The Evolution of Aviation Safety - Part II

April 27, 2016

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


NM: Will we ever get to the stage where we get accident rates down to zero, or do we need to accept that we have done as much as we can in terms making any significant difference to the frequency with which accidents, which are already extremely rare, occur?

CAS: We will never have done enough. There is always room for improvement and certainly runway safety needs to be a big focus in the coming years. It is going to be increasingly difficult to get accident rates down further because we have solved those problems that are low-hanging fruit, but we must keep making incremental improvements regardless.

DLH: I agree with Alan. We have to remember that aviation is still the safest and most tightly controlled form of transport by some considerable margin. Yet improvements can still be made. Runway safety is definitely one area to look at and another is turbulence. I’d even suggest that turbulence-related incidents are more common now than they used to be.

CAS: I’m not sure they are more common, but to our point earlier, as aviation accidents are reported on much more widely today, it may seem that way. In some regions weather patterns are definitely more volatile and we need the tools to predict and avoid major storms because you are quite right that turbulence is a hidden danger.

DLH: There is a certainly a lot of innovation going on in weather radar today. Weather radars can detect out to 320 nautical miles and our IntuVue 3D Weather Radar can also detect turbulence out to 60nm. We’ve added things like hail and lightning prediction which enables the pilots to avoid severe weather that is developing and highly likely of becoming a threat. But if you could view the weather for your entire flight plan, and receive weather data from aircraft in front of you in real time via datalink, the crew would be able to make earlier and more efficient decisions on re-routing. This is going to be an exciting area of industry development in the near future I think.

NM: At a localised level is turbulence from wake vortices a concern? With larger aircraft such as the A380 a common sight at major hubs are we not seeing a greater risk from the turbulence caused by preceding aircraft?

CAS: Wake vortices can be a challenge and are generally influenced by wing loads rather than wing span. But yes it is something we need to explore further so we can close the minimum separation on the approach to an airport. The benefits of large aircraft like the A380 at slot-limited airports is that you can bring a lot of passengers in with one movement. But if you have to reduce landing capacity due to issues like wake vortices, you lose some of that benefit.

DLH: A lot of modelling is required to understand and predict the frequency and potential impact of wake vortices. In the future we’ll be able to use aircraft-to-aircraft communication systems like ADS-B (Automatic Dependent Surveillance- Broadcast) to automatically optimise spacing between aircraft, and landing aids like GBAS to enable ATC to land aircraft on different approach paths, which will also help reduce the effects of wake vortices.

plane on skyNM: From today’s conversation it is clear that aviation safety will look very different in 30 or 40 years’ time and I was wondering if either of you can describe what you think it might look like?

CAS: It is impossible to see that far ahead because technology moves so quickly. Look at how personal technology, for example, has changed radically in only the last five to 10 years. In the shorter timeframe I think we are going to see huge advancements in safety systems on the flight deck, making the aircraft less reliant on systems on the ground. Will we get accident rates to zero? It will be a hard task to achieve but we have to aim for it regardless. If we settle for accident rates any higher than zero then we are not doing enough.

DLH: Looking into the crystal ball, will we see pilotless aircraft = where the aircraft is controlled from the ground?

CAS: When I was eight years old I’d already decided I wanted to be a pilot and I remember my school teacher telling me that by the time I was old enough there wouldn’t be such a thing as a pilot. Clearly he was a bit off there, but the reality is we do have the technology to enable this today. The issue is one of public perception and for that reason I don’t think we will see that change any time soon. We know that computers today are not 100 percent reliable and thus it’s still important to have an element of human control available. I’m not going to be my old school teacher and say it definitely will or definitely will not happen, but I don’t think we will see it in my lifetime.

The Evolution of Aviation Safety - Part I

Nick Maynard

Nick Maynard

Marketing Communications Manager