Who Watches for Airplane Safety?
From government to ground crew - we all bear responsibility for safety
By Fred Workley
Aircraft maintenance also includes the field of aircraft safety and reliability. There are over half a million persons involved with aircraft who perform many different duties and functions, but we all one thing in common - we bear responsibility, along with the government, for minimizing the risk to the public from a very large, complex, sophisticated technological enterprise called the aviation industry. The public receives a great benefit from our efforts, but they expect a zero probability of ever being involved in a major accident.
The report of the Committee on FAA Airworthiness Certification Procedures stated it this way in their June 1980 report, "Aircraft safety demands a 'forgiving' design that is tolerant of failure, careful production that is of the highest quality, and excellent maintenance that gives painstaking attention to detail throughout the life of the airplane. The rare fatal accident that involves airframe or equipment is almost without exception the result of a failure of at least two, and occasionally three, of these factors."
The challenge over the years is to foster a reliable system of technological vigilance based on suitable standards. The "system" still has to protect human life and the environment while respecting innovations, creativity, independence, and competition. All this needs to be done at reasonable costs to the public. People might say that they will pay for safety, but human nature is such that they buy the ticket with the lowest fare.
Those persons holding Certificates with Airframe and Powerplant Rating, or Authorizations like Inspection Authorization, or Designees of the Federal Aviation Administration and government personnel, generally do the task of safety surveillance. U. S. Code Title 49, Section 44702 "Issuance of Certificates" (d) "Delegation" says the Administrator may delegate to a qualified private person or an employee under the supervision of that person, a matter related to (A) The examination, testing, and inspection necessary to insure a certificate under this chapter; and (B) issuing the certificate. Being a designee is a privilege, not a right, and may be terminated or not renewed in accordance with FAA Order 8130.24. In addition, a person eligible to qualify as a designee is not, and shall not be, considered an employee of the United States Government according to FAA Order 8130.28A, Para 5. Designees are liable for their actions and are not federally protected for work performed or decisions made as a designee.
Determining aircraft safety
The industry's good safety record well evidences the process works. We can never be complacent about our jobs. Even though the public wants zero risk, we work in an industry with some inherent risk. There are essentially three elements that determine the safety of aircraft:
• Flight crew or pilot
• National Aviation System (NAS)
• Airworthiness/quality of the airplane
When we refer to the pilot we must also consider who has operational control over the aircraft, thus including airline flight operations and dispatchers.
The NAS includes the entire national aviation system that is the system of airports, airways, and air traffic control. Aircraft and airmen operate within the NAS. The Airman is an individual such as a mechanic, pilots, and parachute riggers, who work or operate aircraft or ancillary equipment. They are certificated under the FAA and are subject to Part 65 and Part 91 of the Federal Aviation Regulations. The airplane includes how it is designed, built and maintained.
In the aviation literature, we sometimes use the term 'safety factor.' The maintenance technicians can successfully do their part for safety only if provided with an aircraft of good design that is flown within the aircraft's design limitations. Thus we see that each of us is part of the safety factor.
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