"Excellence is a Habit"
Michael Huerta, Wichita, Kansas
October 11, 2012

Bombardier Safety Standdown


Thank you, Rick (Rowe, Manager Safety Standdown Programs), for that kind introduction. You’ve had an excellent conference, touching on many of the important points of safety.

I want to leave you with a few thoughts about the basics. In fact, some things are so basic they never change.  In fact, they may not change for a really long time.

There was a guy named Aristotle, who commented on our habits in 300 B.C.

He said:  “Excellence is an art won by training and habituation…We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”

Discipline is the underlying behavior that creates a good pilot, mechanic or flight attendant. We call it professionalism.

We expect professionalism.

The American public expects the safe operation of our aircraft and aviation system 24 hours a day, seven days a week, year in and year out.

And while we cannot regulate professionalism, we can foster the kind of behaviors that lead to safe and appropriate conduct of everyone in the aviation system.

During this conference you’ve had the chance to listen to a great many experts, and you have shared good information.

The more knowledge that you can acquire about yourself, your team, your aircraft, and the risks you all face, the better you will all be prepared to handle any situation, and the safer our system will be.

Training is fundamental to performing the job in a safe and professional way.

We continue to see rapid technological transformation in today’s aircraft. To maintain pace with these changes, our training must keep pilots up-to-date with new and sophisticated technology. At the same time, our training must stress the fundamental aspects of flying. 

Next fall we plan to issue a final rule for pilot and crew training that will improve safety. It would require pilots to demonstrate their skills in real scenarios – situations that they might encounter in the cockpit.

The FAA has consistently issued strong training guidance to air carriers. But this rule represents the most significant overhaul of crew training in the last 20 years.  It’s complex, and we need to get it right.

This is a major effort to strengthen the performance of pilots, flight attendants and dispatchers.

We want to give pilots more training and better training on how to recognize and recover from stalls and aircraft upsets.

We’re able to do this because of the advanced flight simulators that we have today.

But the difference is, rather than have a pilot execute a recovery in a highly choreographed event, the new training will be conducted as if the pilot were actually on a flight.

This training will be delivered as a scenario as it would unfold in real life and flight crews will be trained on how to use the proper response techniques. It’ll be a whole lot more life-like.

We’ve seen that inappropriate stall recovery or failure to recognize a stall, can be a major contributing factor in accidents. 

We cannot not lose sight of the importance of training on the core aspects of flying, such as crew resource management, and stall recovery, or other events that might occur when there is a change or loss in automation systems. 

We believe this kind of scenario-based training will enhance safety by giving pilots sufficient knowledge, experience and confidence to appropriately handle even extremely rare emergencies.

Today’s operating environment is incredibly complex and we must ensure training and knowledge are being applied realistically. We don’t just want the flight crews to show us they have mastered individual skills. We want them to demonstrate that they can safely apply those skills in real world situations.

Of course, many of you are familiar with AQP, the Advanced Qualification Program. This is a voluntary, FAA crew member training program which already includes many of the safety enhancements in the proposed training rule.  I know many of you have benefitted from this kind of training and we want everyone to get that benefit as well.

In addition to training, we want pilots to benefit from the greater ability we have nowadays to gather data about flights and use it to improve safety.

So, a word about safety management systems and why they are so important.  I know you’ve likely heard a bit about SMS over the course of the last three days.

We are working to shift from a safety system that relies on forensics, to one where we use computer analyses to show us trends and to help us make safety decisions.

These systems help us to improve safety.  At the FAA, we are already using SMS in our Air Traffic Organization, and we are going to extend it to other areas within the agency as well.

A Safety Management System is a safety feedback loop. You identify the problem, you analyze it, and you come up with a solution. Then you train to the solution and check how you’re doing.

And let me add that safety management systems do not have to be large and complex. They can be tailored to the operation that you have at hand. If you are a private pilot, you can have a log book and your own check list that you use before each flight.

You can ask yourself, “Did I have adequate rest? Has my aircraft been maintained appropriately? Did anything unusual happen during the last flight that I have not explored? Am I in the frame of mind to make safe decisions, or am I distracted?”

If you have a process, and the discipline and professionalism to follow it – it really does help and it does improve safety.

In addition to SMS, we believe that the FAA’s voluntary reporting systems are a critical tool to help us identify where we have emerging risks in the system. 

We are trying to prevent an incident or accident by collecting and analyzing real flight data to recognize precursors.

You are probably all familiar with ASIAS. This one program connects 131 separate safety databases and information sources across the industry. It stands for the Aviation Safety Information and Analysis Sharing System. 

There has been a significant increase in the number of airlines that have joined ASIAS and are sharing their data. Participation has doubled in the last three years and this increased participation improves the data we receive and helps us mine data on more locations and aircraft types.

One example of a database many of you are acquainted with is the Aviation Safety Action Program, or ASAP. 

It permits individuals to report errors and safety-related information with reasonable protection from company discipline or FAA enforcement.

The result is terrific – an abundance of safety information that otherwise would probably not come to light. 

Our goal is not to punish. We want to know about the behavior and we want to correct it. We have a similar program in place for our air traffic control personnel, called the Air Traffic Safety Action Program, or ATSAP.

Let me share an example from the west coast that shows how combining ATSAP and ASAP data solved an issue before it became a problem.

Last year pilots and air traffic controllers both reported problems with navigation when some aircraft took off from San Francisco International Airport.

This is because the FAA implemented a slight change to an existing departure route and this change was not showing up automatically in the computerized navigation system onboard one particular airline.

Several flight crews bypassed a fix on the new departure route. The controllers asked the crews if they were aware of any changes to their flight plans. The crews said no, they were not aware.

The controllers submitted ATSAP reports and the pilots also submitted ASAP reports. By studying the two, it became apparent that pilots did not know that the route had changed.

By comparing the reports from the two points of view, both pilot and controller, we realized this was a systemic problem not only at San Francisco but also at Oakland and Sacramento airports.

The airline traced the routing discrepancy by requesting information from their dispatch department. They then promptly updated the onboard navigational database and fixed the problem.

No more missed fixes.

This is just one example of how these voluntary reporting systems are helping us to work together, all with the goal of improving safety.

As you have heard this week from all the presenters, we gain a lot when we gather in the same place and share our thoughts and differing perspectives. The FAA is happy to be part of this process.

We are all here because we are committed to enhancing safety and we know that each individual can make a difference.

Safety is the primary mission for each and every one of us in the room. We can make our machines as safe as possible. We are continually improving them. But it won’t get us where we need to go unless each and every one of us is disciplined and creates good safety habits. As I said when I began, Aristotle was right thousands of years ago when he said excellence is not something that just happens. It is the result of training and good habits.

Whether it’s filling out an ASAP report – even though it’s been a long day – creating a Safety Management System even if you are a recreational aviator, or taking advantage of the latest training, all of these are good safety habits that will improve our entire aviation system. Everyone needs to be mindful of this – pilots, mechanics,

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