The aviation industry is one of the fastest-growing, and the increase in technological advances is the main reason for that. Safety is the main concern in general aviation and comprises of many numerous aspects and elements. Boyd (2017) defines general aviation as all the operations and aspects of civil aviation without the paid passenger transport segment. The focal point of this paper will be safety in general aviation; the accident prevention and safety recommendations by the NTSB, UK AAIB, TBSC, BEA, EASA, and DSB.
It is generally understood that air transport is fatal than road transport. Being a fatal mode of transport stems from the fact that it is easier to survive a road accident than an airplane crash. Additionally, there are more elements of safety in road transport that are not within a driver’s or passenger’s control than air transport. Issues like aviation traffic are not major issues even in busy airports because it is all controlled. Worldmeters estimates that there are about 1 billion passenger cars in the world. To put this into perspective, there is approximately four times more passenger cars in the world than the passengers who used air transport in the United States in 2019; 253 million. It would translate to a high probability of fatal accidents in air transport if there were even 10% as many aircrafts in civil aviation.
There were more passenger cars in Peru in 2018, 2.9 million, than all passenger airplanes that have been ever made. Statista estimated the number of planes in the world to be just shy of 24 thousand in 2021. Commercial aircrafts have historically not even reached 1 million in number, which means that fatalities in aviation are astronomical compared to road transport on level ground. Aviation safety is, however, given more attention because of its demanding nature. According to Insua et al. (2019), “aviation safety is essential for the healthy growth and sustainability of the global economy” (p. 243).
Many accident prevention and safety recommendation organizations have been created worldwide to help reduce accidents in the world. IATA (International Air Transport Association) and ICAO operate in various capacities to standardize aviation worldwide. Regional and national agencies have also been established to regulate and control aviation in the places they operate. Airline alliances have helped bolster standards of civil aviation and provide some form of regulation to member airlines.
Accident Prevention and Safety Recommendations
Sovereignty and Objectives in Investigations
Accident prevention and safety recommendations are not a one-time issue in aviation as the industry is always trying to find new and innovative solutions to problems. The organizations and units in charge carry out continuous research and development to try and establish causes of accidents and possible ways to avoid them. ICAO Annex 13 stipulates that all aircraft accidents and incidents that happen within the jurisdiction of a sovereign nation should be investigated by that nation.
ICAO Annex 13’s provisions note that nations that cannot carry out investigations on their own should delegate the task for the accidents in their territory. Investigations and their findings are not meant to apportion liability or blame. The aim of investigating is to gather facts that help better understand what happened before the accident occurred and help identify risks and hazards. Findings help recommend ways of eliminating or reducing unacceptable risks and communicate safety messages to all appropriate parties.
Accident Prevention and Safety Recommendations
The National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB)
According to the “Annual Report to Congress 2014,” the NTSB had investigated 140,000 aviation incidents as of 2015. That number has since gone higher due to more cases that occurred afterward. Available data for the organization since 1967 shows that NTSB has made 14,300 recommendations following their investigations. Two thousand three hundred recipients have been the beneficiaries of the recommendations made by NTSB. IT is worth noting that the recommendations are for all forms of transport and not limited to aviation. In some cases where resources are limited, the NTSB delegates investigations to the Federal Aviation Administration. The Board then makes recommendations on incidents and accidents based on the information provided by the FAA on the investigated case.
Implementation of safety improvements is the goal of the recommendations made by the Board. According to Beyer et al. (2018), “most people proposing an NTSB-style computer safety board focus on the NTSB’s investigation process; however, the NTSB has five core functions” (p. 1). While the goal is always to adopt all recommendations because they are fact-based, not all the recommendations made by the board are adopted. The positive is that 82% of all NTSB recommendations ever made have been adopted to acceptable standards. There is a component of cost to investigations made by the Board and its affiliates and its recommendations. They cover expenses incurred during investigations. The less than 100% adoption of recommendations is because there is no statutory provision that mandates agencies and organizations to adopt the recommendations made by the Board.
In 2010, a study was carried out by Carnegie-Knight Journalism Initiative in partnership with the Center for Public Integrity to investigate the adoption of NTSB recommendations. The research established that entities stalled in adopting safety improvements and recommendations made by the Board. The Board has a list of critical recommendations to all transport sectors, known as the “Most Wanted” safety requirements. The primary “Most Wanted” aviation improvements reduce accidents related to fatigue and prevent loss of flight control. Others in that list are ending substance impairment and ensuring operators have the required medical fitness for duty. The FAA’s response to the “Most Wanted” safety requirements was positive, with the agency updating its standards and policies to match the Board’s “Most Wanted” provisions.
