The Challenges for Aviation in Sudan
There are have been many tragic air traffic accidents in the country and especially in the last decade, the last just few weeks ago and in which several officials lost their lives. In this context, the Sudan Civil Aviation Authority organized a Workshop on 9th Spetember, 2012 on “Aviation Safety, Responsibilities and Accountability”. The report on this Workshop will be the start of more reports on this serious issue with a heavy negative impact on human life and property and so should be considered as an introduction to more work on the ground.
The objective of the Safety Workshop was to create awareness of modern-day safety thinking in the industry, the media and society in general and same time develop an understanding of aviation safety, its management and the tools and methods that are developed to enhance safety. In addition to acquainting the participants with the internationally accepted aviation safety responsibilities and accountability and, address any issue or question that may be raised by the participants.
The common understanding of Safety is the freedom from those conditions that can cause death or injury to persons, damage to or loss of equipment or property, or damage to the environment. But the total elimination of accidents (including serious incidents) is impossible and failures will occur, in spite of the most accomplished prevention efforts because no human endeavor or human-made system can be free from risk or error. So, controlled risk and error is acceptable in an inherently safety system.
But what is meant by Safety System? It means a system working in accordance to plan or design of the safety system and its expectations and at the same time contains a component that can identify the areas where remedial action may be required to enhance the system and ensure that the designed goals and expectations are met. It must also expresses the safety goals of an oversight authority.
The safety system should provide an objective in terms of the safety performance that the service providers should achieve and provides a reference against which the oversight authority can measure safety performance. It should also compose and framework that enables the consideration of important factors such as the level of risk, the cost/benefits of improvement to the system, and public expectations on the safety of the aviation industry.
The above are the general guidelines for safety measures but in a complex system, like Aviation , safety is defined: “ as a state in which the risk of harm(injury) to persons or damage of property is reduced to, and maintained at or below ,an acceptable level through a continuing process of hazard identification and risk management ” .
Since 1950, there has been quick development in improving aviation safety which included the improvements in airplanes engines, airframe system and design and airworthiness standards which was in response to the high incidence of mechanical-based incidents. In addition from 1970 , more attention was paid to the human factor accidents with a focus on the man/machine interface which included consideration of ergonomics, crew resource management ,pilot decision making , improved staff selection and training in addition to more emphasis on the inter-relationships between these components.
There was another major area of attention on Aviation Safety Measures from 1990 and onwards which focused in addition to the human factor to the organizational factors in an attempt to explain why accidents continued to occur and identify the negative organizational factor in them. This included identifying the role of the regulatory authority, company management and government policies and the underlying factors which setup accident potential. In this context, we have to understand that organizational factors are the by-products of the organizational culture that flows from Top to Bottom and which sets the boundaries for the acceptable behavior in the work place by establishing norms and limits and in turn the operational staff reflect the organizational culture set up by the management.
Organizational failures occur when management misunderstands its responsibilities and accountability for safety and not willing to put adequate resources for safety. In addition when management is more oriented towards the bottom line and profit becomes the driving force and same time fails to assess risks associated with its operational and / or fails to mitigate them. But at the same time, the development, promotion and implementation of effective organizational culture is not an easy task because organizations may have a multi-dimensional risks bur they may not recognize them and also employees in production driven organizations take risks at some levels, but may not recognize it as risks. Same time, middle management may have strong incentive to hide risk due for example to operational pressure and senior may not want to know about risk which is a liability that has to be fixed.
No accident investigation report can identify the exact reason why an accident occurred unless it is a clear and open sabotage, and even then a number of questions would be raised with respect to the security of the system. But nevertheless, accidents do happen and investigations normally provided several reasons.
The understanding of the thinking of the safety evolution would also help understand accident causal factors such as; regulatory shortcomings, lack of adequate supervision, lack of management awareness of their safety responsibilities, and, the tendency of staff to cit corners mainly at the instigation of management. Such a thinking would also help understand other accident factors such as technical factors, human factors ,organizational factors ,etc because no accident happen as a result of single error or mistake.
In Civil Aviation, an international system is used to rate accidents which are simply the average number of accidents over 5 consecutive years adjusted per million departures. The ICAO depicts 6 accidents per million departures in Africa as a whole. While at the same time statistics show that of the 25 worst air accidents countries since 1945, the USA comes at the top of the list with 653 accidents resulting on the death of 10064 persons, with Russia in the second place with 297 accidents that resulted in 6809 fatalities and Brazil and Colombia, ranking third and fourth on the list.
The insurance of safety responsibility and accountability requires that the Organization shall identify a Single Accountable Executive who, irrespective of other functions, shall have ultimate responsibility and accountability, on behalf of the organization, for the implementation and maintenance of the safety management system. He should have full authority for human resource issues, authority over major financial issues and direct responsibility for the conduct of the organization’s affairs, final authority over operations under certificate and final responsibility for all safety issues.
The SCAA (Sudan Civil Aviation Authority) is mandated to promote civil aviation sector through encouraging investments in the field of aviation which would require the provision of assistance and support to the industry and its activities over the last few months is witness to the effort it is exerting. SCAA have shown its determination to ensure that the industry is productive but not at the expense of Safety because productivity and safety are the two sides of an aviation safety coin; one cannot be present without the other.
But the behavior observed over the last few months indicate that some service providers’ management has difficulty to adapt to an acceptable safety culture. But as Safety is the Primary responsibility of SCAA, behaviors that undermine Safety would not be acceptable .Still, the SCAA would help through conducting educational seminars and workshops.
By Najat Ahmed, 18/09/2012