changed and the program is staying the course, the world has changed and, as such, the organization must adapt. Civil Aviation must be equipped to reach its goals in this changing environment. We will continue to need to hire experienced industry people and train them to be inspectors, but we will also need "systems" people. For civil aviation in Canada, the greatest challenge lies in making the necessary cultural changes. However, like those pioneering risk takers from the last century of flight, I believe that we are up to the challenges as we move forward into the future of aviation safety.

Merlin Preuss
Director General
Civil Aviation, Transport Canada

Previous PageNext Page
Date modified: