The Flight Operations Section of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) takes lead responsibility for writing and updating cabin safety standards and recommended practices, including associated guidance material, that apply to commercial air transport.
Broadly speaking, ICAO’s Cabin Safety Programme focuses on improving regulations related to cabin operations; the operator’s procedures and documentation; cabin crew training and qualifications (including facilities and devices); human performance; design and manufacturing; equipment and furnishings on board aircraft; and, the operational environment.
Augmenting rule making and advisory material by ICAO and national aviation authorities is the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which regularly updates the IATA Cabin Operations Safety Best Practices Guide. This “central reference source for industry-agreed best practices” has been designed to provide airlines with facts, data analysis, issues, trends and expert opinions during creation and updating of their safety procedures and policies.
IATA’s Cabin Operations Safety Guide provides a central reference source for industry best practices, sample policies and procedures as well as recommended practices and regulations such as ICAO's Annex 6 relating to the delivery of safe and efficient cabin operations, according to IATA. The latest version of the guide, edition 7 published in 2022, provides updates to existing procedures, and new guidance for root cause analysis for cabin safety-related incidents and reports; accessibility and passengers with disabilities, to align with other IATA activities; and accountability and authority definitions to align with the IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA), which is required of all member carriers.
One useful meaning of cabin safety can be implied from ICAO’s emphasis on cabin crews — i.e., flight attendants — and their central role.
The Cabin Safety section of ICAO’s website says, “Cabin safety contributes to the prevention of accidents and incidents; the protection of the aircraft’s occupants, through proactive safety management, including hazard identification and safety risk management; and the increase of survivability in the event of an emergency situation. Traditionally, the role of cabin crew members focused on the evacuation of an aircraft in the event of an accident. However, cabin crew members also play an important proactive role in managing safety, which can contribute to the prevention of accidents.
“This role includes, but is not limited to, preventing incidents from escalating in the cabin, such as smoke or fire; informing the flight crew of abnormal situations observed in the cabin or relating to the aircraft, such as pressurization problems, engine anomalies, and contamination of critical surfaces; and, preventing unlawful interference and managing passenger events that can compromise safety and security of the flight, such as hijackings.”
The following definitions applied in the latest IATA Cabin Operations Safety Best Practices Guide also tie into the centrality of cabin crews:
Cabin crew — “Crew members designated to perform safety duties in the passenger cabin in accordance with the requirements of the operator and the Authority; qualified to perform cabin functions in emergency situations and enact procedures to ensure a safe and orderly evacuation of passengers when necessary. Other personnel who are designated to perform non-safety related duties on board are not considered cabin crewmembers. (Equivalent terms: flight attendant, cabin attendant)”
Safety — “The state in which risks associated with aviation activities, related to, or in direct support of the operation of aircraft, are reduced and controlled to an acceptable level. (New definition from ICAO’s Doc 9859, Safety Management Manual, Fourth Edition, 2018)
Pilot-in-command — “The pilot designated by the operator as being in command of the aircraft and charged with responsibility for the operational control and safe conduct of a flight.”
Senior cabin crewmember — “Cabin crewmember appointed by the operator to act as chief/lead of the cabin crew. The senior cabin crewmember takes orders directly from the pilot-in-command.”
Evacuation — “Passengers and/or crew evacuate aircraft via emergency exits (i.e., doors, over-wing exits, hatches, or gaps in the fuselage), usually initiated in life-threatening or catastrophic events.”
Rapid deplaning — “Passengers and/or crew rapidly exit aircraft via boarding doors and via jet bridge or stairs as a precautionary measure.”
ICAO Cabin Safety Material
ICAO annexes contain Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs) adopted by the ICAO Council as the minimum standards applicable to civil aviation, The following annexes comprise SARPs related to cabin safety:
- Annex 6, Operation of Aircraft, Part 1 -International Commercial Air Transport
- Annex 8, Airworthiness of Aircraft
- Annex 13, Aircraft Accident and Incident Investigation
- Annex 18, The Safety Transport of Dangerous Goods by Air
- Annex 19, Safety Management
Specific information on how the annexes and SARPs relate to cabin safety can be found on the ICAO Requirements Related to Cabin Safety webpage.
In an April 2019 conference presentation, ICAO recommended the following publications to stakeholders. They cover recent changes in global standards and recommended practices, along with threats and errors, risk scenarios and aircraft accidents affecting flight attendants:
- Doc 9481-AN/928, Emergency Response Guidance for Aircraft Incidents Involving Dangerous Goods, 2019–2020 Edition;
- Doc 10049, Manual on the Approval and Use of Child Restraint Systems, Second Edition, 2019;
- Doc 10111, Manual on the Implementation and Use of Cabin Electronic Flight Bags, First Edition 2019;
- Doc 9859, Safety Management Manual, Fourth Edition 2018;
- Cir 352, Guidelines for Training Cabin Crew on Identifying and Responding to Trafficking in Persons, 2018;
- Doc 10086, Manual on Information and Instructions for Passenger Safety, First Edition, 2018;
- Doc 10062, Manual on the Investigation of Cabin Safety Aspects in Accidents and Incidents, First Edition, 2017;
- Doc 10072, Manual on the Establishment of Minimum Cabin Crew Requirements, First Edition, 2017;
- Cir 340-AN/198, Guidelines for the Expanded Use of Portable Electronic Devices, 2015;
- Cir 344-AN/202, Guidelines on Education, Training and Reporting Practices related to Fume Events, 2015; and,
- Doc 10002-AN/502, Cabin Crew Safety Training Manual, First Edition 2014.
Emerging Issue Examples
Here are examples of relatively new issues:
- During 2020, IATA’s Incident Data Exchange (IDX) system replaces the former Safety Trend Evaluation, Analysis and Data Exchange System (STEADES). “IDX provides access to data on established key performance indicators in comparison to worldwide benchmarks. This allows IATA members to compare their performance to their peers and identify where improvements can be made,” IATA said. New subjects of data collection, analysis and sharing with IDX have not been announced publicly, but previously completed cabin safety–related studies addressed inadvertent slide deployments; fire, smoke and fume events; passenger and cabin crew injuries; turbulence injuries or incidents; rapid deplaning and evacuations; unruly passenger incidents; and operational pressure within airlines.
- Cabin LOSA increasingly will be used as a source of safety-relevant data for analysis of the effectiveness of cabin crew training in real situations. IATA said, “A Cabin LOSA program is a method of identifying cabin crew responses to threats and errors in normal operations. It is not to be confused with a line check which is a training validation performed on individual cabin crewmember/s.” With its non-disciplinary framework, feedback from Cabin LOSA strengthens cabin crewmembers’ and trainers’ ability to routinely anticipate potential threats in all phases of flight.
- IATA Cabin Safety webpage
- IATA Cabin Operations Safety Best Practices Guide, Edition 7, International Air Transport Association (IATA), 2022.
- IATA Guidance for Cabin Operations During and Post Pandemic, Edition 5, International Air Transport Association (IATA), 18 May 2021.
- ICAO Cabin Safety webpage