Matthew Baldwin helped open the 2012 U.S./Europe International Aviation Safety Conference with a discussion of why it is so important for the U.S. and E.C. to work together on aviation safety. Baldwin is the Director of Air Transport for the European Commission, and he opened the 2012 meeting on June 11.
Baldwin noted that “these are very tough times for the aviation industry.” The economic outlook for Europe and the Americas continues to be volatile and subject to serious potential downside, and aviation is often the canary in the coal mine when it comes to the world economy. Load factors and cargo loads are improving, but even profitable carriers are still operating at razor thin profit margins. The reason why profit margins are so important is because we do not ever want to incentivize the cutting of safety. So efforts to ensure safety in these difficult times are particularly important.
Baldwin opined that nothing much is going to happen multilaterally in aviation unless the U.S. and Europe agree, first. Carbon emissions, for example, represent an issue on which there is some debate and until the U.S. and Europe can agree, he does not feel that there will be a global resolution. The industry can count on some real successes in recent efforts that have involved both the U.S. and Europe, including bilateral agreements (E.C. has recently concluded new agreements with both the U.S. and Canada), security agreements, and the continuing safety record of transatlantic aviation.
Baldwin pointed out that while the U.S. and Europe have a very low accident rate compared to the rest of the world, their accidents account for 1/3 of all global accidents because of the large number of flights in those jurisdictions. The more you fly, he explained, the more planes will crash, and that is a lot of tragedy economic loss and loss of life. The improvement curve in the U.S. and Europe is flattening as we approach zero accidents, but the constant increase in total amount of flights within the aviation industry means that a flattening curve may represent an increase in actual numbers of accidents, even as the percentage of accidents decreases. So, explained Baldwin, we need to build a safety management system where safety is proactive. An important element of this will be a ‘just culture’ in which safety reporting is encouraged and becomes a norm in the industry, without fear of reprisals. Such a just culture helps to improve hazard identification. This can help us to identify targets for safety improvements.
Baldwin concluded that “in this global business, everyone has a right to fly safely. Our strategy must be to achieve global safety standards. In safety, we are looking to eliminate global safety disparities. We are looking to implement a just culture…. and the European Commission is proud to be a key player in those efforts.”