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The ‘Reporting Vicious Circle’

by Joji Waites BALPA Head of Flight Safety

As headlines of the latest event befalling a Boeing aircraft appear in the inbox, one could be forgiven for thinking that aviation safety is in a terminal spin.

However, the reality is that aviation is still an incredibly safe industry and whilst Boeing clearly still has significant issues to address in terms of safety culture and quality control, some of the recent media reports seem to be disproportionately fixated on the manufacturer – to fuel the narrative of a beleaguered company – rather than considering whether an event is significant or indeed has anything to do with the aircraft from a causal point of view.

Shifting the focus

Perhaps it would be more helpful and educative to focus on some of the generic, systemic issues affecting the industry?

It seems a reasonable observation that whilst safety remains high, the industry’s fabled resilience has taken a knock as resources are stretched in the continued pursuit of maximising commercial opportunities. This is arguably driving behaviours that could lead to unintended consequences for flight safety. For example, the ‘reporting vicious circle’.

Some BALPA members have described a feeling of increased commercial pressure within their companies, which is affecting their attitudes towards reporting safety concerns. There is either a fear of reprisal (contrary to just culture principles) or a feeling that nothing will change resulting in reporting apathy. A lack of reports, which are a key ingredient of an effective safety management system, can give the impression that certain safety issues do not exist or are not a significant risk. The operator then convinces itself that it does not need to act as the risks are being ‘managed’. At the same time the regulator has no evidence to the contrary, so does not feel the need to intervene. Reporting apathy is further exacerbated, and the vicious circle continues.

Our message to you

BALPA’s message to its members and all pilots, ATCOs, engineers, etc. is the importance of rigorous safety reporting – ideally through company reporting schemes but being aware of other channels (e.g., CHIRP or directly to the CAA).

Without breaking this vicious circle, an incontrovertible evidence base cannot be built, and the erosion of aviation industry’s vital resilience be arrested.

BALPAs position on flight safety is clear – pilots make every flight a safe flight. We’re determined to continue creating a safe and just culture in the aviation industry.

Read more about BALPA’s position on understanding what goes well to deliver flight safety:

Understanding what goes well to deliver flight safety


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