10 Things the Aviation Industry Can Teach Us about Preparedness and Safety

As a former pilot for Norwegian Air, exposure to risk is an all too familiar phenomenon. Working inside an aluminium cylinder filled with highly combustible jet fuel and roaring through the skies at 850 km/h with hundreds of people on board – it comes with the territory. But, truth be told, I was far more at risk in my car on the way to Gardermoen airport than I ever was in the cockpit of an aircraft. This is because the Aviation Industry is not only incredibly adept at calculating risk, but also at building routines and procedures to minimise it. Here are a handful of reasons how it does it.

1. Insight

Flying is inextricably associated with mortal danger. American Aviation Authorities realised this having lost a large number of pilots and mail planes during the 1920s. They laid down the foundation for a worldwide security culture that has grown to become a trademark element of the flying experience.

2. Risk Assessment

With insight, analysis follows. Why is flying dangerous? What are the risks? Are there particular phases that are especially vulnerable? Finding the answers to these questions and analysing the answers will deliver valuable information that can be used to reduce risks, and is a crucial step in effective planning and preparation.

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3. Risk Reduction

You may have wondered why you always need to straighten your chair and fold up the table at take-off and landing? If the plane has to be evacuated, these items will hinder free movement. This is but a drop in the ocean of all the security measures taken at each and every flight, having one and only one purpose: reducing risk.

4. Procedures

Safety is the cabin personnel’s most important task, not serving coffee. From the passenger seat, you get a small insight into their various safety procedures as they go through their pre-flight instructions. The cabin personnel and the pilot have put together a detailed plan for the flight and they carry out numerous safety routines and drills before taking off. Always. No exceptions.

5. Communication

At all times, several hundred planes are in the air around the world’s busiest airports. Therefore, there exists an elaborately planned set of rules for how the planes communicate with the tower and with each other. The language used is English, and the words, syntax, and concepts are predetermined. Everyone starting to speak identifies him or herself, and acknowledges when a message is received. All planes hear the tower and every other plane, contributing to a shared understanding of the current situation.

6. Quality System

The people who build and service the planes are so quality-minded that there's almost never any real need for the crisis simulations that those flying the planes go through every day. In practice, this is a matter of confidence between the manufacturers, authorities (requirements) and passengers. If planes from one particular manufacturer were exposed to crashes and incidents, the manufacturer would surely go out of business rather quickly.

7. Training

The engine stopping during take-off is among the most critical incidents that can happen during a flight. Pilots train for this eventuality before every flight, and twice a year in a simulator. Most pilots don’t experience this happening during their whole career, but nonetheless, a large amount of resources are expended for them to master the technique. It shows how thoroughly the Aviation Industry works to reduce the consequences of an unwanted incident. If it is defined as a risk, it must be handled as a risk. That takes training.

8. Handling of Deviations

I have never experienced any organisation where people were more eager to report their own errors than at Norwegian Air. In the Aviation Industry, there exists a fabulous culture of reporting where everyone is encouraged to report errors and deviations. The management’s fair and acknowledging treatment of those submitting the reports is, of course, part of this culture.

9. Improvement

Error and deviation reports go straight into the improvement system. Errors that are reported regularly are included in simulator training. Each individual sees that their contribution is taken seriously and recognises the importance of the work.

10. Building a Culture

All parties in the Aviation Industry understand that incident and crisis management is a core theme throughout the entire sector. Everyone who has anything to do with the business, even as passengers, come to recognise this straight away. Thoroughly prepared routines, clear roles, clear lines of communication, excellent quality systems, thorough training and well-functioning deviation reporting are natural components of everyone’s work day. The employees become ambassadors for a culture of safety, and the management values this, not only in words, but in action too.

Is This Relevant to Me?

If you’ve concluded that the examples listed above aren’t relevant to your enterprise, please, think again. You need only reflect on the risks associated with your industry and make an assessment as to how well you're handling them according to the points laid out above to see how applicable they are.

Remember, even if life and health are not at stake, an unwanted incident may lead to such things as lost production, pollution, or loss of reputation. These are dramatic consequences for any business. But the good news is, everyone can match the Aviation Industry when it comes to planning, preparedness, and safety if they follow this advice. To learn more about crisis management, specifically whether you should purchase an out-of-the-box software solution or build your own, download our free ebook

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By Martin Lilleøen

Martin is a graduate pilot and flight instructor with 11 years experience from international aviation. He has extensive experience in risk management and work from high reliability organizations. In One World, he is an advisor on risk, security and emergency preparedness, and working with RAV analyzes and configuration of crisis management tools.

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