Preventing Air travel accidents: Stakeholders focus on role of ‘human factors’

From left, Managing Director, ANAPJET, Capt. Akin George, Director of Operations, Accident Investigation Bureau, AIB; Capt. Dayyabu Danraka, D/G, Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, Capt. Musa Nuhu, Chairman, League of Airport and Aviation Correspondents, LAAC, Mr. Segun Koiki and Director, Aviation Security, Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria, FAAN, Group Capt. Usman Sadiq (rtd) at the Conference on Prevention of Human Factors in Air Accident Occurrences held at Sheraton Hotel Ikeja Lagos


Posted by Sade Williams

It is generally believed that 70-80 percent of air accidents are attributable to human factors, hence the reason experts continue to clamour for the right peg in the right hole in aviation.

To this end, stakeholders in the aviation sector gathered on Friday to assess the contributions of human factors to air accidents and proffer solutions to reducing them.

“Humans, especially frontline personnel, interface in almost, if not all probable causes of aviation accidents at the different stages of either design, production/manufacture, organizational, operational and maintenance processes and procedures”. These were the words of the director general, Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Captain Musa Nuhu at a one-day conference tagged, ‘Prevention of Human Factors in Air Accident Occurrences’, organized by the Accident Investigation Bureau, Nigeria (AIB-N) in partnership with League of Airport and Aviation Correspondents (LAAC), which held on Friday.

The NCAA boss, who described human factor as simply Matching the Man to the Job and Matching the Job to the Man under prescribed conditions, noted that any mismatch will contribute to human error and is a precursor to an accident.

“This implies compatibility of the person to the job, preparing, adapting, enabling, equipping and conforming the person to perform the assigned task to achieve the design and expected objectives.

He is of the opinion that there is need to review the SHELL Model in aviation, where L stands for Liveware, which is referred to as the human component, S-Software, H-Hardware and E-Environment, to be able to come to terms with factors responsible for human errors.

John Ojikutu

“The Liveware is the critical focus and represents the human component of the aviation ecosystem. These are the frontline personnel (flight crews, engineers and maintenance personnel, duty air traffic controllers) and the management and administration staff, who are usually removed far away from the frontline, but whose decisions impact massively on the outcomes of the operations.

To him, the Liveware is the non-standardized, most critical, least predictable, most susceptible to the effects of internal and external changes, as well as the most flexible component in the system and therefore must be carefully adapted and matched to other system components in order to avoid stress within the system and prevent its eventual breakdown.

“A review of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) Safety Report of 2020 shows that in 2019, globally there were a total of 114 aviation accidents, six of which were fatal with 239 fatalities. This 2019 global accident rate of 2.9 accidents per million departures is the highest in the previous five years and represents an increase of 12% from the year 2018 figure.

“The same report shows that the African Indian Ocean (AFI) Region, to which Nigeria belongs recorded an accident rate of 2.8 accidents per million departures, though with one of the least estimated departures of One Million Four Hundred and Forty Thousand, Seven Hundred and One departures, representing only 3.8% share of total global traffic. This is one of the highest accidents rates per region globally.

“We must jettison the tag of being a reactive people to that of being proactive and predictive, where we must not allow existing latent conditions including those associated with human errors to precipitate into incidents and accidents”, he said.

To the Commissioner, AIB-N, Engr. Akin Olateru, aircraft accidents are dominated by the failure of human factor.

He noted that despite the positive development in the trend of accidents recorded since the beginning of the 21st century, the number of air accidents is still unsatisfactory.

“It is of paramount importance to do everything that would contribute to substantial reduction of the human factor failure in air transportation.

Olateru, who identified some causes of air accidents to be human, technical and meteorological factors, noted that in view of the fast development taking place in almost all the aviation fields, the occurrence of air accidents caused by technological advancement is reducing but with more complexity of systems to be managed by the humans.

“According to the Boeing Maintenance Error Decision Aid (MEDA) Program, in the early days of flight, approximately 80% of accidents are caused by the machine and 20% were caused by human errors. Today, that statistic has reversed and approximately 80% of airplane accidents are due to human errors. Regardless of the actual percentage, there is little disagreement among government and industry experts over the importance of Human Factors as a primary element in the causes of accidents and incidents.

“Therefore, you will agree with me that the need to take all available measures to reduce the contribution of Human Factors in aviation accidents cannot be overemphasized”, he noted.

Speaking from the panel of discussants, captain Akin George, managing director of ANAPJET, noted that there is need for operators to choose the right personnel, provide good working condition, the right motivation and appropriate equipment.

“Aviation is a very complex system, the right thing has to be done at the right time, if we are able to do these, human factor issue would be addressed. Salaries of workers shouldn’t be toyed with anyhow because by the time you bring humans with all his conditions such as health and home issues with technical matters, there could be errors”.

Group Captain John Ojikutu (Retd), a former commandant of Lagos airport and Dr. Harold Demuren, former director general, NCAA, spoke on the regulation of aviation fuel as a way to mitigate human factor in accidents.

According to Ojikutu, about nine reports had indicated that fuel contamination was the major cause of these accidents, adding that there is need to immediately regulate that aspect of air transport.

He called for the concessioning of jet fuel transportation in Nigeria and immediate overhaul of the pipelines.

Demuren noted that the AIB should be able to identify any fuel marketer who engages in shady practice and report same to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).

“The NCAA cannot regulate fuel distribution but can only make regulations for airlines. Soon, the AIB will become transmodal so, it must be able to address the NNPC, it must be able to mention the fuel marketer involved in the practice of fuel contamination or fraud so they can get to the root of the matter, the AIB is the umpire here, therefore it must able to address the issue”, he said.

A former managing director of Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Richard Aisuebeogun, stressed the importance of training as antidote to human factor failure.

According to him, the NCAA should begin to request for the training plans of airlines before they are given Air Operator’s Certificate.

“The procedures and regulations are there because the sector is highly regulated, the emphasis is on training, it is critical to the success of ‘no-air accident’, the AIB need to do so many other things in addition to knowing the cause if any accident. The regulator should begin to get the training plans of operators so that AIB can also fall back of this during investigations’, he added.


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