Aviation came to a standstill when COVID-19 virus spread globally. Airplanes are parked, taking up space on runways and taxiways that before was used for landing, takeoff and taxiing. Every airport is an aviation ghost town. Every airplane is a liability to safety. A liability to safety is a hazard where the parked airplanes become a higher risk to aviation than when they were flying. The COVID-19 is a special cause variation, as opposed to a common cause variation in an SPC control chart. A special cause variation requires a root-cause analysis with a Corrective Action Plan. A CAP requires data to establish factual causes, or the merit of the case itself. There is no such data available, only computer models, which are based on opinions and not facts of what the future holds.
COVID-09 are aeronautical obstructions globally.
Last time the world stopped flying was in 2001. Since then aviation globally has operated normally. Applying data from normal operations when conducting a root-cause analysis of the COVID-19 hazard skews the picture. It’s not COVID-19 itself that is the hazard, but the effect of aviation safety surrendering to operational demands. Some time ago I wrote the following in a blog: “When there is a conflict between safety and on-time performance, on-time performance will always win.” This is what we are experiencing now, when non-professional or non-aviation experts are making aviation decisions that adversely affect safety, and they are unaware of how their decisions are hazardous to aviation safety. It’s as simple as this and ask any pilot who has flown an old airplane what happens to an airplane when it doesn’t fly: They break down and airplanes have not changed since Orville’s first flight
Now is the time for the global aviation industry to develop Safety Cases or Change Management Cases. This also applies to the Regulators globally to assess the impact on aviation safety in their own country. During this COVID-19 epidemic, some inspectors are conducting investigations of small airports with no traffic, since local flying schools or clubs are closed due to COVID-19. Marriam-Webster definition of an investigation is “to observe or study by close examination and systematic inquiry.” Aviation safety inspectors should focus on the future of how to return safely to normal operations rather than investigate lost manuals.
|An airplane wants to be flown and not parked|
Back in 2001 there were no Safety Management System (SMS) providing guidance of how to return to normal operations. Today the global aviation industry has the advantage of an SMS tool for proactive steps. The beauty of the SMS is that it’s an exceptional tool when accepted as a proactive tool, rather than a regulatory burden. With 30-50% of the airline industry’s fleet parked, their priorities and responsibilities may have changed. While airlines may have a reduced operational demand, airports may have been assigned additional responsibilities and increased operational demand by parking thousands of airplanes around the world. An airport is not a long-term parking-garage, but an airfield with short-term parking. An additional hazard is the conflict between airlines demand for parking space and airport design for short-term aircraft operations.
Airplanes are not designed to be parked and airports are not designed to be a parking area. Airplanes that don’t fly break down and airports with long-term parking are deteriorating. There is a heavy load on the runways and taxiways with airplanes parked for an unlimited or unspecified period of time. Depending on location latitude, some places may be extremely hot and soften the surfaces. Other places may disrupt the frost heaves, causing additional stress on runway or taxiway surfaces.
Airports are there to help your dream come true.
The aviation industry has now an opportunity to accept safety to be paramount and not rely on the Regulator to tell them what to do next. This is not the time to request exemptions from regulatory requirement, but it’s the time to prepare for return to normal operations with Safety Cases and Change Management. It’s time to be Accountable. In countries where the SMS is implemented by regulations, the aviation industry has a tool for Safety Cases to be made and if requested, presented to the Regulator.
A Safety Case is sort of the same a NOTAM, where airports publish issues, or facility failures of short-term nature. A Safety Case is not for normal operations, but how to initiate their return, and their first few steps of entering back into operations. A Safety Case is not to operate in non-compliance with regulatory requirements, but to have a plan for compliance where there are underlying special cause variations that could affect operations.
COVID-19 is in itself a hazard to the flying public. Safety in operations must always view safety from the travelling passenger’s point of view. The future might require normal operating procedures to sterilize airplanes between flights and allow for social distancing. Seats may be required to be spaced farther apart, not by regulatory requirements, but by customer demands requirements. COVID-19 could have a fundamental change on the aviation industry, including airports. Airports may be required to install sterilization equipment of passengers prior to boarding.
In some of my previous blogs I have posted one simple question to the aviation professionals: “Why does the Global Aviation Industry, being Airlines or Airports, need a Safety Management System (SMS) today, when they were safe yesterday without an SMS?” COVID-19 is one of the answers.