Risk Management in the Aviation Industry

Every day as we go about our daily activities we encounter, process and make decisions based on the risks associated with those activities. From driving a car to work, riding a bike down the street, or deciding the type of foods we will eat, every activity or decision will carry some amount of risk. It is how one manages that risk that will be critical in determining the potential outcome either in that moment or over a period of time.

The risks involved in the aviation industry are at a very different level from those experienced in normal daily activities. Daily activities within the aviation industry are highly complex and the interactions between the individuals and organizations in all aviation operations need to be carefully managed as the safety of dozens or hundreds of lives are at stake on every flight.

Risk Management

Risk Management is a concept that was developed to ensure that the potential risks associated within the aviation operations are identified, assessed and analyzed, and managed or mitigated within acceptable safety levels. Risk management has become a vital concept for the entire aviation industry not only with aircraft during flight but also for ground operations, maintenance, training, manufacturing and many other functions within the industry.

Risk Management is an important part of an organization’s Safety Management System (SMS). The Safety Management System is a formal process that provides an organized approach to managing safety, including the necessary structure and systems, defined responsibilities and operating procedures.

Risk in the aviation industry, or in many other operations, cannot be completely eliminated and many risk management activities may not be technically or financially plausible. There will always be some risk of hazards to people, property or the environment, but the goal of risk management is to keep those risks within acceptable limits as determined by the industry and society.

Risk Management Components

Risk management consists of three main components which outline the identification, assessment, and mitigation of the associated risks.

The first component in risk management is the identification of the risk. The risk identification is very important because if the risk is not first identified, it could eventually pose a significant issue within the operations.

Each operation should review their activities to identify any situation that would have the potential to produce undesired effects and potential failures. Identified risks can be from a wide variety of influences such as those from financial, environmental, technical, and human influences. The operation should also look at their existing policies and procedures and determine whether any daily processes or workflow inefficiencies could contribute to the occurrence of any substantial risk.

The risks that are identified are assessed in terms of the severity of their impact and the likelihood or frequency of their occurrence.

Many times, the assessment can be accomplished and quantified by using a ‘Risk Matrix’ similar to the one shown below. The matrix will have the ‘Likelihood’ of the occurrence along one side of the matrix and the ‘Severity/Impact’ of the risk along the top. The matrix will indicate color-coded areas to signify unacceptable (red), acceptable (green), and acceptable but with opportunities for improvement (yellow).

Risks do not always exist in isolation. The interactions between any of the identified risks should also be considered during the assessment of each risk.

If the assessment of the risk finds it to be of a risk level in the unacceptable (red) areas, risk mitigation strategies must be developed and documented to eliminate or reduce the risk to an acceptable level. For those activities with an associated risk level in the acceptable with opportunities for improvement (yellow), strategies should also be developed for improvement for the particular activity.

The actions taken to reduce the impact of a risk is an important part of the mitigation. It is vital that proactive and preventative measures be taken in the planning, training and in solving the problem the right way, otherwise, the results can be disastrous. In the aviation industry, there is rarely a second chance at managing a critical risk.

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