With the introduction of a new safety management system, the need for impartiality and the roles of local managers have evolved. Head of Ground Operations, Eddie Evans says, “It was always viewed traditionally that the local manager had complete control over everything that happened at the airport. With the requirement in the SMS for independent investigation we’ve had to say ‘you need to take a step back from the investigation and act upon the results’.”
Ground Safety Manager Andy Fletcher agrees. “We’ve been going through a welcome transition,” he says. We’re pushing through a concept that an independent viewpoint is a good thing so we can move on and make improvements.”
“There’s three things we need,” says Evans. “First of all we’ve got to make sure the management and safety teams work together very closely. Secondly, the management team must allow the safety team to carry out an impartial investigation independently. Finally we need to be sure that the safety team present the investigation results in the form of a set of recommendations rather than forcing adoption of a specific action.
Fletcher says, “We’re introducing just culture, and most of the UK industry is starting down this path. We don’t look at individual acts, we look at organisational failures, a deeper set of root causes, as opposed to simply what somebody might or might not have done on the day. Even quite quickly after introduction it’s having a positive effect because people are empowered to make decisions. They don’t always get it right, but if there’s a non-punitive outcome you can say let’s sit down and find out where the decision making went wrong and how can we improve it next time. The industry for many years has had a blame culture and it’s been quite damaging. It’s something that all airlines are working on to improve.”
“It’s very easy to go for the end user but potentially you’ve got management issues and management decisions that add to the complexity of the event,” agrees Evans.
Flybe has introduced a simple technological solution to aid safety and compliance reporting, and to gather data to monitor trends and spot potential problems. “We invested in iPads,” Evans explains. “When you’re out and about and you see something happen you can make a very quick entry into the system.”
Initially iPad data collection was tried at just one airport, and Fletcher says, “In less than a week we saw this big spike in data, and that’s what convinced us that this technology was a good way to go.” The management and safety teams are now all equipped with iPads, with the ability to report instantly on any safety or compliance issues via a simple checklist. As Fletcher points out, “Constant inspection means information is drip-feeding in, giving us a picture of the network every day. You can see trends appearing, you can see when performance levels are going up or down. We can map what our contractors are doing on a daily basis.”
He continues, “With the new IATA regulations for SMS, and safety systems becoming not only more proactive but also becoming predictive, we’ve found that this helps us spot if there is an airport we might want to look at more closely: even though we haven’t seen any safety events, there may be indicators that it may not be very far away. Data really is key. The more data we can get, the better the picture have of what’s going on.”
Another aspect of Flybe’s new SMS is HIRAC: Hazard Identification Risk Assessment and Control, which goes further than a traditional risk assessment. Evans explains, “Any new activity or change to current activity requires a HIRAC. It’s usually hosted by a member of the safety team but it brings together all the stakeholders: the regional manager or airport manager, or if it’s a central activity, someone who has the expertise in that area; it also brings in stakeholders from other departments such as cabin services, flight operations and engineering; and occasionally we need to bring in PR, marketing, sales, or commercial teams. We also involve our Ground Handling Agents or Airport Authority staff and management whenever appropriate.
“For example we recently developed a shelf for the hold of our Q400 aircraft which enables us to carry human remains. To get that signed off we carried out a HIRAC involving engineering and flight ops, so the whole community of Flybe have had an opportunity to input into the risks. We’ve also recently done a HIRAC about the potential for volcanic ash from Bardarbunga in Iceland, so we included representatives from PR, marketing and customer services. It was very focussed on communications and, how we would get messages out to our customers about what was happening.
There is still work to be done going forward, Fletcher says: “The just culture is still in its infancy. We’re looking at a greater engagement by the management team and our contractors.”
Evans continues, “Our management team have been quick to appreciate the benefits. We can of course influence our contractors, but we operate to over 70 wide-ranging airports throughout the UK and Europe. We have two main ground handlers in the UK, but in Europe it’s a different one in nearly every airport so it’s quite a job.”
The airline holds quarterly safety meetings with its ground handlers, including those from its European stations. Fletcher says, “The safety teams from all of our handlers tell us what issues they’ve got. That facilitates information sharing between competitors on safety issues. They’re willing to talk to each other and support each other in the name of safety, to make sure that people don’t get hurt. It’s good that they’re willing to work together to that end.”
Fletcher says Flybe has learnt a great deal from the experience of introducing SMS and just culture: “Working together really is a key factor. If we want to improve what we do, Flybe standing alone will be able to make some change, but the industry is moving. We’re in various groups – we’re an IATA airline, in the IATA IGOM and airside safety groups, and I co-chair the CAA GHOST group. What that’s telling me is that we all need to be united. If we want to make change, it’s got to come from everyone, and it’s got to be wanted by everyone.”
“It’s about not working in silos,” says Evans. “It’s about ensuring we all talk to each other and work together.”
Fletcher agrees: “There has been a real disconnect in the past. The commercial and operations sides of businesses sometimes don’t understand the impact they can have on each other. We’re working hard now to bring all of our people together. HIRACs are allowing us to do that. We’re getting everyone in the same room and we can show the operational impact of the decisions that they make, so they can understand the complexities. There are people in commercial teams who are free-thinkers, who think outside the box. The industry needs more of that to develop and move on but people do need to understand that there are constraints as well that we’re all bound by.”
Evans concludes, “We can all learn something from each other.“