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Speech – "Systems Lead to Safety"

"Systems Lead to Safety"
John Hickey, Washington, DC
June 16, 2014

Aviation Suppliers Association

Good morning and thank you, Jason [Dickstein].  If I asked the question:  “Who’s Julian Edelman?” —my guess is that most of you would have no idea.  But Julian Edelman is the perfect example of what I’m here to talk about today. 

Unless you’re from Boston, or you’re addicted to fantasy football, you probably don’t know that Edelman is a wide receiver for the New England Patriots.  You know, my family and I have been in D.C. for 13 years, but I’m still a Pats guy.  People ask me, “You’ve been here for so long.  Why don’t you root for the Redskins?”  The answer is that I like to watch football—in January.

But while you Redskin fans are reaching for tomatoes, let’s get back to Julian Edelman.  He’s the guy that absolutely no one knew two years ago.  Now we know him only because the Patriots let Wes Welker go to the Broncos.  Everybody knows who Wes Welker is.  He caught 118 passes for the Patriots in 2012.   When the Patriots let him sign with the Broncos, I thought Belichick was out of his mind. 

Turns out I was upset for nothing.  Edelman—the guy almost nobody knew—stepped right up and caught 105 balls for the Patriots last season.  Brady threw for 4,300 yards.  That’s a lot of yards.  Belichick still might be out of his mind, I just feel better about it. 

So how does a guy like Julian Edelman go from catching only 69 passes in four seasons to the kind of production that makes him Tom Brady’s go-to guy?  Well, I’ll tell you, the answer isn’t Brady … or Belichick … or even Edelman.  It’s the system they use.  The Patriots’ system is what gave Welker the opportunity to be great.  And when he left, it was the same system gave Edelman the same shot.

That’s what safety management systems do for aviation.  In our business, when you instill a safety culture—a culture that’s based from top to bottom with safety as its focus—you get a safety record like the one we have. 

That happens when everyone … everyone who touches the plane … everyone who touches something that touches the plane … when all the playershave safety as their primary concern.  In the manufacturing world, in the supply world, in the maintenance world, it’s easy for things to get moving at a pretty quick clip.  You inadvertently miss an item on the checklist.  Or … maybe worst of all … is the guy who figures that somebody else down the line will fix it … whatever “it” happens to be. 

With safety, you must always be vigilant. 

We’ve achieved an 83 percent reduction in the commercial fatality -risk because we take a proactive approach to safety.  Safety management ensures that the outcomes of any activity incorporate safety considerations.  And it insists on a healthy safety culture. 

By definition, SMS is a process-oriented approach to managing safety throughout an organization.  That includes everything up to and including an organization-wide safety policy.  An SMS takes the guesswork out of safety assessments.  If you think about baseball, one scout says, “This guy can really hit.”  Another scout looks at the same guy and says, “This guy hits .300, but he only hits .220 with men on base.”  Both of those scouts had good information, but only one of them had the numbers to back it up.  The first guy told you how he felt about the hitter.  The second guy gave you information you could use. 

An SMS has formal methods for identifying hazards, and then mitigating and controlling risk.  An SMS continually assesses risk and safety performance.  And let me be clear here, and SMS is not just about compliance with technical standards.  An SMS emphasizes the overall safety performance of the organization. 

That’s what an SMS is.  Here’s what it does.  Through safety management systems, we very clearly can shape aviation’s future by continuing to drive down safety risk.  The frequency of commercial airline accidents is at an exceedingly low level.  That’s a credit to us, and to the industry, and to the Commercial Aviation Safety Team as well.  But we know there is still safety risk in the system.

Safety management feeds the safety culture of an organization, which in turn feeds the data bases that give us insight into precursors.  These data bases are populated with input from operational information from flight data recorders, from radar and also from voluntary submissions made by safety professionals on the front line.

All of this in turn gives us a better picture of what’s happening in the system.  This allows us to put our resources in the places where we’ll get the biggest reduction in risk .  You’ll hear the phrase risk-based decision making many, many times in the future.  Our goal is to make use of the safety data available … determine areas of greatest safety risk … and prioritize our safety efforts accordingly.

