Aviation Safety:

Safer Skies Initiative Has Taken Initial Steps to Reduce Accident Rates by 2007

RCED-00-111: Published: Jun 30, 2000. Publicly Released: Jul 5, 2000.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Gerald Dillingham, Ph.D.
(202) 512-3000
contact@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) Safer Skies Initiative, focusing on: (1) to what extent addressing the safety problems to be addressed by the initiative will help reduce the fatal accident rate; (2) what progress the initiative has made in identifying and implementing interventions to address each of these safety problems; (3) what progress has been made in assessing the effectiveness of those interventions; and (4) how FAA is coordinating the Safer Skies initiative with other safety activities conducted throughout the agency, in partnership with the aviation industry, and by other federal agencies.

GAO noted that: (1) the Safer Skies initiative addresses the safety problems that have contributed to fatal accidents in the past, and in conjunction with other safety problems, it can be expected to reduce the fatal accident rate and thus enhance the safety of the nation's air passengers; (2) in commercial aviation, the initiative addresses safety problems that accounted for over three-quarters of the fatal accidents in those operations in 1988-1997; (3) in general aviation, the Safer Skies initiative plans to address safety problems that appear to be the most common causes of fatal accidents; (4) the initiative has adopted a less aggressive goal in general aviation of reducing the number of fatal accidents to 350 in 2007, which represents about a 20-percent reduction; (5) the initiative addressed four safety problems in cabin safety; (6) to date, safety improvement efforts by FAA and the initiative have focused on reducing the causes of past accidents and incidents, which may not be entirely predictive of future ones; (7) as of April 1, 2000, Safer Skies teams had started work on 13 of the 16 safety problems and had begun implementing interventions for 5 of these--2 in commercial aviation and 3 in cabin safety; (8) since most of the interventions developed under the Safer Skies initiative are in early implementation stages, little progress has been made in evaluating their effectiveness; (9) of the five Safer Skies teams that have begun implementing interventions, only one has developed a performance measure to evaluate whether the interventions it has selected are helping to reduce the safety problems that cause fatal accidents and are worth what they cost; (10) FAA has coordinated extensively with aviation experts from industry, other federal government agencies, and its own staff, but GAO's review identified three coordination problems that could undermine the implementation and evaluation of Safer Skies' interventions; (11) although FAA officials have repeatedly committed to funding interventions agreed upon by all parties, skepticism still exists among some participants as to whether this commitment can or will be honored; (12) furthermore, if funding is limited, it remains unclear what process will be used to reprioritize available resources to ensure funding for interventions that emerge later but have greater potential for reducing the fatal accident rate; and (13) the Safer Skies initiative, FAA, and the Department of Transportation (DOT) have not agreed on how they will measure progress in achieving the accident reduction goal for commercial aviation.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FAA concurred with this recommendation to use departures as the activity measure for calculating the fatal accident rate for commercial aviation across DOT, FAA, and the Safer Skies commercial aviation steering committee. FAA's Office of Regulation and Certification's Performance Plan for fiscal year 2001, states that: beginning in fiscal year 2001, the activity measure upon which the accident rate is calculated will be departures, not flight hours as in the past. The Department will continue to use departures as the activity measure for calculating the fatal accident rate for commercial aviation. While consistency has been achieved between the measures used by DOT and FAA, the Safer Skies commercial aviation steering committee also needs to agree to use the same measure before the recommendation can be closed.

    Recommendation: To ensure that the extent of progress toward reducing the fatal accident rate for commercial aviation is measured consistently, the Secretary of Transportation should ensure that DOT, FAA, and the Safer Skies commercial aviation steering committee all use departures as the activity measure for calculating the rate.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FAA concurred with this recommendation. FAA outlined a basic process for the executive council's decisions on which interventions to fund. The Safer Skies Executive Committee, comprised of FAA executives, will provide executive-level oversight to identify and implement FAA commercial aviation and general aviation safety agenda initiatives within their respective organizations. They will ensure coordinated implementation, both within their own organizations and across all affected parts of the FAA. This committee provides the vehicles for that integrated approach.

    Recommendation: To ensure the implementation of the Safer Skies safety interventions, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to clarify the executive council's process for committing to the funding and implementation of interventions and coordinate with the Safer Skies steering committees about the meaning and timing of this commitment.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FAA concurred with this recommendation. FAA is working through the Commercial Aviation Safety Team (CAST) to refine the process used to track progress in reducing the fatal accident rate in commercial aviation. The process will develop measures to predict the effectiveness that an intervention or set of interventions will have on the accident rate. FAA is actively considering using accident precursors to assess the performance of interventions and is identifying available and needed data to measure precursors. While data availability and quality remain a significant barrier to implementing some performance measures, efforts using flight data recorders and other partnership programs should help. This effort is ongoing with no estimated completion date. The intervention implementation team has developed a measure of predicted effectiveness for each intervention. This measure predicts the effect an intervention, or set of interventions, will have on the accident rate. The team will predict the result of 50 percent implementation, and 50 percent effectiveness of the intervention(s) adopted against the baseline accidents. The Joint Steering Committee established a working group to improve the type, quality, and quantity of general aviation data. FAA will also use other methods to improve data availability and quality using partnership programs such as the Aviation Safety Action Plan.