The United Kingdom Air Accidents Investigation Branch (UK AAIB)
The AIR Accidents Investigation Branch looks into commercial airplane traffic incidents and serious offenses in the UK, its colonies, and dependent territories. The UK AAIB works under the Department of Transport (DfT), and the Chief Inspector of Air Accidents reports directly to the Secretary of State for Transpor. A hierarchical task analysis was developed to organize the organization’s diverse activities using a subject-matter expert panel (Nixon & Braithwaite, 2018, p. 153). There are six inspection teams, each supervised by a professional inspector. Operations examiners, technical inspectors, and flight data recorder inspectors make up the organization.
The UK AAIB posts annual safety reviews with records and statistics of investigations it carries inside and outside of the UK. The data used here ranged from notifications available in its reports from 2015 and was sourced from Skybrary’s bookshelf. Reports have notifications in a three-year period, including notifications from two previous years translating to a 2013-2020 time period. In that timeframe, the UK AAIB has issued 5384 notifications. It has also been involved in some military aviation issues, although most are addressed within military settings. The numbers recorded from correspondence investigations and those notifications referred to relevant aviation associations are 68% of all notifications in that period.
The latest report shows that 30 safety recommendations were issued by the UK AAIB from 12 investigations. Historical data indicates that 2005 had the highest number of safety recommendations issued at 150. Figure 1 shows the number of recommendations made by the organization since 1973. The total number of recommendations made by the UK AAIB in history, as represented in Figure 1, is 2769. It can be inferred from the representation that 2003 through to 2011 were the busiest for the organization. This period coincided with a period when air transport standards were adopted globally. While it is known to be deregulated in terms of where operations are, the aviation industry is one of the most highly regulated domains in the whole world on safety standards and accident prevention.
Technical Safety Board of Canada (TSBC)
TSBC is a self-governing, self-funded organization that manages the establishment and maintenance of technical facilities and technologies in Canada. Like other organizations, the TSBC recorded the lowest number of aviation accidents in 2020, with 170, as shown in Figure 2. It has reported 2680 air transportation accidents between 2010 and 2020, most of which have occurred in Canadian airspace. The number of air transportation accidents in Canada has been on a general decline since 2010. Privately operated airplanes have the highest average number of accidents reported. This is almost twice as much as the next two operator types combined, helicopters and flight training units.
Ontario and Quebec are the two provinces with the highest number of reported accidents, probably due to a high volume of air transportation happening there. The TSBC work in the airline sector is commendable because there were no fatalities in airliner operations in 2020. The TSBC’s equivalent of the NTSB’s “Most Wanted” is known as the “Watchlist 2018,” has the key air safety requirements. Employee fatigue is at the top of the “Watchlist 2018” and is followed closely throughout air transport. Adoption of recommendations issued by the TSBC has been low, affecting the effectiveness of both recommendations made and the organization. Additionally, the “slow pace of the regulatory process to implement TSB recommendations only serves to perpetuate safety risks.” The rate of adoption puts Canada behind some international standards.”
Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis for Civil Aviation Safety (BEA)
BEA (Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis for Civil Aviation Safety) is a French agency that investigates safety issues in national air transport. It also offers its services via consultancy as a third-party entity. BEA’s findings are used to provide insights and recommend security measures. According to Kim (2016), “each organization learns lessons from safety information collected from aviation accidents and incidents” (p. 165). They carry the activities out for other governments as well upon request and approval. BEA technical support is frequently sought by governments who do not desire to interact with the US FAA for political purposes. BEA is also in charge of investigating all Airbus airplanes.
A study was carried out to investigate safety recommendations made by BEA and their state. BEA issued 86 recommendations between 1995 and 2005, which were adopted in different capacitie. Not all of them were adopted fully, but the common theme is that it took time for targets to adopt the safety recommendations. The study made recommendations to ICAO on desirable initiatives to improve both policies and standards of aviation in France. The French Civil Aviation Code is the legal basis of most recommendations made by BEA. It is based on Law 99 through to Law 243 of March 29, 1999, related to technical investigations into incidents and accidents in civil aviation. The BEA makes it their interest to ensure that the interests of the general public are addressed and that all stakeholders are kept in the loop when new developments occur.
European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA)
EASA is a European Union (EU) agency in charge of authorization, research legislation, centralization, and supervision of air transport. It is also in charge of supporting the European Commission in negotiating international coordination agreements on behalf of European Union member states with the rest of the globe. It enters into operational, technological agreements with its colleagues worldwide, US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). According to Uva and Ratajczyk (2020), EASA was actively involved in mitigating the devastating impact of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 on the aviation sector.”
EASA recommendations review is available in their annual recommendations review report. The information reported here is documented from the 2020 annual report available at skybrary. Past EASA annual safety review reports can be found in the archives at skybrary. From the 2020 report, EASA has made 855 recommendations between 2010 and 2020. The report adds that most of the recommendations are often made from investigations after accidents and serious incidents. Other incidents and studies also contribute to the recommendations made by EASA. EASA made the fewest recommendations, 32, in 2020, as shown in Figure 3, owing to the low air traffic experienced during the pandemic.
