Trailblazers into Safety-II: American Airlines’ Learning and Improvement Team

Trailblazers into Safety-II: American Airlines’ Learning and Improvement Team


Beginning in 2018, American Airlines (AA) has been striving to implement Safety-II in flight operations. With the support of senior leadership, the Learning and Improvement Team (LIT) was created and tasked with this responsibility. LIT members were initially recruited from the ranks of the AA line operations safety audit (LOSA) observer corps due to their experience in flight deck observation and data collection using a traditional LOSA framework.

First White paper

To catalog its journey, learned experiences, and challenges, LIT members authored a paper titled, “Trailblazers into Safety-II: American Airlines Learning and Improvement Team (LIT).”

During initial discussions with Professor Erik Hollnagel, it was agreed that LIT develop its own language and model for data collection to provide initial direction and a vector for development efforts. LIT’s language comprises the four resilience potentials (Hollnagel, 2017) and each is specified in terms of a subset of proficiencies. The language is rooted deeply in Safety-II and accounts for aspects unique to American Airlines and the modern airline flight deck environment. The proficiencies are observable performance indicators that can be captured during flight deck observations. This data collection allows flight operations and individual pilots to learn from everyday operations. LIT continues to collect flight observations (over 100 captured) on regularly scheduled flights. Data collected has been analyzed and used to improve the flying operation, including providing content for a new Captain Leadership Development course.

In addition to flight deck observations, another set of data collection includes facilitated discussions with line pilots. Known internally as Shop Talk, these informal discussions between a LIT member and line pilot occur in a one-on-one setting and provide a forum for pilots to share experiences and learning between each other. The format serves as an opportunity for American to learn about the challenges facing front-line pilots and how they address them. AA sees tremendous opportunity and value in this data stream.

The white paper concludes with work completed in December 2019 and the subsequent paper will highlight progress made since the first paper. Some of the challenges and lessons learned are highlighted below.

Lessons Learned:

  • It takes time to let go of the Safety I security and familiarity and fully embrace Safety II. As an anecdotal reference we found it took at least 6 months for full-time LIT observers to change perspective.
  • When you are educated, move forward with your own language and model. What works for your organization may not work for others.
  • Implementing a learning culture is tough. Getting employees to take time to deliberately “debrief” may be difficult. However, we believe this is where we can affect positive change.
  • Pilots love to talk about what they did and how they overcome challenges. “Shop Talk” sessions are a gold mine of data and insight on how crews think, learn and act.

Second White Paper

A second white paper, "Charting a New Aproach: What Goes Well and Why at American Airlines," was published in September 2021. The second paper describes the work of the LIT in the year since the publication of the first paper and accomplishes three mutually reinforcing goals:

  1. To document the actions taken and decisions made when validating the initial flightdeck observations as related to the LIT language and coding.
  2. To share the analysis and early observations from the dataset.
  3. To offer insights into the value of a Safety-II effort in any organization and some of the developmental and growth challenges LIT encountered

AA LIT welcomes all feedback on our papers ([email protected], [email protected]). We are happy to discuss our experience and efforts and send an open invitation to any organization, aviation or other, to reach out.

Further Reading


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