Emerging Safety Issues

Of the 3 approaches to aviation safety the one that depends on expert opinion the most is that of trying to anticipate what’s over the horizon. Reactive safety is strongly supported by the historic data from accidents and incidents. A pro-active approach to safety leans heavily on the data of everyday operations. When it comes to the question of what’s going to emerge as a significant safety issue in the next 10-years then past, or current data may not be the best guide.

Regrettably, several aviation safety issues are as if they were constants. Given the nature of flying, it’s difficult to imagine that the number of Controlled Flight into Terran (CFIT) events will ever reach zero. Similarly, with Loss of Control (LOC) events. These events should continue to diminish worldwide but their elimination is the stuff of dreams.

Flight is always a balance between benefit and risk. There’s no possibility of operation of an aircraft without safety risk. The benefits of flight are wide ranging but often liked to economy and utility. So, in the quest for Emerging Safety Issues (ESIs) we need to consider what new factors might tip the balance between benefit and risk in at least three cases: existing, planned or entirely new or novel aircraft flight operations.

There may be global aviation ESIs needing evaluation related to:

  • the use of aircraft in new ways[1];
  • a new understanding of known phenomena[2];
  • futurists speculations;[3]
  • shifting societal values[4];
  • accelerated adoptions of technology[5].

It’s possible to become overly hypothetical. That’s the point where a reasonable time horizon needs to be drawn. A decade is a good measure in terms of identifying and acting upon an issue. It’s a realistic way of keeping our feet on the ground. If we are considering the safety regulatory world, a decade is a short period of time.

With the above in mind, it’s possible to brainstorm a list of ESIs. Subjects like, urban air mobility, electric and hydrogen propulsion and new materials are good candidates. These could be called large-scale issues since they are wide ranging and self-evidently applicable to aviation. Additionally, there are more murky issues like cybersecurity, quantum computing and blockchain methods that are issues for every part of society. Take your pick.


[1] Example: Higher speeds or altitudes or greatly extended range or traffic density increases

[2] Example: Solar activity, climate change, shifting human factors

[3] Example: New materials, advanced artificial intelligence, new propulsion systems

[4] Example: Risk aversity, liability, service expectations, adventurous sports

[5] Example: Smart phones have changed far more than was envisaged

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