EASA is a major regulator and an integral administration to aviation in the EU, which is constantly on the lookout for new developments in aviation to improve safety. It has more power than others like BEA and UK AAIB because it is a regional entity with which national organizations work with. Its recommendations are always given more weight which is the reason for airlines and organizations adopting them quicker. For instance, EasyJet and Wizz were the first to adopt the EASA’s safe restoration of air services protocols and recommendations posted in May 2020. The speed of adoption is not yet optimal in some cases, and more needs to be done on follow-ups.
Dutch Safety Board (DSB)
The DSB is a self-governing organization that functions autonomously of the Dutch government and other entities. It analyzes accidents, dangerous circumstances, and broader safety concerns that have developed over time. DSB and EASA are open to working with other partners and airlines outside of their jurisdiction. DSB is perfectly positioned as a third-party service provider for investigations and recommendations on aviation accidents and safety as an independent entity. It also works closely with other agencies to improve aviation safety and help reduce air transport accidents.
The DSB has a wide range of powers that allow it to conduct investigations in the country effectively. Investigations are carried out procedurally with clear standard procedures already established by the DSB. There are 691 investigations available on the DSB’s official aviation theme website. The organization enjoys a higher rate of adoption of policies compared to other aviation organizations and regulators. Most of it is because it has legal foundations and is autonomous in its operations. Its autonomy makes DSB the perfect partner for aviation safety and accident investigations and recommendations as there will be no political angle to operations and activities it is involved in.
Adoption of DSB’s recommendations is made on a case by case basis; most of them are positive. There is a general theme of organizations and institutions delaying in implementation of recommended practices. It affects the standardization of practices and puts the industry behind others who are always quick to adopt new practices. The board operates in many safety domains across disciplines, making it harder for DSB to follow up on all cases specifically. Even so, it follows up on key cases and investigations where more attention is needed. DSB works with other organizations to improve general aviation all over the world.
The organizations mentioned in this report have had significant contributions to safety in aviation. They have been at the forefront of investigating incidents and accidents in aviation and carried out research to improve it. Their impacts go beyond their jurisdictions as many of them have had contributions outside their jurisdictions. The investigations carried out have also yielded positive outcomes, with findings used to inform decisions. There is a common theme in the aviation industry where organizations and entities take long to implement recommendations issued by the above organizations. It creates a gap between productivity and efficiency as delays create disparities in implementing standards.
Another key issue is a collaboration between them and other sectors. Aviation is closely related to other forms of transport with intricate ties. Improving it may require the standardization of the related sectors to match it. Strategic partnerships between them in the industry will improve overall efficiencies. Information sharing is also crucial in this process as systemic issues and procedures currently hinder it. For holistic investigations of incidences and recommendations of solutions, there needs to be a platform where all of them can freely interact. Political influence should also be eliminated from their functionality.
It would be very interesting if a framework were formed to address the issue of implementation of issued recommendations specifically. Creating a global entity will be the replication of practices that are already existing and expensive. It would be more effective to standardize air transportation accident prevention, and safety recommendations then have all organizations follow them. Expediting implementation will yield greater benefits as standards will also be adopted faster, thus keeping all parties and stakeholders on the same page.
Boyd, D. D. 2017. ‘A review of general aviation safety (1984–2017)’. Aerospace medicine and human performance, 88(7), pp. 657-664.
Barnett, A. 2020. ‘Aviation safety: a whole new world?’. Transportation Science, 54(1), pp. 84-96.
Beyer, J. L., Birnbaum, D., & Zech, T. 2018. ‘The Next Step in Federal Cybersecurity? Considering an NTSB-Style Computer Safety Board’. pp. 1-26.
Choudhry, R. M., Fang, D., & Ahmed, S. M. 2016. ‘Safety management in construction: Best practices in Hong Kong’. Journal of professional issues in engineering education and practice, 134(1), pp. 20-32.
Insua, D. R., Alfaro, C., Gomez, J., Hernandez-Coronado, P., & Bernal, F. 2019. ‘Forecasting and assessing consequences of aviation safety occurrences’. Safety Science, 111, pp. 243-252.
Kim, D. H. 2016. ‘An research into the reactive safety action program for promoting an aviation safety culture’. Journal of the Ergonomics Society of Korea, 35(3), pp. 165-173.
NTSB. 2021. NTSB organization. Ntsb.Gov.
Nixon, J., & Braithwaite, G. R. 2018. ‘What do aircraft accident investigators do, and what makes them good at it? Developing a competency framework for investigators using grounded theory’. Safety Science, 103, pp. 153-161.
The Air Accidents Investigation Branch. 2021. About us. GOV.UK.
Tanguy, L., Tulechki, N., Urieli, A., Hermann, E., & Raynal, C. 2016. ‘Natural language processing for aviation safety reports: From classification to interactive analysis’. Computers in Industry, 78, pp. 80-95.
Uva, R. S., & Ratajczyk, M. 2020. ‘COVID-19 Pandemic and the Measures Taken by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency’. Air and Space Law, 45(Special issue).