Aviation Safety – Determination of an Unsafe Condition

Aviation Safety – Determination of an Unsafe Condition

It is important to note that these guidelines are not exhaustive.  However, this material is intended to provide guidelines and examples that will cover most cases, taking into account the applicable certification requirements.

  1. INTRODUCTION.

Certification or approval of a product, part or appliance is a demonstration of compliance with requirements which are intended to ensure an acceptable level of safety.  This demonstration however includes certain accepted assumptions and predicted behaviours, such as:

–           fatigue behaviour is based on analysis supported by test,

–           modelling techniques are used for Aircraft Flight Manual performances calculations,

–           the systems safety analyses give predictions of what the systems failure modes, effects and probabilities may be,

–           the system components reliability figures are predicted values derived from general experience, tests or analysis,

–           the crew is expected to have the skill to apply the procedures correctly, and

–           the aircraft is assumed to be maintained in accordance with the prescribed instructions for continued airworthiness (or maintenance programme), etc.

In service experience, additional testing, further analysis, etc., may show that certain initially accepted assumptions are not correct.  Thus, certain conditions initially demonstrated as safe, are revealed by experience as unsafe.  In this case, it is necessary to mandate corrective actions in order to restore a level of safety consistent with the applicable certification requirements.

  1. GUIDELINES FOR ESTABLISHING IF A CONDITION IS UNSAFE.

The following paragraphs give general guidelines for analysing the reported events and determining if an unsafe condition exists, and are provided for each type of product, part or appliance subject to a specific airworthiness approval: type-certificates (TC) or Design Changes for aircraft, engines or propellers, or Technical Standard Orders (TSO).

This analysis may be qualitative or quantitative, i.e. formal and quantitative safety analyses may not be available for older or small aircraft.  In such cases, the level of analysis should be consistent with that required by the airworthiness requirements and may be based on engineering judgement supported by service experience data.

2.1       Analysis method for aircraft.

2.1.1   Accidents or incidents without any aircraft, engines, system, propeller or part or appliance malfunction or failure.

When an accident/incident does not involve any component malfunction or failure but when a crew human factor has been a contributing factor, this should be assessed from a man-machine interface standpoint to determine whether the design is adequate or not.  Paragraph 2.5 gives further details on this aspect.

2.1.2   Events involving an aircraft, engines, system, propeller or part or appliance failure, malfunction or defect.

The general approach for analysis of in service events caused by malfunctions, failures or defects will be to analyse the actual failure effects, taking into account previously unforeseen failure modes or improper or unforeseen operating conditions revealed by service experience.

These events may have occurred in service, or have been identified during maintenance, or been identified as a result of subsequent tests, analyses, or quality control.

These may result from a design deficiency or a production deficiency (non conformity with the type design), or from improper maintenance.  In this case, it should be determined if improper maintenance is limited to one aircraft, in which case an airworthiness directive may not be issued, or if it is likely to be a general problem due to improper design and/or maintenance procedures, as detailed in paragraph 2.5.

  1. A)        Flight.

An unsafe condition exists if:

–           There is a significant shortfall of the actual performance compared to the approved performance (taking into account the accuracy of the performance calculation method), or

–           The handling qualities, although having been found to comply with the applicable airworthiness requirements at the time of initial approval, are subsequently shown by service experience not to comply.

  1. B)        Structural or mechanical systems.

An unsafe condition exists if the deficiency may lead to a structural or mechanical failure which:

–           Could exist in a Principal Structural Element that has not been qualified as damage tolerant.  Principal Structural Elements are those which contribute significantly to carrying flight, ground, and pressurisation loads, and whose failure could result in a catastrophic failure of the aircraft.

–           Could exist in a Principal Structural Element that has been qualified as damage tolerant, but for which the established inspections, or other procedures, have been shown to be, or may be, inadequate to prevent catastrophic failure.

–           Could reduce the structural stiffness to such an extent that the required flutter, divergence or control reversal margins are no longer achieved.

–           Could result in the loss of a structural piece that could damage vital parts of the aircraft, cause serious or fatal injuries to persons other than occupants.

–           Could, under ultimate load conditions, result in the liberation of items of mass that may injure occupants of the aircraft.

–           Could jeopardise proper operation of systems and may lead to hazardous or catastrophic consequences, if this effect has not been taken adequately into account in the initial certification safety assessment.

  1. C)        Systems.

The consequences of reported systems components malfunctions, failures or defects should be analysed.

For this analysis, the certification data may be used as supporting material, in particular systems safety analyses.

