Severe acute respiratory syndrome

In a constantly changing world, aviation managers have faced many tests of their skill set. The likes of SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome); Volatility of fuel prices; Terrorism; Cyclical Recession; War; to name a few, have all had an impact in an individual, accumulative and sporadic way on the global face of aviation as we know it today. However, managing safety in aviation and the inextricable link to an airlines economic viability has probably been the most problematic issue of our time. As certain as aircraft journey skyward, on occasion, there is unexpected failure, and as a natural human reaction, passengers yearn for assurance their safety is paramount. Safety laws have long been a part of aviation; however, the span of safety directives has only escalated and will not abate in the interim. With the already stringent and costly burdens of regulatory airworthiness policy; airlines are now also required to conform to such a general health and safety decree or OSH (Occupational Safety and Health). Moreover, this reflects more challenging financial and organisational hurdles for aviation managers to overcome.

Weighing up the benefits versus cost factor can be subjective at best. Self regulating entities and government public service sector companies such as NZCAA, and Department of Labour, justify the inordinate expenditure required with the money versus human life ethos, "no matter what it costs, if it saves one life, it is worth it" (Banfe, 1992). While there is no way we can place a value on personal safety as to ensure the integrity of life is preserved, certainly, managing these factors has afforded assiduous challenges to personnel involved with authorising financial reserves in these areas. Fiscal fragility instigated safety contravention and was a major aspect of early airline and safety regulation in the U.S. Hence, after a succession of accidents in 1936-37, which hampered the public perception of air travel (Wells & Wensveen, 2004); the Civil Aeronautics Act of 1938 was plausibly sanctioned "... to stabilize air transportation so that the carriers would have the financial capacity to pay for whatever was needed to conform with safety regulations pertaining to the design, operation and maintenance of aircraft" (Wells & Wensveen, 2004).

There was concern this issue would replicate after the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978, as airline management had budgets to sustain, thus, "safety had to be equated in real terms of cost-benefits, and there rose a trade-off between reasonably safe operations and cost" (Banfe, 1992). However, public trepidation was somewhat alleviated as safety regulation remained firmly intact under the scrutinising eye of administrative 'watchdogs', but at what cost?

The confidence of the travelling public was to become a key aspect of the economic success of air transport. If an airline is perceived to have a poor safety history, it can have a protracted outcome as the recent bankruptcy of JAL (Japan Airlines) in early January (Herald, 2010) substantiated, "...a spate of safety lapses tarnished JAL's image, and its rival All Nippon Airways benefited." (Herald, 2010), and "competition from rival ANA and safety lapses have also hurt." (Herald, 2010). In 1985, a JAL Boeing 747 had a catastrophic accident resulting in the loss of 520 lives (Haruta & Hallahan, 2003). This was a turning point in JAL's history, and although the crisis management was irreproachable (Haruta & Hallahan, 2003), customers elected to travel with the apparent sound option, being the only major competitor, ANA (All Nippon Airways), due to JAL's inability to divest the stigma of being 'unsafe'. Recently, Air New Zealand was accredited Airline of the Year 2010 (Air Transport World, 2010) and has confronted scrutiny. With safety culture as a focal point of this prestigious award, media attention has ensued vis--vis safety issues. From 'safety sensitive' employees violating the law (Eriksen, 2010), to aircraft incidents in Tokyo (Ellis, 2010), Auckland (NZPA, 2010) and en-route to Wellington (Neville & Fisher, 2010), the management have been attempting to recover the airlines' tarnished image in the facade that is often a biased view of 'media terrorism'. Nonetheless, "I'm never flying Air NZ again." (Neville & Fisher, 2010), does not bode well for future profit feasibility.

While ensuring the customer perspicacity of an airline remains intact, managers must also satisfy the legislators' discernment for safety in terms of SMS (Safety Management Systems). It has only been a recent advent, whereby airlines have adopted values to protect employees from harm, in addition to fare paying passengers and assets. Safety culture is a demanding and elaborate entity which requires assiduousness, at all levels of a business to be a success. Not only is a financial commitment and safety policy required on behalf of management, but also an 'embracement' required from all staff. It has been no pecuniary ease for airlines in post deregulation either as, "the industry came to grips with the insatiable trough in the guise of safety" (Banfe, 1992). Due to the vastly dynamic nature of the airline industry, health and safety initiatives are difficult to implement (International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), 2009). For example, in a case study of Air Canada aircraft turnarounds at Heathrow airport, it was estimated a total of 304+ personnel contribute to this task (Lewis, 2007). The areas of responsibility are sometimes grey, with differing companies correlating in the same workspace. Boundaries, capabilities and liabilities often have to be determined by airline managers, furthermore, when an assignment includes sub-contracted workers e.g. catering, fuelling, cleaning etc; this widens the scope for accountability which must be considered. The UKCAA (United Kingdom Civil Aviation Authority) has dedicated a 'tome' of a CAP (Civil Aviation Publication) endorsed by the HSE (Health and Safety Executive) for managerial guidance on safety in these areas because "....lessons learned from accidents to aircraft and people show that, in many cases, failures in management were a key causal factor" (UK Civil Aviation Authority, 2005).

As we can see, safety is a constant conscious challenge. As aircraft and airport systems become more complex, so too does management of mitigating the hazards involved with servicing, maintaining, and operating them. Perfection in safety is not attainable, but we can constantly strive to perfect it, and the ICAO SMS manual encapsulates this sentiment.

"....while the elimination of accidents and/or serious incidents and the achievement of absolute control is certainly desirable, they are unachievable goals in open and dynamic operational contexts. Hazards are integral components of aviation operational contexts. Failures and operational errors will occur in aviation, in spite of the best and most accomplished efforts to prevent them. No human activity or human-made system can be guaranteed to be absolutely free from hazards and operational errors" (2009).

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