A recent article in popular mechanics highlights an important point about the state of modern aviation: it was often the lessons learned from high profile airplane crashes that prompted manufacturers and regulators to make change that improved aviation safety. The accumulation of these changes is what has made aviation a safer way to travel.
The article tracks a number of changes in the aviation industry resulting from “lessons learned.” Some of the changes to the industry involved improvements in materials, design, and manufacturing and features. One important set of changes involved improving communication between aircraft and air traffic controllers. These changes included upgrading the air traffic control system, requiring small aircraft to use transponders to communicate their coordinates with air traffic controllers, and requiring airliners to have collision avoidance-avoidance systems.
Other important improvements include the mandating of smoke detectors and automatic fire extinguishers, and later adoption of floor lighting, and other fire-related measures, as well as improvements to eliminate electrical sparks. Adoption of radar wind-shear detectors was another important improvement, as was the implementation of redundancy in aircraft safety systems as an industry standard. Redundancy refers to safety systems that back each other up.
Some of the improvements in the industry were the result of changes in the way inspections and maintenance are performed. Improvements in engine inspection procedures and in the inspection and maintenance of high-use and high-cycle aircraft to address aircraft fatigue, were instrumental in improving aircraft safety and reducing aviation accidents.
Still other safety improvements in the industry were the result of changing how pilots and crew members are trained to do their job. We’ll say more about this issue in our next post, as well as the crucial role federal safety regulation has had on improving safety in the aviation industry.