Today, flying is statistically proven to be the safest form of transportation in terms of fatalities per number of passengers, flights and distance traveled. It has not always been that way.
Unfortunately, most safety improvements have been in the aftermath of aviation accidents. Many of the improvements date back 30 years or more when accidents were more frequent. When aviation accidents occur, the industry investigates the circumstances of the accidents and seeks to learn from those events. Those investigations identify safety issues and lead to enhanced safety recommendations. Every safety improvement resulting from an investigation is important in preventing future accidents and incidents.
Safety improvements in aviation are often difficult to implement. Being a global industry, there a number of different airlines, support organizations, aircraft manufacturers, regulatory agencies, and foreign governments that all need to be coordinated to bring safety improvements to the forefront in a timely and effective manner.
Fortunately, that is also a blessing. Sharing safety information across all of these groups has been a significant resource to improving aviation safety. Investigative teams can respond to accidents anywhere in the world and share knowledge and expertise in the investigation and resolution of the identified safety issues. It is an important reminder that reliability, safety, and quality in aviation is a team effort and that total involvement in the safety process has been responsible for continual improvements towards a safe flying environment.
The improvements in airline safety are the result of a combination of several factors implemented throughout decades of dedicated efforts.
The advancement of digital control instruments in the cockpit has been significant in driving safety improvements. Improvements in instrumentation, communication equipment, navigation systems, aircraft controls, and other improvements have enabled a new level of flight precision.
The development of the technology for Wind Shear Detection Systems, Ground Proximity Warning Systems, and Collision Avoidance Systems have all had a major influence on the aircraft safety record.
Most occupants of non-catastrophic aircraft accidents are able to survive due to the increased protection of the occupants in an aircraft.
Advances in cabin safety such as fire-retardant seat cushions, insulation, and interior cabin panels have been implemented to reduce the spread of a cabin fire and to reduce heat, smoke and fumes in the aircraft. This gives passengers and crew additional time to evacuate the aircraft in the event of an emergency situation.
Additional changes to aircraft cabins made to improve safety are redesigned seats for head injury protection, emergency escape path markings, reduced distances between emergency exits and wider exit doors.
Airport design improvements and enhanced air traffic control systems have also had a large impact on aviation safety. The development of runway safety areas and arrestor systems reduces the severity of instances when aircraft overrun the runway. The addition of Advanced Doppler Weather Radar stations to many airports allow controllers to detect and avoid wind shear conditions, microbursts and lightening impacts.
Global positioning satellites and movement-detection monitors on runways help the controllers keep track of every aircraft in the air and on the ground to prevent potential collisions.
Improvements in the reduction of Human Factors incidents have also significantly contributed to improved aviation safety. Recurrent Human Factors training and awareness in all aspects of the aviation industry have made a positive impact on aircraft safety.
As aviation’s safety record continues to improve, the focus now is on proactive measures to prevent future accidents and fatalities. The industry is continuously evolving and will require ongoing improvements, documented procedures and adequate training to respond to the new regulations, investigations, and security threats that the aviation industry will encounter in the future.
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