    Recommendation: To improve the ability to determine the effectiveness of Safer Skies interventions, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to work with the Safer Skies steering committees to direct the teams to identify the extent of fatal accidents resulting from the safety problems they are working on. If possible, data should be developed to establish a consistent baseline against which to measure the progress that results from the Safer Skies initiative. If an analysis team has already completed its report, the implementation team working on the same safety problem should develop these baseline data. More specifically, to better ensure progress toward overall safety goals, the FAA Administrator should work with the Safer Skies steering committees to revise the implementation guidance to: (1) develop an overall performance measure or measures to determine progress toward eliminating the safety problem the team is addressing; (2) consider using accident precursors as performance measures for the safety problem in question; and (3) identify any barriers that may impede the implementation of performance measures.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FAA concurred with this recommendation. FAA is working with the Commercial Aviation Safety Team (CAST) to refine the overall intervention tracking process. CAST established a special group, the joint Implementation Management Team (JIMT) to formulate tracking procedures and actually track intervention implementation. Currently FAA has three methods for tracking the effectiveness of interventions: level of plan compliance, predicted effectiveness, and risk management. As of October 6, 2000, the following functions were added to the Joint Steering Committee charter: the FAA lead organization will monitor milestone completion dates identified in the FAA's internal implementation plans and report back to the committee periodically, and periodic reports on Safer Skies' effectiveness, including recommendations for corrective actions and/or intervention augmentation, will be sent to the FAA Administrator as needed.

    Recommendation: To ensure that interventions are implemented and that effective and feasible interventions are identified in the future for issues that the initiative has yet to address, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to advise the Safer Skies steering committees to develop a systematic way of tracking the implementation of interventions approved by all Safer Skies steering communities. This tracking system should include the identification of responsibility for implementation, the establishment of short- and long-term milestones and resource estimates, and the preparation of progress reports. The progress reports should provide information on the detailed steps to be taken by all government and industry participants to ensure the successful implementation of each intervention. Progress reports should highlight and explain any delays in meeting the milestones. This system should be shared with the relevant Safer Skies steering committees and FAA's focal point for the initiative as well as with the team that recommended the intervention.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FAA concurred with this recommendation. FAA's response stated that the general aviation community is extensively represented on the General Aviation Joint Steering Committee and will be fully aware of the interventions as they are identified. FAA plans to use both its own resources and those of general aviation groups to communicate with general aviation pilots. FAA said that as the steering committee reaches that stage of its activities, specific plans will be laid out to maximize information dissemination. FAA also said that the Joint Steering Committee developed a communications strategy that was implemented on December 1, 2000, whereby those represented on the committee will distribute safety information when approved by the committee. This will focus on the need for aviators to develop and expand a strong cultural approach to safety. Safety culture will be a theme in association editorials, seminars, and informational materials.

    Recommendation: To further reduce the nation's fatal accident rate and save lives in the type of aviation operation that causes the most fatal accidents and fatalities, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to work with the general aviation community to ensure that training and other interventions that emerge from general aviation teams are communicated to small commuter operators and pilots who may benefit from them.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FAA believes that reducing fatal accidents to 350 by 2007, is an appropriate goal. The general aviation community and the FAA have established a General Aviation Data Improvement Team. This team is committed to improving the data in order to set a more challenging goal for reducing the number of fatal general aviation accidents by 2007. It was agreed that, as the team has improved data, it would reassess the goal and interim goals at a later date. GAO continues to believe that the current goal of 350 fatal accidents by 2007, is a modest rather than a challenging goal. FAA has retained this goal but may reconsider it in the future. This action is not fully responsive to the recommendation.

    Recommendation: To further reduce the nation's fatal accident rate and save lives in the type of aviation operation that causes the most fatal accidents and fatalities, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to work with the general aviation community to set interim goals to assess progress toward this new goal.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FAA concurred in part with this recommendation. FAA believes that its current general aviation goal is a realistic one. However, FAA agreed that as the agency has improved data, it will reassess the goal and interim goals for general aviation. FAA has formed the General Aviation Joint Steering Committee to improve data quality and timeliness of estimates of general aviation activity. FAA described this committee's efforts as long term. FAA believes that reducing fatal accidents to 350 by 2007, is an appropriate goal. FAA agreed that as it gets improved data, it will reassess the goal and interim goals at a later date.

    Recommendation: To further reduce the nation's fatal accident rate and save lives in the type of aviation operation that causes the most fatal accidents and fatalities, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to work with the general aviation community to set a more challenging goal for reducing the number of fatal general aviation accidents by 2007.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  8. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FAA concurred with this recommendation. FAA outlined a basic process for the executive council's decisions on which interventions to fund. The Safer Skies Executive Committee, comprised of FAA executives, will provide executive-level oversight to identify and implement FAA commercial aviation and general aviation safety agenda initiatives within their respective organizations. They will ensure a coordinated implementation, both within their own organizations and across all affected parts of FAA. Members of the Commercial Aviation Steering Committee also are empowered to vote on implementing interventions on behalf of their constituents.

    Recommendation: To ensure that the interventions with the greatest potential for reducing the fatal accident rate and improving aviation safety receive needed resources, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to ensure that the executive council has a process in place for reprioritizing interventions if funding is limited.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

 

Explore the full database of GAO's Open Recommendations »

Sep 14, 2016

Sep 2, 2016

Aug 8, 2016

Jul 28, 2016

Jul 13, 2016

Jul 7, 2016

Jun 24, 2016

Jun 21, 2016

May 26, 2016

Looking for more? Browse all our products here