Safety information can be defined as the end product of aviation safety data being collected, processed, organised and presented to make it useful to each stakeholder organisation. Among the most common data sources are public safety information, safety program information and reportable occurrences.
Safety information exchange means sharing safety information at various levels of risk management intensity by formal agreement across organisational domains — including national and regional entities — to increase safety program effectiveness by techniques such as:
- Pairing different operational and safety data sets to develop a more complete risk picture;
- Gaining greater insight into systemic risks identified by other domains or organizations;
- Understanding the efficacy of mitigations implemented by other domains or organizations;
- Identifying opportunities to implement changes that benefit the global aviation system, not just a targeted domain or stakeholder;
- Holistically understanding the effectiveness of procedural and technological enhancements; and
- Monitoring the integrity of end-to-end operations to identify emerging needs.
Civil aviation authorities, accident investigation entities, aircraft manufacturers, aircraft operators, pilots, air navigation service providers (ANSPs) and other stakeholders engaged in aviation risk management have struggled to integrate safety information exchange into their risk-management methods. Ultimately, the value of this concept depends on a coordinated, international effort among industry and government stakeholders.
With few exceptions, aviation safety experts urge aviation service providers to complement their reactive (i.e., forensic investigation–based) approaches and methods with safety data collection, safety data analysis and information protection — all key activities that support safety information exchange. In 2015–2017, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) sponsored Flight Safety Foundation’s Global Safety Information Project (GSIP), which entailed research into the challenges of creating an effective safety data collection and processing system (SDCPS) using the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) framework.
FSF research focused on 15 countries in the Pan America and Asia and Pacific regions of the world (as defined by ICAO), but the GSIP initiative also engaged interested stakeholders in many other parts of the world. Three SDCPS-focused toolkits, published in 2017, were intended to help the global aviation community to elevate its safety risk–management capabilities and safety information–sharing practices.
Each toolkit provides readers with safety risk management tools, techniques and examples to demonstrate each level of risk management intensity, and to guide the stakeholders’ self-identification of SDCPS improvement opportunities. Research findings and recommendations also are available in three GSIP Reports.
In the final GSIP report, FSF recognized that stakeholders have different risk management approaches, styles and needs. Therefore, operational examples and scenarios in each toolkit and report influence stakeholders across the industry, whatever their current level of risk management intensity. FSF also created the content of each toolkit so that underlying SDCPS approaches can be tailored to address the operational needs or focus areas of different stakeholders.
Safety Information Exchange Implementation
Safety information exchange often occurs at the following GSIP-defined levels of risk management intensity:
- Under ICAO-compliant agreements, in which results are handled only by one area or one workgroup within an organization;
- Under advanced-measures agreements, in which results are shared across multiple workgroups within an organisation or between one type of stakeholder and peer stakeholders for familiarization with mutual risks;
- Under industry-leading agreements, in which information is shared across an entire organisation or across an entire industry segment for detailed analyses and risk mitigations; and,
- Under industry-driving agreements, in which information is shared and managed across the industry to support benchmarking and industry-government sharing of aggregated data.
There are a number of safety information exchanges, of varying size and complexity, operating in the commercial aviation industry. One of the most extensive is the FAA's Aviation Safety Information Analysis and Sharing (ASIAS) program, which connects a variety of safety data and information sources across government and industry, including voluntarily reported safety data. ASIAS works closely with the Commercial Aviation Safety Team (CAST) and the General Aviation Joint Steering Committee (GAJSC) to monitor known risk, evaluate the effectiveness of deployed mitigations, and detect emerging risk.
ASIAS also partners with the industry-sponsored InfoShare meeting, which facilitates, in a controlled, confidential and protected environment, the sharing of safety issues and best practices.
Programs like ASIAS and CAST are operational and/or are being developed in other regions of the world to facilitate the exchange/sharing of safety information. Smaller, more localised efforts also have been established between stakeholders with individual countries or operating into select airports.
In Europe, the mission of European Co-ordination Centre for Accident and Incident Reporting Systems (ECCAIRS) is to assist national and European transport entities in collecting, sharing and analysing their safety information in order to improve public transport safety. ECCAIRS is a digital platform integrating European national aviation authorities (NAA’s) and safety investigation authorities (SIA’s). ECCAIRS 2 provides a digital platform enabling the implementation of the provisions defined in EU regulation 376/2014. ECCAIRS is supporting NAAs in collecting, sharing and analysing their safety information with as an ultimate goal to improve aviation safety.
ECCAIRS relies on a specially designed electronic reporting system, which allows all European Union member states to collect data in the same manner and to share the information. Beginning with a software suite that was first released in 1998, the system originally focused on collecting, sharing and analyzing safety information related to aviation; the system has been updated several times, including a 2011 enhancement that has also been used in gathering safety information from railways and maritime operations.
Member state safety information is held in two central databases: the European Central Repositories for Occurrences (ECR-ECCAIRS) and the European Central Repository for Safety Recommendations (ECR-SRIS), both located in the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre.
Aviation safety stakeholders understand that hazards will go unrecognised if they rely mainly on reactive methods of safety risk management. Adding proactive and predictive methods addresses operational risk and accelerates the global evolution of risk management. A significant effect seen in early steps toward safety information exchange, however, is that many industry stakeholders decline to share their data and data analyses in any manner, according to GSIP-related research.
A related effect is that numerous data sources — such as employee safety reports, flight data monitoring, audits, and various reports generated about operational conditions — are not in the public arena. Rather, they are only collected, analysed and stored internally by organizations during routine operations.
The absence of safety information exchange can emerge as a contributory factor during investigations of some aviation accidents and serious incidents. GSIP researchers concluded, in that context, that developing positive, open relationships involving regulators, ANSPs, air carriers, manufacturers and other safety stakeholders is critical to a proactive/predictive understanding of this factor.
GSIP findings based on regional stakeholders’ survey responses and their accounts of their own safety information exchanges, reinforced the importance of sharing relationship-building ideas, workable methodologies and practical solutions. Among notable findings are:
- Safety management systems were widely adopted by 2015, and 65 percent of the organizations surveyed already were using safety performance indicators (SPIs) linked to ICAO’s critical accident categories;
- While there was strong consensus on proactively exchanging the data from voluntary and mandatory safety reporting programs, agreement on the significance of data analyses often proved hard to achieve;
- Effective processes for defining taxonomies and capability in hazard and risk identification are necessary to collaborate and to accomplish safety information exchange;
- Stakeholders agreed that examples of how risk assessment processes are completed are highly useful; and,
- Aviation leaders in government and industry need to explicitly promote growth of safety data exchange initiatives; without wide participation, the ability to assess risk is limited.
The latest FSF report on GSIP findings during three years explains the broad issues considered to be high priorities. The following findings note the wide range of global stakeholders, and suggest opportunities for near-term enhancements to safety information exchange:
- The aviation industry needs common understanding of ICAO safety performance targets (SPTs) and SPIs;
- The industry needs guidance for safety data alerting;
- Industry still has a high level of SMS–state safety program implementation variability;
- Bowtie models are a useful tool to understanding deeper issues of risk;
- There is a need to define new components of GSIP Level 4 Toolkit intensity (i.e., a future aspirational tool for all organizations, domains and stakeholders); and,
- The industry desires information-sharing improvements.
- Safety data collection and processing systems are described in ICAO Annex 13, Aircraft Accident and Incident Investigation, Attachment E.