European Aviation Safety Agency's (EASA) Safety Review examines current challenges in aviation safety

EASA's Annual Safety Review 2022, published at the end of August, collated data on accidents and incidents from 2021 and compared them figures from previous years. According to the 2021 review, safety in air traffic remained stable in 2021.Once again, no fatal accident was recorded for commercially operated large aircraft in Europe in 2021, a positive and ongoing trend since 2016. At the same time, however, an increase in the total number of accidents and serious incidents from 34 in 2020 to 60 in 2021 was recorded. The average annual number recorded since 2011 is 83. 

The term "accident" is precisely defined in Regulation (EU) 996/2010. In addition to the temporal component - in the case of manned aircraft, the event must take place during a period in which there are persons on board - the extent of the damage also plays a role in the categorisation. Put simply, in the case of an aviation accident, either 

- at least one person is fatally or seriously injured,

- the aircraft is damaged to such an extent that the strength of the airframe or the flight performance/characteristics are impaired, or

- the aircraft is missing or inaccessible.

An "incident" does not meet the criteria of an accident, but it also constitutes an occurrence in which the safe operation of an aircraft is (or could be) impaired.

The risk posed by a safety-relevant event is determined according to ICAO Annex 19 "Safety Management" by probability of occurrence and extent of damage. According to EASA, however, this only gives an incomplete picture of the risk of the corresponding events. Slight changes in the course of an event could quickly turn an incident into a serious aviation accident. Against this background, EASA has developed the so-called European Risk Classification Scheme (ERCS), which, among other things, also takes into account the theoretically possible extent of damage in the event of an accident. According to EASA, the greatest safety risk for commercially operated airliners in 2021 came from a possible mid-air collision. Transgression of separation minima for IFR and VFR flights plays a significant role here. Runway excursions were also assessed with a high ERCS score, justified by the low control capability of the aircraft at touchdown.

The identification and assessment of possible risks are also of great importance for other areas of aviation. For example, in the certification of airports, safety assessments are carried out to check whether safety is impaired in the event of possible partial deviations from the legally binding requirements.  

Fatugue and Stress

In the current context, EASA sees fatigue and stress in particular as a safety-critical factor in the aviation sector. While traffic figures recover after the pandemic, airlines and airport are less able to meet the demands because of staff and resource cuts. This became visible to travellers and the wider public during summer 2022 through long waiting times at airport security checkpoints around the globe.

Possible cyberattacks also pose a threat to the air transport system in view of increasing digitalisation. Against this background, EASA is working on a regulatory framework that provides for the implementation of an Information Security Management System (iSMS) as a supplement to already existing Safety Management Systems (SMS) in the organisations.

Despite the ever-changing challenges to maintain and improve aviation safety, EASA is confident that the European aviation system will remain stable, safe and reliable in the years to come.

With over two decades of aviation experience in an interdisciplinary team, AviaCert has the necessary competencies in dealing with the topic of safety in aviation. This includes, among other things, the procedure for dealing with deviations from technical standards, the assessment of any risks they may pose and the development of solutions for safe flight operations, which represent daily challenges for airports worldwide.