Safety Intelligence – this is a real trend, involving several international initiatives, which will cause an evolution from the traditional safety approach to the next generation of methods: safety information sharing and analysis with the involvement of all aviation stakeholders, but…
Are there at present suitable IT providers, infrastructure and solutions prepared for this important breakthrough? To give an appropriate answer, further analysis is needed…
Big Data and machine learning are concepts that have been having an impact on the world for a few years now. The aviation industry, due to its complexity and safety criticality, has been a slow adopter of these technologies but is quickly catching up. Specifically in the field of Safety Management, the potential benefits still to be obtained are wide-ranging and are crystallising around a concept named “Safety Intelligence”. In this article we aim to provide an overview of the current situation of the initiative, its future potential and the gaps to be overcome with regards to the use of advanced IT solutions in the Safety Management domain.
The need for a new approach
The great increase in digital systems and networks in the aviation sector has resulted in an explosion of the amount of information. This provides the opportunity to extract comprehensive knowledge from aviation stakeholders in order to offer them tailor-made solutions integrated into their everyday operations.
In this regard, it has become clear that the aviation industry has to make a significant step forward in how it manages this vast amount of information, since currently it is usually scattered among multiple systems. In order to address this, the main international aviation institutions such as ICAO, EASA and IATA, and leading national aviation authorities such as the FAA have pushed to harmonise and standardise the management of this information, as well as for the implementation of advanced aviation safety solutions. In fact, the ICAO Global Aviation Safety Plan (GASP) includes the need to implement predictive risk management capabilities by 2028, which will obviously require advanced IT support if it is to be achieved.
This gave birth to the concept of “Safety Intelligence” for aviation as it is understood today, originating from the “Business intelligence” concept developed throughout the mid-1980s as an umbrella term to describe «concepts and methods to improve business decision making by using fact-based support systems».
In line with this concept, the aviation industry is currently undergoing a revolution driven by the use of data and analytics to guide decision-making. While the average number of aircraft accidents has shown a steady decline since the end of the last century, the amount of aviation data sources has escalated enormously. Some of this scattered data collected from several players and sources has relevance for safety, and much of it, if harnessed correctly can be put to work to enhance aviation performance.
This growing reliance on new sources of information for critical functions also means the emergence of new and more sophisticated cyber threats which will require countries to implement appropriate cybersecurity measures not only from the regulatory point of view but also from the technological side.
Benefits of Advanced IT Safety Management Solutions
The paradigm shift required by the Safety Intelligence initiative should be supported by advanced and customized IT safety tools capable of working in a performance-based environment.
The selection of the advanced software to be used should combine data integration capabilities, linkage of data sources and availability of information, as well as advanced analytics and machine learning, all in a secured manner. This software platform should be able to merge the very large and growing number of data sources available in the aviation sector and provide a critical mass of data by putting into practice its big data capabilities.
Implementation of such technology will provide the aviation industry with not only operational benefits by reducing the number accidents and incidents, but also a better strategic insight and better strategic decisions at lower costs. By way of example, these tools will assist industry by providing potential benefits and applications such as the following:
- Monitoring of known risk indicators
- Benchmarking and trending of operations
- Direct studies on a safety issue
- Identification of roots of safety issues and weaknesses in safety barriers
- Use of the outputs for evidence-based training
- Support in the analysis of the safety impact of operational changes
Key elements and challenges ahead for the implementation
Some of the future challenges that aviation stakeholders may face during the transition to advanced IT safety management solutions are the following:
- Data Sharing: It will be necessary to develop solutions to overcome the constraints of today’s systems by providing customers with the ability to communicate, and share data in real-time. Thus, appropriate quality and data protection mechanisms will be essential in order to get initial customers buy-in.
- Data Security: Due to the expansion of cybercrime as a real threat, the aviation industry will be forced to provide appropriate and secure IT infrastructure as well as cybersecurity tools required for the development of a secured aviation environment. As such, States should play a significant role by enhancing coordination between national judicial authorities, aviation safety authorities (e.g: CAAs and Accident Investigation Branches) and also individual SMS service providers.
- Managing performance of aviation stakeholders: Advanced IT safety management solutions open a window of opportunity to include new types of indicators which are increasingly achieving recognition such as customized Safety Performance Indicators (SPIs).
By the same token, just as important as defining appropriate SPIs, is defining visualization tools to assess them. Data visualization tools will provide a set of capabilities to each data consumer to assess their safety information and even compare it against others. More complex dashboards can be expected, providing predictive capabilities to the users, such as ‘What-if analysis’ dashboards where a risk model integrated within such a dashboard could compute the future probability and severity of an accident or incident under a specific scenario defined by users.
- Involvement of Aviation Authorities and Service providers: Given that different personnel and profiles will be affected by the implementation of these solutions, initial stakeholders’ buy-in seems to be a major step toward implementing Safety Intelligence initiatives. Thus, new roles, responsibilities and competencies will be required to put in place these systems. To provide for this, adequate training programmes ensuring stakeholder involvement in both the collecting of information, analysis activities and decision-making will be required.
Toward advanced Safety Intelligence initiatives
For some time now, Safety Intelligence has been acknowledged as the solution to upholding the required industry safety levels, becoming an unavoidable topic to address in the agenda of the main aviation industry stakeholders.
Since 1990, new Safety Intelligence initiatives have been launched worldwide by the main aviation industry agents: ICAO, FAA, EASA and IATA. Attending to different users’ needs and regional particularities, each solution has evolved at its own growth rate by implementing genuine architectures and functionalities, establishing a diversified international paradigm with regard to solutions’ maturity and capabilities.
While the safety record of the aviation sector is commendable, the current trend of digitalisation and interconnectivity offers the potential for much more advanced IT safety management solutions. The deployment of these solutions in the aviation sector can unlock opportunities for strategic, systemic and operational benefits as well as opportunities to start exploiting real-time data in the near future in order to anticipate problems such as accidents and incidents before they emerge. However, challenges still lay ahead for the deployment of such solutions, with aspects such as cyber-security, and wide stakeholder engagement being crucial for success. For this reason, coordinated approaches and common baselines among aviation decision-makers is crucial. Fortunately, steps are being taken in this direction, which will shape how safety in the sector is managed in the upcoming years.
ALG, in cooperation with its parent company Indra, and Minsait, the new branch to support digital transformation, is currently exploring the underpinnings and benefits of the Safety Intelligence initiative for aviation through its support to States and other aviation stakeholders who are willing to step forward into advanced Safety Management Systems and into the global Safety Intelligence initiative.