The Evolution of Aviation Safety - Part I

April 26, 2016

As Dubai once again hosts airlines, airports and safety consultants from around the world for the 4th Annual World Aviation Safety Summit, I sat down with Captain Alan Stealey former divisional senior vice president of flight operations at Emirates and Honeywell Aerospace’s technical sales director Darren L’Heureux for a candid roundtable debate on the evolution of aviation safety.

Nick Maynard (NM) - Safety is a top priority for our industry so let’s start by discussing the major steps forward in safety that we have seen in recent decades. Darren what is your top safety system of the past 30 years?

Darren L’Heureux (DLH) – I’d actually go back as far as the 1960s and 1970s when we were losing upwards of 30 aircraft a year to CFiT (Controlled Flight into Terrain) accidents. In the late 60s Honeywell’s Don Bateman invented the Ground Proximity Warning System, which became mandated in the early 1970s. By the mid-90s this had evolved into the Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System and with that system we have been able to virtually eliminate these kinds of accidents. That is certainly my number one safety technology.

Captain Alan Stealey (CAS) - I would agree - GPWS was a huge leap forward, and TCAS (Traffic Collision Avoidance System) has been a great development for reducing mid-air collisions. With the new Change 7.1 resolution advisories pilots are better informed than ever of corrective actions to take if a collision is imminent.

DLH - What about aircraft automation? Automatics have certainly improved safety in general but can pilots become too dependent on automation?

CAS - Let’s not underestimate the tremendously positive impact that automation has had on safety. Yes the role of the pilot has changed from being the pilot of an aircraft that’s difficult to handle to a manager of a very complex computer suite. So it is important pilots still know how to fly an airplane. We are very mindful of this at Emirates and give our pilots two sessions a year in the simulators, just so they can fly the aircraft at its most basic level and remain aware of its aerodynamic capabilities. When I started flying 40 years ago it was sadly not uncommon for major carriers to lose an aircraft each year. That’s fortunately changed now.

runway safety 

NM - How important is it then that Emirates partners with suppliers like Honeywell to develop safety technologies?

CAS - It is vital. I think we must always strive to go that bit further with safety. That’s the ethos here at Emirates and it’s why we partner with technology leaders such as Honeywell to see what else we can do to achieve incremental, yet very important improvements. As one of the world’s leading airlines we are prepared to be a leading force in that. RAAS (Runway Awareness and Alerting System) was born out of this partnership. Working with Honeywell we introduced RAAS to prevent aircraft entering a live runway or taking off from the wrong runway or a taxiway. And having done that, we then went a step further by introducing an energy measurement with algorithms to monitor the stability of the aircraft during final approach, and from that Honeywell brought to market SmartRunway/SmartLanding.

DLH - That’s correct. We work with Emirates to put real user data behind these concepts, perform human factors testing in the simulator, and then refine the prototype system accordingly. It really is a two-way partnership. The results of this are clear in areas like taxiing and landing with SmartRunway /SmartLanding, but we can apply this method of development to all stages of flight, including take-off so there is still a lot of opportunity out there for us to explore together regarding safety.

runway safety focusNM - Certainly the ground safety aspect is going to become increasingly important, particularly as airports continue to grow and become more complex, and traffic increases. To the flying public the tarmac looks like a maze of lights, signs and terminals. Pilots are trained to navigate this but there is surely still a safety concern as traffic increases?

CAS - They are very complex environments although, as you say, pilots are trained to decipher lights and other guidance aids so while it may look confusing in reality it is fairly straightforward for a pilot to navigate. But Honeywell’s SmartRunway/SmartLanding gives you that extra level of safety and assurance which is important as traffic increases. At Dubai we are also implementing other Honeywell systems including Ground Traffic Management or “Follow the Greens”, which is an automated system that guides each aircraft to their destination by showing them a line of green lights on the taxiway. Again Emirates has been closely involved in the testing, training and deployment of this new technology here at Dubai airport.

NM - We are talking a lot about capacity and we know airspace in places like the Middle East and Europe is particularly congested. While it may not be a safety concern today, in the long term the industry will have to address it and we are already seeing technologies like our SmartPath GBAS going into many airports around the world to tackle this issue.

CAS - Yes that’s true. Things are okay right now but we will need more capacity on the two runways at DXB soon and that is why we are exploring things like new navigation procedures such as RNP, RNAV and GBAS. These can improve safety too and offer a greater level of safety assurance for our operations.

DLH - There are still challenges to overcome though. The industry is extremely safe, but when you look at the statistics runway excursions are still by far the biggest cause of accidents and the industry must do more to tackle this problem. Emirates is really the industry’s early adopter for this, because they are doing more than what is mandated by flying with systems like SmartRunway/Smart Landing. Today accidents are rarely caused by a single point of failure. With systems like SmartRunway/SmartLanding, TCAS and EGPWS we are trying to break the chain of events that leads to an accident.

The Evolution of Aviation Safety - Part II 

Nick Maynard

Nick Maynard

Marketing Communications Manager