Friday, April 17, 2020

The Practical Compliance Gap

The Practical Compliance Gap
By Catalina9

When the Safety Management System was first implemented one of the reasons was to keep the Regulator away from interfering with operations of both airlines and airports. It worked well in the beginning, but after a while the Regulator reverted to Pre-SMS to micromanage safety compliance rather than regulatory compliance. This is best described in the Regulator’s own words saying “To be direct, [the Department] has a number of concerns surrounding [Your Amazing Airport / Airline], not only from a regulatory perspective...”

You are in charge to the degree you can keep the glass ½ empty
There is a great danger to aviation safety when the Regulator believe they comprehend your operations better than you do yourself. In addition, the Regulatory has turned away from a Safety Management System in their own words, by being the rule-maker, enforcer and judge. Again, this can best be described in their own words. “Our role at [the Department] is to monitor for regulatory compliance which can take various forms, additionally we can provide regulatory interpretation.” What is crucial to safety in operations is that every operator develops their own plan. However, what most operators do, being Airports or Airlines, they succumb to the Regulator’s non-regulatory demands.

"...Regulators believe they comprehend your operations better than you do..."

Aviation Safety blogposts write about airline and airline safety while airports and airport safety is often forgotten in this equation. The safety of each flight originates and terminates at an airport. It’s not just a pilot’s decision to take safety actions, it’s also the role and responsibility of an Accountable Executive at any airport. A memorable example is the Concorde accident in 2000 were the runway hazard was assessed as being low and an acceptable risk. Airport compliance is based on ICAO Annex 14 Airport Standards, which contains about 200 Standards. Airport Standards and Airport Certificate are applicable to the land it sits on and within surveyed limits. In addition, there is no certificate requirement for an airport manager or airport operator. Without a certificate attached to the operator, the Regulator’s option for certificate action against an airport operator is not exciting.

The Regulatory Compliance Gap is to be  bridged not closed
It is impractical for an Enterprise to operate an airport or airline without a gap between operations and regulatory compliance. This is the Practical Compliance Gap. The Practical Compliance Gap exist for one reason, which is that regulatory compliance is only available to a static state operations. Let’s take a moment and compare an airline pilot and an airport operator. When operating at night, both an airplane and airport are required to have functioning lights. Should the lights go out in an airborne airplane, with an official inspector onboard, the flight crew is expected to return to the airport at that time. As long as the flight crew returns to the airport, a regulatory violation finding is not issued to the flight crew or airline. The inspector applied the Practical Compliance Gap, even if both flight crew and operator were in non-compliance with the lights out. Let’s then assume that this same airplane is now a perfectly complaint airplane is returning to the airport as scheduled. Then, just a few seconds before the airplane touches down, all runway lights fail, and the airfield becomes dark. At this point the Practical Compliance Gap is not accepted by the inspector who issues a finding to the airport operator for regulatory non-compliance. The difference is that an airport remains a static state at all the times, while an airplane is in motion. Compliance is discriminating against a static-state operations. When the Regulatory don’t apply the Practical Compliance Gap, there is no room for continuous improvements since any improvements could fail and status quo becomes the preferred state of operations.

Airport standards and regulations are comprehensive with a million shades of gray. When the Regulators and Airport Operators are interpreting the gray shades differently, there is a conflict, which the Regulator always will win, no matter how unsafe that will make airport operations.

The beauty of SMS is to accept the risk by reducing likelihood.
The beauty of the Safety Management System is that it addresses the Practical Compliance Gap. Should a Regulator observe a non-compliance, as airplane lights or runway lights, there are no other option but to issue a finding. It’s beyond a Regulator’s mandate to overlook or ignore. What the Safety Management System, or the SMS Voluntary Program allow for, is for the operator to develop a Corrective Action Plan to reduce the likelihood of these types of malfunctions happening again. Within an SMS the CAP options must be made available to all Enterprises. The Regulator does not have the mandate to apply CAP options selectively and favor operators. In ICAO States without a regulatory SMS the CAP options are not available, and malfunctions are also sometimes criminalized. The Safety Management System understand that there is no such thing that an incident occurred due to failure to comply with a process, procedure or directives. An SMS comprehends the fact that incidents happens due to the limitations within the likelihood. It’s the responsibility of an operator to take control of the likelihood. Remember, “If you don't design Your Amazing Airport / Airline plan, chances are you'll fall into someone else's plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much,"


Sunday, April 5, 2020


By Catalina9

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.     


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