The Evolution of Aviation Safety

The history of Operational Safety in Aviation dates back to the first flight of a heavier-than-air machine. Both dreamers and adventurers, as well as visionaries, despite the excitement of mastering the skies in control of an aircraft, always felt that flying represented a potential danger.

The risk associated with flying for the early aviators and aeronauts prompted, in the modern era after the 1900s, the development of a set of rules and standards to make flying safer. However, with technological evolution resulting from post-wars, this regulatory framework became more complex.

In the years after 1909, Sovereign States interested in regulating aviation as a commercial and communication hub held multiple conventions during various pre and post-World War dates. These conventions were more focused on commercialization and establishing legal guidelines between countries where commercial air networks were expanding, rather than the operational safety of the activity itself.

It is said that Otto Lilienthal’s last comprehensible words were: “Sacrifices must be made.” This phrase was engraved on the stone placed on his grave in 1940.

In 1944, with the establishment of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in the Chicago Convention, Document 7300, known as the “Chicago Convention,” was established. Within the entity’s objectives, Article 44 emphasized the secure development of aviation.

During the decades between 1950 and 1970, the number of operations increased, along with accidents involving fatalities. Studies attribute these incidents mainly to the introduction of jet engines, technological advancements, and improvements in the dimensions and autonomy of commercial aviation. These enhancements aimed at reaching farther, faster, carrying more passengers and cargo.”

“Evolution of Aviation Safety Management Figure.

To comprehend the current concept of operational safety in aviation, one must explore its evolution through different eras and approaches, as illustrated in the timeline.

In the early years of the new millennium, the surge in the number of accidents prompted an ICAO study on Operational Safety in Aviation and its efficient management. In 2006, the first document dedicated to Safety Management emerged, encompassing both industry operators and the authorities governing civil aviation in each contracting state.

From this point onward, “Operational Safety in Aviation” or “Aviation Safety” is defined as: “A state in which the risk of injury to persons or damage to property is reduced and maintained at an acceptable level, or below, through a continuous process of hazard identification and risk management” (Document 9859, ICAO).

This concept encompasses processes and systems aimed at reducing the number of accidents and incidents resulting from aircraft operations, based on three fundamental pillars:

The definition of acceptable safety levels and corresponding indicators, enabling the detection of deviations leading to the degradation or loss of those levels.

Notification, investigation, and analysis of safety incidents, followed by the dissemination of lessons learned to prevent the recurrence of similar errors. This part is essentially reactive, seeking solutions based on past occurrences.

Detection, assessment, and mitigation of risks, focused on early identification of potential threats to the Air Navigation System. This involves the application of barriers and mitigating measures to ensure a tolerable level of risk.

Document 9859 was just the beginning of ICAO’s actions to give Safety Management in Aviation (SMS) the importance it deserved. After compiling recommended standards and methods (SARPS) on operational safety management from various Annexes (specifically Annexes 1, 6, 8, 11, 13, and 14), a new Annex 19 was developed. Its adoption took place on February 25, 2013, becoming applicable from November 14 of the same year.

Operational Safety must be proactive, involving all stakeholders (Authorities, Service Providers, and Operators), and even predictive. This aims to identify and prevent potential threats to the system well in advance, based on minor incidents, to either avoid them or mitigate their effects as minimally as possible.”