The general approach for analysis of in service events caused by systems malfunctions, failures or defects will be to analyse the actual failure effects.

As a result of this analysis, an unsafe condition will be assumed if it cannot be shown that the safety objectives for hazardous and catastrophic failure conditions are still achieved, taking into account the actual failure modes and rates of the components affected by the reported deficiency.

The failure probability of a system component may be affected by:

–           A design deficiency (the design does not meet the specified reliability or performance).

–           A production deficiency (non conformity with the certified type design) that affects either all components, or a certain batch of components.

–           Improper installation (for instance, insufficient clearance of pipes to surrounding structure).

–           Susceptibility to adverse environment (corrosion, moisture, temperature, vibrations etc.).

–           Ageing effects (failure rate increase when the component ages).

–           Improper maintenance.

When the failure of a component is not immediately detectable (hidden or latent failures), it is often difficult to have a reasonably accurate estimation of the component failure rate since the only data available are usually results of maintenance or flight crew checks.  This failure probability should therefore be conservatively assessed.

As it is difficult to justify that safety objectives for the following systems are still met, a deficiency affecting these types of systems may often lead to a mandatory corrective action:

–           back up emergency systems, or

–           fire detection and protection systems (including shut off means).

Deficiencies affecting systems used during an emergency evacuation (emergency exits, evacuation assist means, emergency lighting system …) and to locate the site of a crash (Emergency Locator Transmitter) will also often lead to mandatory corrective action.

  1. D)        Others.

In addition to the above, the following conditions are considered unsafe:

–           There is a deficiency in certain components which are involved in fire protection or which are intended to minimise / retard the effects of fire / smoke in a survivable crash, preventing them to perform their intended function (for instance, deficiency in cargo liners or cabin material leading to non-compliance with the applicable flammability requirements).

–           There is a deficiency in the lightning or High Intensity Radiated Fields protection of a system which may lead to hazardous or catastrophic failure conditions.

–           There is a deficiency which could lead to a total loss of power or thrust due to common mode failure.

If there is a deficiency in systems used to assist in the enquiry following an accident or serious incident (e.g., Cockpit Voice Recorder, Flight Data Recorder), preventing them to perform their intended function, the DCA may take mandatory action.

2.2       Engines.

The consequences and probabilities of engine failures have to be assessed at the aircraft level in accordance with paragraph 2.1, and also at the engine level for those failures considered as Hazardous in the design code such as CS E-510 or FAR 33.

The latter will be assumed to constitute unsafe conditions, unless it can be shown that the consequences at the aircraft level do not constitute an unsafe condition for a particular aircraft installation.

2.3       Propellers.

The consequences and probabilities of propeller failures have to be assessed at the aircraft level in accordance with paragraph 2.1, and also at the propeller level for those failures considered as hazardous in the design code such as CS P-150.

The latter will be assumed to constitute unsafe conditions, unless it can be shown that the consequences at the aircraft level do not constitute an unsafe condition for a particular aircraft installation.

2.4       Parts and appliances.

The consequences and probabilities of equipment failures have to be assessed at the aircraft level in accordance with paragraph 2.1.

2.5       Human factors aspects in establishing and correcting unsafe conditions.

This paragraph provides guidance on the way to treat an unsafe condition resulting from a maintenance or crew error observed in service.

It is recognised that human factors techniques are under development.  However, the following is a preliminary guidance on the subject.

Systematic review should be used to assess whether the crew or maintenance error raises issues that require regulatory action (whether in design or other areas), or should be noted as an isolated event without intervention.  This may need the establishment of a multidisciplinary team (designers, crews, human factors experts, maintenance experts, operators etc.)

The assessment should include at least the following:

–           Characteristics of the design intended to prevent or discourage incorrect assembly or operation;

–           Characteristics of the design that allow or facilitate incorrect operation,

–           Unique characteristics of a design feature differing from established design practices;

–           The presence of indications or feedback that alerts the operator to an erroneous condition;

–           The existence of similar previous events, and whether or not they resulted (on those occasions) in unsafe conditions;

–           Complexity of the system, associated procedures and training (has the crew a good understanding of the system and its logic after a standard crew qualification programme?);

–           Clarity/accuracy/availability/currency and practical applicability of manuals and procedures;

–           Any issues arising from interactions between personnel, such as shift changeover, dual inspections, team operations, supervision (or lack of it), or fatigue.

Apart from a design change, the corrective actions, if found necessary, may consist of modifications of the manuals, inspections, training programmes, and/or information to the operators about particular design features.  The local authority i.e. DCA may decide to make mandatory such corrective action if necessary.

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