Uplink ALPA - The Voice of Aviation

The New Zealand Air Line Pilots' Association Newsletter.

Technical Update

AVIATION SAFETY – HEADING IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION OR A JUST A ‘BLIP’?

We hear much about the fact that we are seeing unsurpassed levels of airline safety. Fatal accidents have recently been amongst their lowest in aviation history, as are the numbers of fatalities associated with these. But, asks NZALPA Senior Technical Officer David Reynolds is this just a ‘blip’ – a temporary respite?

At least the statistics don’t seem to indicate the latter, and given the exponential rates of global aviation growth and which show no signs of abating, this does appear to be matched by decreasing accident rates. We have it well and truly sorted, don’t we? But are we pushing growth just a bit too hard to be able to sustain this?

There is no doubt that there is turbulence on the radar. Such as where will the tens of thousands of required, qualified and suitably experienced pilots come from? According to projected data from Boeing, International Air Transport Association (IATA) and our own umbrella organisation IFALPA, numbers required to service this growth and more importantly, to maintain and/or surpass these levels of safety is a truly big ask.

For its part, NZALPA is being pro-active across the country by actively engaging with government, regulators, Aviation New Zealand, airlines and training providers to ensure that New Zealanders are well placed to service this demand.

In general, engine reliability has improved dramatically. Landing with all engines running was once a luxury. Taking-off with the same engines that you had landed with likewise. We now see twin engined flights across continents of 17 hours or more. However, unfortunately that doesn’t mean we now have ‘failure proof’ engines.

Rolls-Royce’s high-profile woes with the Trent’s compressor and turbines; General Electric’s (GE) challenges with its GEnx’s turbines; and even the venerable CFM-56 which threw a blade, fatally injuring a passenger on a flight in North America earlier this year, are all evidence of this. The former are the backbone of many an ultra-long-range flight operations - not just Air New Zealand and its Trent. Are we pushing too hard here? Is reliability suffering at the cost of economy of operation and reduced maintenance costs?

Another growth challenge is that of the development of airport infrastructure. Ground collisions still occur in significant numbers as many videos on Youtube will testify. Fatal runway excursions are still occurring despite their remaining amongst the top of global aviation safety bodies safety improvement lists for well over a decade.

Achieving International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) compliant Runway End Safety Areas (RESAs) is just one area where a great deal more can be done to mitigate airport accident rates, along with the formation of Runway Safety Teams (RST’s). NZALPA continues to work closely with airports and other stakeholders in this area to improve the safety of operation at all New Zealand airports who have this key resource as part of their operation.

Whether or not what we now see is a welcome ‘blip’, or a genuine steady and sustainable downward trend in accidents, much work still remains to be done by all stakeholders with an interest in aviation safety – not just pilots and air traffic controllers.

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