After An Incident Filled & Authoritarian Double Standards 2015- Will 2016 Be Any Different?

As the curtain falls on 2015, its time to reminisce and muse on the various safety and incidents safety that took the industry with possibly the shortest know memory and acting directly on the lessons learned, by surprise albeit the clear tell tale signs were on the wells and or were ignored only for them to manifest and end up grotesque. A good example the 24 March, 2015 Germanwings Airbus A320 Barcelona to Dusseldorf flight intentionally crashed into terrain as a result of the actions of the First Officer whilst the Captain was locked out of the flight deck, where all 150 people on board perished.

As surprising as these grotesque occurrence was, there is evidence to the effect that it was not the first of its kind caused by the deliberate manoeuvres by one of the flight crew members” intended to lead to the loss of the aircraft and its occupants.” The Egypt Air saga of the relief pilot Gameel Al Batouty on Flight 990 from Los Angeles to Cairo on 31st October 1999 where 217 perished into the Atlantic, comes to mind, the contentious Egyptian Government official stand point aside. Another such occurrence we failed to learn from 14 years later being the 29th November 2013 LAM Flight 470, which entered a rapid descent while en route between Maputo and Luanda and crashed in Namibia, after the captain making deliberate control inputs that directed the plane to the ground, shortly after the first officer had left the flight deck.

Hopes are that in 2016 the continuing investigation will try to understand the need for current balance being purportedly needed between medical confidentiality and flight safety by at least specifically aiming to explain how and why pilots can be in a cockpit with the intention of causing the loss of the aircraft and its occupants, despite the existence of regulations setting mandatory medical criteria for flight crews, especially in the areas of psychiatry, psychology and behavioural problems; recruitment policies, as well as the initial and recurrent training processes within airlines. On the security side of the coin, I for one hope the Investigation will seek to understand the compromises that continue to be made or need making between the requirements of security, specifically those that followed the attacks on 11 September 2001, and the requirements of flight safety.

In this context, the Investigation should at the very least include a focus on the cockpit door locking systems and cockpit access and exit procedures. As well as on communication, since, a locked flight deck door continues to reduce the situation awareness of the flight crew in respect of conditions in the passenger cabin in the event of an on-board security issue. Not to mention, the situational awareness of the cabin crew is reduced in respect of conditions on the flight deck in the event of an emergency. Or even crew incapacitation, particularly in the case of total incapacitation of flight deck occupants, cabin crew may not be aware and may not always have a means of accessing the flight deck to assist.

From a Crew Resource Management –CRM perspective the locking of the flight deck door reduces routine interaction between the flight crew and the cabin crew during the flight. At times forcing the Pilot in command to resort to using pre flight preparation and turn round time to confirm any exceptional preparations beyond those routinely prescribed for effective CRM. Which in the case of don’t care Pilots and the demigods we pretend to be, some hardly do it, thereby jeopardizing the safety of the flight at times.

As regards physiological needs, naturally, the need for flight crew to use toilets, access designated crew rest facilities or be supplied with food and drink, requires access through the flight deck door during flight. Procedures for door opening mean that egress and access will take longer with the result that the flight deck crew are not always able to go to the toilet at a time of their exact choice, which may cause them to be distracted and, exceptionally, might exacerbate an existing underlying medical issue in a way that would not otherwise have occurred.

Then comes, the Unlawful Interference bit where, while the purpose of the flight deck doors is to prevent unauthorised access to the flight deck, there is an attendant risk that one of the pilots may themselves unlawfully interfere with the flight for example to commit suicide. Consequently mandatory universal procedures should be in place to ensure that at least two operating crewmembers, including at least one qualified pilot at the controls, are in the Flight Crew compartment at all times.

Whilst still on the issue of Unlawful Interferences, comes the issue of men and women behaving badly by being disruptive, which at times escalated to the extent of forcing flight diversion. Airlines have been on the forefront instituting their own ban lists, which only seem a drop in the ocean and continue therefore to call for a concerted industrial effort with the likes of ICAO, IATA, IFALPA and ACI taking the lead to propagate for its curbing, not to me civil aviation authorities and their respective commissions seeking the enactment and implementation to the letter of stringent legal measures to keep it check.

In the USA, even with the FAA having it as criminal charge with fine of $ 25000 for example, out of control airline passengers that divert or delay flights continue to often grab headlines, but what happens to these unruly fliers when the flight lands? It turns out that a lot of the time, very little. Yet according to Perry Flint, a spokesman for the International Air Transport Association, it can cost airlines between $ 10000 and $200000 to perform an unscheduled landing, divert a flight or disembark an unruly passenger.

The unspoken fact in USA case being that, carriers are sometimes reluctant to press criminal charges against the travellers because of fears that bad press could hurt the airline’s image. And official figures may not even tell the whole story because airlines are not legally required to report disruptive passengers to the FAA. In the meantime elsewhere in the world passengers continue behaving badly unabated even after the adoption by some States, of the Montreal Protocol 2014 which was created to strength the Tokyo Convention of 1963, and signed by some governments to effectively extends the legal jurisdiction for where these incidents occur to the territory in which the aircraft lands, but still needs ratification from 22 countries more, at the close of 2015 before going into effect in 2016 and beyond.

