What the ATM safety community can learn from the U.S. election and Brexit

25 November 2016


The surprising results of the United States presidential election this month and the United Kingdom’s exit from the E.U. in June provide poignant reminders that complex systems, whether social or technical, do not always behave the way we expect. When the unexpected happens, as Professor Sidney Dekker reminds us in his book Drift into Failure, we must ask two questions: “why did this happen, and why are we surprised that it happened?”

Keeping an eye on the right indicators is critical to those of us entrusted with the responsibility of safely moving millions of passengers through our airspace each year. Therefore, the CANSO Safety Standing Committee (SSC) spends a great deal of time and effort continuously developing, measuring and analysing safety indicators that serve as the precursors to accidents.

At the recent CANSO Global ATM Safety Conference 2016 in Budapest, graciously hosted by HungaroControl, we examined current ANSP safety indicators and asked how we can make these more accurate and useful in improving safety performance.

We looked at losses of separation, runway incursions and safety management system maturity levels, exchanged thoughts on safety performance and validity of the measurements, and shared ideas for new ways to measure risk. We also held a ‘market stall’ session which allowed delegates to circulate between ANSPs and ICAO ‘stalls’, and explore how they monitor safety data.

The CANSO Human Performance Task Force presented a session on the emerging field of human performance in ATM and the beginnings of a standard of excellence in human performance. Following discussion with delegates, it will now focus on delivering guidance for ANSPs to integrate human performance best practices.

Other presentations included SEANS-Safety, automatic dependent surveillance – broadcast (ADS-B), safe and efficient integration of remotely piloted aircraft systems, Just Culture, SMS drift, alternative ways to look at risk and the challenges of complexity. We also shared best practice in emergency response plans, safety promotion, ambient recording, remote towers and fatigue.

The amount of learning, in-depth discussion and open, honest lively debate during the week were invaluable. They enabled us to agree work programmes for our three SSC workgroups and the Human Performance Task Force, all aimed at further improving ATM safety.

This is why the CANSO Global ATM Safety Conference draws approximately 100 delegates each year. It’s an excellent opportunity for senior aviation safety leaders to come together and learn from each other in a friendly, thought-provoking environment, and is why I value being part of the CANSO safety team.  Ultimately, diverse perspectives are essential for managing and enhancing safety in ATM.

I want to thank hosts HungaroControl and sponsors Aireon, NAV CANADA and Thales for helping to make the conference possible. I would also like to congratulate the winner of the CANSO Global Safety Achievement Award, the International Audit Cooperating Team (IntACT), for their efforts to reduce aviation risk internationally.

CANSO Members can access all the presentations on the CANSO Global ATM-Net here (if you are unable to access them, please contact events@canso.org).

A short event film can also be viewed via the CANSO YouTube channel here and photographs are available here.


About the author

David Harrison Safety Director, NATS and CANSO Safety Standing Committee Chair

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