MIAMI — The perception of air safety in the Asia Pacific region continued to take a hit after the February 2 crash of TransAsia Airways Flight 235, flown with an ATR-72-600, into Taiwan’s Huandong Viaduct. Experts interviewed by Airways feel that the region, which is experiencing a rapid growth in airlines, has put its air safety record in the spotlight.
Anthony Brickhouse is an associate professor of applied aviation sciences at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida. He has worked for the NTSB in the Vehicle Performance Division of Office of Research and Engineering in Washington, D.C., and is a member of International Society of Air Safety Investigators (ISASI).
Brickhouse emphasized that before looking at the region’s overall air safety record, it’s important to step back and look at the accidents that have happened in the past year. “The majority of those accidents that happened in the region are still being investigated. They’re still looking for Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370, while it appears that MH17 was brought down outside the realm of a safety-related accident,” he said. “So before we can make a final assessment, we need to know the links that are causing these accidents in the region.”
Anthony Roman is the president of Lynbrook, New York-based Roman & Associates, a global investigation and security risk management firm. He’s an FAA-licensed commercial pilot, a former corporate pilot and a former adjunct instructor at the State University of New York’s professional pilot program.
“The Asia Pacific region’s airlines have had an unprecedented accident record, with 12 fatal accidents in 14-month period,” said Roman. “That’s unacceptable, given the engineering built into modern airliners that help prevent accidents from happening.
“Things like policies and procedures and administering airlines’ enforcement of proper maintenance rules, safety procedures and other kinds of administrative actions are needed to maintain a healthy and safe airline,” said Roman.
Aviation government authorities in the Asia Pacific region are under each country’s sovereignty, said Roman. “And each are part of the global commercial aviation community that must comply with ICAO regulations on air safety,” he said. “Take Malaysia Airlines, had been under a watch order, where they were being monitored to ensure they reached air safety compliance. ICAO has been giving them a helping hand during rapid expansion that dovetailed with the airline’s rapid growth to meet demand in the region.”
Brickhouse noted that the Asia Pacific region has experienced a tremendous amount of growth in the past 10 years, which can present challenges for these newer airlines. “I’ll use the U.S. airlines as an example. If you go back in history to the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, we had periods where there were fatal accidents,” he said. “The aviation industry was outgrowing the regulations and safety procedures that were already in place.”
An accident would happen, and more procedures would be put in, said Brickhouse. “So it’s important that regulations and safety procedures that are already in place grow in lock step with an airline industry that’s growing. When the regulatory and safety sides lag, it presents opportunities for accidents to happen,” he stated.
National and low-cost carriers are springing up all over the Asia Pacific region, said Roman. “If budget airlines aren’t carefully managed, the words budget and safety can conflict. It’s far easier for them to conflict, and this is delicate balance occurring in the Asia Pacific region now,” he said. “You have the mix of rapidly expanding airlines, new routes and burgeoning growth happening faster than enforcement of policies and procedures can keep up.”
While a focus on safety and business success can be at odds, Western carriers have mastered that formula, while Asia Pacific airlines have not, said Roman. “Those airlines need a better risk management program that focuses on the management of safety. They need to follow ICAO regulations that manage the implementation of safety training,” he said. “So until they have risk management programs that are successful, they will continue to suffer far greater accident rates than Western airlines.”
Brickhouse noted that while on the surface, the region looks to be unsafe, it’s hard to make general assessments. “Instead, we need to learn from accidents. What we can focus on when an accident happens is to answer three questions: what happened, why it happened and what can we do to prevent it from happening again,” he said.