Through Risk-Based Decision Making, we will be able to make smarter, integrated risk-based decisions to improve safety in the aviation system.  We’re putting measures in place to be able to share safety data among all the players … inside the different lines of business at the FAA, industry, and our international peers.  This will lead to a broader spectrum of available data and put us in the place to make smarter decisions, be more informed.  The more you use it, the more you realize that using data is a good thing, a smart thing. 

As I touched upon before, we’ll then dig deeper by analyzing that data, using the principles of Safety Management Systems, to identify emerging hazards, undertake mitigating initiatives, and evolve the safety oversight model.  The resulting information is shared with the decision-makers—those people who are in the best position to manage the safety risk and make our aviation system even safer, and also share the information with industry to help feed their Safety Management Systems. 

The bottom line here is that risk-based decision making portends to be a game changer.  Certificate holders will be able to take responsibility for safety management.  That’s a shift for us. That’s a shift for the industry. 

SMS and risk-based decision making are big pushes for us, but they’re certainly not our only push.  Administrator Huerta also has indicated that the FAA needs to solidify and advance the United States as the global leader in aviation safety.  We must recognize the increasing globalization of the aviation industry.  Given the vibrancy of international aviation, there’s no question that we have an obligation to help those countries with developing aviation industries by sharing the many years of experiential learning that has formed the FAA of today.  As the global marketplace takes hold, we must make an effort to influence the standards for safety and technology throughout the world.  The Administrator put it this way.  He said, “You can’t establish yourself as a global leader from the back seat.”  He’s right. 

Making this happen is not like flipping a switch.  In the Asia-Pacific region, studies show that over 4,300 transport category airplanes will be needed to serve this part of the world in the next 20 years.  U.S. companies—some of whom I imagine are sitting right here, right now—who want to stay highly competitive in this market are opening production facilities throughout Asia.  And all the while, individual Asian countries are investing in their own indigenous aerospace industries.

Overall, we anticipate steady growth in passengers and operations.  We expect passengers on U.S. airlines to grow at an average rate of just over 2 percent a year over the next 20 years, with international passengers growing faster, nearly 4 percent annually. 

The international market is a bright spot as growth in passengers for all world regions is strong, with the Latin region growing fastest and the Pacific region just behind. 

Today, the number of international passengers on U.S. airlines is 50 percent greater than in 2000.  That’s 80 percent higher than 20 years ago.

So the question that faces us is:  how to do you spread the safety to the four corners of the globe?  Bilateral agreements. 

We rely on our bilateral partners by first evaluating their systems and then trusting the compliance findings and oversight that they perform over their own industry.  We can also leverage these agreements by conveying our oversight functions to them when our certificate management functions need to be performed in their own backyard. We do this through special arrangements.  A special arrangement is a high-level document between to agencies to identify roles and responsibility and establish a high level acceptance of resource commitment. 

As many of you know, the list of countries with whom we have bilateral agreements in effect is lengthy.  To be exact, we have agreements with 20 countries and 1 with the European Union.  The list of countries that we have agreements with is well worth reciting:  Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, Switzerland and Taiwan. 

There are 20 countries that are included in the European Agreement which you will recognize as part of the European Union.

Here we go:  Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom. We have 14 separate bilateral agreements with individual countries within the EU to cover areas outside of EASA’s purview.

These bilateral agreements are not one-size-fits-all.  We tend to develop our agreements in incremental stages, so some of them cover more areas than others.   We have some agreements that may cover something like TSOs, while we have others that are more comprehensive.  These agreements can be expanded as individual countries grow their aviation industry and we accept their authority’s ability to provide oversight.

The main point for all of this … the takeaway for you … is that the FAA is looking to the future.  Safety management systems give us a very clear lens to see what’s out there.  Risk-based decision making gives us a platform, a foundation, to make the smartest decisions.  And bilateral agreements let us spread what we know about safety to the four corners of the globe.

I doubt you’ll remember the facts and the figures I gave you about the guy who replaced Wes Welker.  But I’m sure that you know how successful the Pats have been over the last decade.  Systems—and consistency—are the real ticket to greatness … and to aviation safety.  Thank you. 



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