Managing complexity in a fast-changing world

19 May 2017

CEOs, COOs, Safety Directors, Safety Managers and experts from 33 European air navigation service providers (ANSPs) and the EUROCONTROL Network Manager met in Frankfurt, Germany on 11 May 2017 for the biennial EUROCONTROL CEOs’ Safety Conference.

The event, kindly hosted this year by the Deutsche Flugsicherung (DFS), had the central theme of 'Managing complexity in a fast-changing world” in the context of the forthcoming European Union Performance Scheme Reference Period 3 (RP3) safety key performance indicators (KPIs) and targets.

The Conference was opened by Professor Klaus-Dieter Scheurle, CEO of DFS. He emphasised the importance of strong top-down safety emanating from the CEO. Increasing automation, digitisation and the introduction of artificial intelligence and RPAS/drone technologies are adding more complexity to a situation that is already challenging. Moreover, changes in demand, regulation and commercial competition create additional pressures. Managing this complex, dynamic situation while balancing the competing goals of cost-efficiency, capacity, safety, the environment and security remains an ongoing trial for all ANSPs.

In his keynote opening address, Director Network Manager, Joe Sultana, stressed a number of key points and posed some questions to stimulate discussion on how ANSPs can maintain and improve their safety record:

  • Understanding safety performance is difficult; what data do we really need to understand safety?
  • Often 'work as done' differs from 'work as imagined';
  • It’s hard to see things that change slowly over time; people adapt, adjust and make trade-offs;
  • Anticipating the future is getting harder; how can we look around the corner to see what is coming?
  • Simply tightening safety regulation won’t work on its own. Constraints are necessary but “work as done” shows the need for a degree of flexibility. So, how do we find the right balance with regulation and flexibility so as to build safe, resilient systems?

Luc Tytgat, EASA Director Strategy and Safety Management, gave an update on the European Plan for Aviation Safety (EPAS), a multi-annual safety plan based on collaborative safety risk management and involving full consultation with all stakeholders, including ATM. In RP3, EASA will monitor ATM’s safety performance through identified KPIs, safety performance indicators and targets that will be linked to the EPAS.

An airline’s perspective of ATM performance was given by Harry Hohmeister, Chairman of the supervisory board, Resort Hub Management, Lufthansa. He acknowledged the critical importance of safe and secure air traffic management in aviation. However, in his view, there is scope for ANSPs to do more things in common, consolidate in some areas and bring some services to the market via competition in the same way that the airline industry does.

ENAV was the first ANSP in the world to ‘go public’ on the Stock Exchange in 2016. The CEO of ENAV, Roberta Neri, gave an overview of how the floatation had taken place and what this meant in terms of safety. Essentially, since privatisation, ENAV’s mission remains the same: to achieve the required level of safety and keep risk at an acceptable level. Safety is not traded-off; risk controls that are put in place safeguard ongoing and future investments in the company. Safety would continue to be paramount in RP3 and risk processes, including safety, would be further aligned through the introduction of an holistic enterprise risk management system.

These presentations helped set the scene for a panel of experts to address emerging challenges, key performance indicators and targets in RP3.

The discussions were largely on these themes:

  • How have the KPIs in RP2 affected your organisation’s safety performance?
  • Does setting targets on lagging indicators – for instance, the number of losses of separation – help you improve safety performance?
  • Does setting targets on leading indicators help improve safety?
  • Does the automated recording of safety data help improve performance? If so, how do we make it happen?
  • The interdependencies between safety, environment, cost and capacity: do we need a safety target or use safety as a control measure?

While consensus was not reached on every point or question, there was general convergence that safety has a value (and that it was not just a cost burden). Furthermore, conference delegates and panel experts largely preferred the use of ‘leading’ indicators over ‘lagging’ ones.

The excellence of safety management measurement was cited as a good example of a moving ‘leading’ indicator that was benefiting ANSPs and improving safety in RP2. There was recognition, however, that gathering lagging indicator data is also necessary to help identify safety trends; this is especially important for EASA at the European level as it is a key part of the SRM process underpinning the EPAS.

There was also a view that RP3’s safety KPIs and targets should not be used to directly measure ANSPs’ safety performance but to monitor how ANSPs deal with expected and unexpected changes and threats. The burden of regulation also needed to be balanced so that ANSPs can move beyond regulatory compliance and still have sufficient reserves of safety ‘energy’ (resources) to address proactive, Safety II-type improvements.

Professor Chris Johnson from the University of Glasgow provided a stimulating and thought-provoking and eye-opening talk on a crucial emerging issue: 'Cybersecurity – A New Game In Town'. There are definite links to safety, but also clear distinctions that need to be understood and observed when tackling the cyber security threat. The key take-away messages for ANSPs from the presentation and panel discussion that followed are:

  • Competency – there is a need for ANSPs to bolster their technical cybersecurity expertise.
  • Cybersecurity Risk Assessments – they should be low-cost, simple, frequent and independent.
  • Control the Supply Chain – include cybersecurity counter measures in contracts.
  • Cybersecurity Resilience – prepare to recover from credible scenarios; improve cybersecurity awareness and develop a minimum security culture for all personnel.
  • Act now! Don’t wait for an attack.

Tony Licu, Head of NM’s Safety Unit, concluded proceedings with a presentation entitled: 'Trade-Off and Complexity/Over-Deliveries: a safety or capacity issue?' He also presented the proposed the Experience Sharing to Enhance Safety (ES2) programme for 2017-2019. This programme focuses on continuing to support ANSPs in RP2 and help them prepare for RP3. It covers system thinking and human performance; the cost and return of investment on safety; safety tools and dashboards; safety culture and just culture. This programme was accepted.

In conclusion, speaking about safety challenges today and in the future, Joe Sultana emphasised that NM’s commitment to ANSPs is clarified through the CEO Conference.

Professor Klaus-Dieter Scheurle confirmed that EUROCONTROL’s CEOs’ Safety Conference is an important feature in the aviation calendar.

The CEO of Naviair, Morten Dambæk, very kindly offered to host the next event in Copenhagen in two years’ time.

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