On the systemic failures, the prevention of Acts of Unlawful Interference, 2015 had it share of spoils with the USA TSA’s screeners setting the stage for the revision of screening methodology, training and capacity development in 2016, by failing the covert tests instituted to test their prowess, with Homeland Security agents posing as passengers able get weapons past TSA screening agents in 67 out of 70 tests — a 95% failure rate, according to agency officials. Even with such reports never looking good out of context, they are a critical quality control element in the continual evolution of aviation security.

A situation further proven by the latent failures witnessed thousands of miles away from the USA, in Sham El Sheik, as the October aviation demons revisited Egypt and claimed 224 lives 23 minutes after a Russian registered A320 Metrojet flight 9268 departed the tourist resort, the various news items on the prohibited items being discovered on the travelling public or being missed by screeners worldwide, including weapons, live ammunition, Arabic traditional daggers or matches on an Indian sub continent bound passenger, who later went experimenting on an Oman Air flight having passed through a GCC airport unabated or even by the breach of access control perpetrated by stowaways in a South African Airport, who ended up dropping dead on some roof along the landing path in England.

Then comes the authoritarian double standards, as seen in the quality control, oversight and regulatory compliance audits on the part of most of the specialized agencies policing the industry be it ICAO, FAA, TSA, EU- EASA, EU ECAC and or IATA. ICAO on their part are still an all care no responsibility UN specialized agency for all matters aviation, how a country under her watch scores a 98% compliance rating in a universal safety operational audit-USAP CMA with over 500 components defies description, how any State with known poor oversight often as a result of conflicting interests and the lack of adequate inspectorate prowess to run with the continuing airworthiness requirements, escapes being blacklisted whilst the likes of Thailand, Georgia, Nepal, Angola, Botswana, Djibouti, Eritrea, Haiti, Kazakhstan, Lebanon, Malawi, Sierra Leone and Uruguay are in it, and for the very same reasons, continues to ask for sound explanations.

So does the excelling to attain renewed membership of the IATA-IOSA for some airlines under these same regulatory regimes yet IOSA does have some integral components that are pegged on the 8 ICAO Critical Elements governing safety and security oversight, as well as regulatory compliance by their supervising authorities, which the airlines are supposedly meant to comply with to attain IOSA.A good example being the IOSA component 8 on security. How does an airline, operating under an appropriate authority with significant security concerns including the same airline’s failure to adhere to their NCASP and Cabin Crew QRH requirements for Aircraft Security searches, get recertified to retain the IOSA membership?

The same case applies to the EU ACC3 and RA3 certifications which started with a hype but have fizzled out into box ticking and stage managed shams, which even RA3’s with illiterate and uncertified security personnel pass with flying colours, access control and perimeter security is undertaken by absentee police officers specializing in scarecrow techniques. Cargo from red countries is not treated as prescribed under the EU regulations, with impromptu spot checks and re certification parameters currently remaining obscure.

In many countries even after the commencement of the Annex 17 Standard 3.1.7 on 1st July 2013 almost 2 years and a half to date. Screeners certification parameters are yet to take any meaningful effect due to failures occasioned by the fear of ruffling feathers by implementing stringent standards that show weaknesses in the service provision, for example the Middle East where screening services are undertaken by Ministry of Interior policemen often self certifying and with zero civilian oversight. Implementing required oversight measures to be supervised by the civilian entities CAA’s are remains a uphill task.

Even with 2016 being the 1st year in office for the new Secretary General and the historic record making change of guard within the ICAO ranks, we may possibly see little if any meaningful changes albeit it being the year the 39th ICAO Assembly will be held (27th September to 7 October 2016). Even with the assembly being, that meets at least once every three years and is convened by ICAO’s governing Council, with the ICAO’s 191 Member States and a large number of international organizations, to establishes the worldwide policy of the Organization for the next given period of time.

Chances are we will see nothing new other than hear of comprehensive reports presented at the assembly on the overall implementation of the technical assistance programme to assist States in the implementation of Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs) in the fields of aviation safety, security and facilitation, and environmental protection, to hoodwink Contracting States and development partners to obtain the necessary financial resources to fund the so called ICAO assistance projects.

It will be quite a surprise if we do not get to hear of on the ongoing reform and modernization of ICAO’s human resources management policies, practices, processes and systems, which we will be told are aimed to increase fairness, equity, transparency, effectiveness and efficiency and to ensure that ICAO remains an employer of choice with the capacity to attract, retain and motivate the talent required to achieve its goals. initiatives to, inter alia, enhance communications with Member States and improve the working methods, procedures and governance of the Organization, ICAO’s assurance framework, corporate performance management, and Council Off-site Strategy meetings.

In the meantime disruptive passenger incidents will still be an even more disturbing menace, airports will still be vulnerable if not more prone to insider threats with the likes of ISIS attempting to gain mileage at will, the training programs will still be ruled by the IT acronym of old G-I-G-O and producing half baked professionals as they continue being overtaken by neo technological inventions. CAA’s will continue being docile retirement homes for burnt out pilots and police retirees, as airlines will continue having field days in self regulation, as they try to fill up the voids created by lack of National Oversight and Regulatory Compliance Programs supervised by competent appropriate authorities…..In essence 2016 will be no different. As the American’s say it will just be the same s**t, on a different day!