Foot shooting

In the 1970s and 80s, Europe’s aviation industry strove to create common airworthiness codes. In 1983, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed that bring together 11 national authorities, including the UK. These countries agreed to improve European safety regulation; develop common codes and common interpretation of those codes and extend cooperation.

Given the immense efforts the UK applied to creating the Joint Aviation Authorities (JAA) and subsequently the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) it is unsurprising the hope of continuing involvement remained until the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) was signed.

Leaving the European system of aviation safety regulation is a consequence of the political choice of a hard Brexit. Exiting EASA membership was not accompanied by leaving other European institutions. However, the implications of no longer being an EU Member State have rippled through out the whole aviation system. As the UK becomes less Eurocentric so the rest of Europe becomes more Eurocentric. Yet, the UK will surely wish to continue to exercise influence within regional bodies. This is incongruous but it is a political choice, and such choices have consequences.

Another case of immense efforts, the UK applied, was to collaborative working in aerospace research. UK organisations and academic institutions benefited significantly from participation in the Horizon Europe project and its predecessors. This is being run down despite assurances given in the TCA. An impasse has arisen over the political shenanigans related to the Irish border.

Now, the lawyers have got involved there is surely nothing good that will come if it[1]. The overall message is negative. With Conservative leadership candidates stirring up anti-EU sentiment just to get votes, it’s hardly likely there will be a reconciliation any time soon.

Yet again, the UK is perfecting the art of shooting itself in the foot. A sad situation. By the way, I do think this situation will be resolved in the fullness of time. The EU published a Pact for Research and Innovation in Europe in November 2021. To quote:

(g) Global engagement: Develop a coherent global engagement strategy and common tools, promoting shared European values and principles for R&I in terms of international cooperation and capitalising on the attractiveness of research in the Union; ensure the Union’s scientific and innovation strategic autonomy while preserving an open economy; promote a level playing field and reciprocity based on fundamental values; enhance R&I partnerships and strengthen, broaden and deepen collaboration with third countries and regional organisations.

The last line ties in nicely with the TCA and creates a need to solve the issue of UK engagement. That would be wise for both parties in the end.

POST 1: The consequences are real Thanks to Brexit, I lost a €2.5m research grant. I fear for the future of UK science | José R Penadés | The Guardian

POST 2: Grants lost At least 115 UK researchers to lose their ERC grants – Research Professional News


[1] https://sciencebusiness.net/news/uk-launches-legal-case-against-eu-over-horizon-europe-association

Safety Research

I’ve always found Patrick Hudson’s[1] graphic, that maps safety improvements to factors, like technology, systems, and culture an engaging summary. Unfortunately, it’s wrong or at least that’s my experience. I mean not wholly wrong but the reality of achieving safety performance improvement doesn’t look like this graph. Figure 1[2].

Yes, aviation safety improvement has been as story of continuous improvement, at least if the numbers are aggregated. Yes, a great number of the earlier improvements (1950s-70s) were made by what might be called hard technology improvements. Technical requirements mandated systems and equipment that had to meet higher performance specifications.

For the last two decades, the growth in support for safety management, and the use of risk assessment has made a considerable contribution to aviation safety. Now, safety culture is seen as part of a safety management system. It’s undeniably important[3].

My argument is that aviation’s complex mix of technology, systems, and culture is not of one superseding the other. This is particularly relevant in respect of safety research. Looking at Figure 1, it could be concluded that there’s not much to be gained by spending on technological solutions to problems because most of the issues rest with the human actors in the system. Again, not diminishing the contribution human error makes to accidents and incidents, the physical context within which errors occur is changing dramatically.

Let’s imagine the role of a sponsor of safety related research who has funds to distribute. For one, there are few such entities because most of the available funds go into making something happen in the first place. New products, aircraft, components, propulsion, or control systems always get the lion’s share of funds. Safety related research is way down the order.

The big aviation safety risks haven’t changed much in recent years, namely: controlled flight into terrain (CFIT), loss of control in-flight (LOC-I), mid-air collision (MAC), runway excursion (RE) and runway incursion (RI)[4]. What’s worth noting is that the potential for reducing each one of them is changing as the setting within which aviation operates is changing. Rapid technological innovation is shaping flight and ground operations. The balance between reliance on human activities and automation is changing. Integrated systems are getting more integrated.

As the contribution of human activities reduces so an appeal to culture has less impact. Future errors may be more machine errors rather than human errors.

It’s best to get back to designing in hard safety from day one. Safety related research should focus more on questions like; what does hard safety look like for high levels of automation, including use of artificial intelligence? What does hard safety look like for autonomous flight? What does hard safety look like for dense airspace at low level?

Just a thought.


[1] https://nl.linkedin.com/in/patrick-hudson-7221aa6

[2] Achieving a Safety Culture in Aviation (1999).

[3] https://www.flightsafetyaustralia.com/2017/08/safety-in-mind-hudsons-culture-ladder/

[4] https://www.icao.int/Meetings/a41/Documents/10004_en.pdf