In the wake of Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines accidents, attention properly focused on the aircraft involved in both tragedies, the Boeing 737MAX. But safety depends on much more than aircraft design, and safety is often weakest in turboprops, which may not get the support or scrutiny of mainline aircraft. For example, jet-hull losses in Africa, historically one of the riskiest regions, were 0 per million flights in 2018, after averaging 1 per year from 2013 through 2017. But African turboprop hull losses were 1.9 per million flights in 2018, down from an average of 5.69 in the previous five years.
So there is progress, but more is needed. ATR recently signed a partnership with the safety experts at AviAssist to improve safety in Africa. “Our new partner understands the needs of this region,” explains ATR Flight Safety Officer Christopher McGregor. “Flight safety is never about just one issue, but continuous improvement in all aspects of the industry improves safety.” ATR believes that continuous improvement in its aircraft must be matched with continuous improvement in support, training and operations.
ATR aircraft continue to evolve and exploit the latest safety technologies, including enhanced vision, performance-based navigation, required navigation performance, engine-vibration monitoring and speed protection. But the OEM is also working on the other critical safety factors.
ATR’s second worldwide Flight Safety conference, held in June 2018 in Bangkok, focused on flight operations, cabin safety, engineering, maintenance and training.
And in 2017 ATR introduced regional safety managers to its offices in Miami, Singapore and Johannesburg. “Proximity to the operator is one of the key success factors to building trust,” McGregor says. “This allows issues to be reported and acted upon.”
The OEM’s regional safety plan identifies training needs and opportunities specific to each operator. These include everything from ground handling to line maintenance, dispatch and flight operations. For example, ATR’s partnership with AviAssist on African safety will include a flight dispatcher training session delivered at the end of 2019 to African operators.
McGregor stresses that ATR promotes the use of data analysis for safety. “This may seem obvious for the larger carriers, but there is limited penetration in the regional sector.”
In addition to data, ATR does dedicated flight operation and maintenance visits. Since 2015, the OEM has visited 70 operators to support safety objectives. These special safety visits are in addition to traditional customer support visits and regular communication. And they are complimented by engine OEM Pratt & Whitney Canada’s maintenance and operation visits.
For in-depth analysis of aircraft systems and flight operations, ATR offers Flight Operational Analysis. “This is performed in-house and is typically project-based, looking at a specific airport, flight operation or system reliability,” McGregor notes. .
For safe maintenance, ATR’s global network of qualified partners includes state-of-the-art support for African carriers by Atlantic Air Industry in Morocco, Binter Technics in the Canary Islands, Solenta Aviation in South Africa, Air Madagascar and Air Mauritius.
Going forward in maintenance, ATR is now looking at making better use of multi-media to support more than 10,000 licensed ATR mechanics. “Multi-media is well established in the training centers, so we are looking at using this capability in the field,” McGregor says.
But safety must be a team effort. The ATR exec notes that ICAO already helps local regulators develop inspection skills and the ability to qualify MRO partners and training centers and assists in implementing performance-based navigation. Perhaps more could be done. “Mutual cooperation between local authorities to set up a common regional authority might strengthen regulations and spread safety standards by sharing best practices and a positive safety culture.”