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Aviation is a very safe form of transport, in fact THE safest by a large statistical margin. This culminated in the perfect score of 100% fatality free year in 2017. Not bad when you consider over 45 million commercial flights took place with the equivalent of half the global population or 2 billion people travelled by air that year.

Compare that to the global road toll!

However there are many inherent Risks in aviation as there are in everyday life.

To eliminate all Risk would mean never getting out of bed in the morning. Even then its not Risk free as many health risks now start to increase.

So we have to manage RISK, but what do we mean by RISK?

By definition RISK is a chance, high or low, that any threat will actually cause somebody harm.

In aviation we measure RISK by considering the LIKELIHOOD and the CONSEQUENCE of an outcome.


It can be hard to find an exact measure of Risk as everyone’s perception of that Risk may be different.

That “personal perception” of RISK will be influenced by our experiences, our biases and our knowledge or expertise of the issue.

By way of example I facilitate "Human Factors" training and a number of events were put forward to a group that contained both Pilots and Cabin Crew during a recent training session.

Two of these events were an "engine failure during the cruise phase" of a flight and the other was a "violent passenger in the cabin".

The participants were asked to rate these events on a scale of 1-10 (10 being the most risky).

Interestingly the Pilots rated both events LOW while the Cabin Crew rated them HIGH. In fact one Cabin Crew asked if they could rate the engine failure more than a 10!

Why this significant difference?

It comes down to that "personal perception" of Risk.

The Pilots have a secure flight deck these days thanks to 911. The violent passenger can’t penetrate the flight deck fortress so the pilots safety is not personally at RISK. The cabin crew on the other hand have to deal with this violent individual "personally" and therefore are at a greater RISK of harm.

Pilots train regularly in the flight simulator. These simulator sessions invariably contain engine failures, in much more critical phases of flight than in the cruise. Namely during take-off and climb. Not to sound flippant but an engine failure in the cruise would be considered more of an inconvenience than a threat to most pilots. All modern jet aircraft can easily fly on one engine, in the case of a two engine airliner, or three in the case of a four engined airliner. Pilots regularly train in this environment and have a "personal perception" based on this knowledge and experience that is different from the cabin crew.

It’s therefore vital that as a team we share our experiences and knowledge so that we can move our own perception of RISK closer to the actual RISK of the situation.

Even though the aviation industry had a perfect score on safety in 2017 it’s initiatives like RISK perception that enhances and maintains this impressive safety record.

The aviation industry, like any other industry, cannot rest on its safety laurels as complacency can set in.

Aviation safety is like a marathon without a finish line.

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