DAC: Bringing Just Safety Culture to Remote Pilot Operations

By Christopher Freeze, Senior Aviation Technical Writer

On June 19, Capt. Joe DePete, ALPA’s president, and Capt. Steve Jangelis (Delta), ALPA’s Air Safety Organization Aviation Safety chair, participated in the FAA’s Drone Advisory Committee (DAC) virtual meeting to share and discuss critical issues facing the unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) industry.

During the meeting, two task groups presented findings. Task Group No. 7, which is focused on UAS traffic management (UTM), provided industry insights and comments regarding UTM and updates to the concept of operations, as well as set industry prioritization of UTM capabilities.

Task Group No. 8, which is led by DePete and is focused on creating a safety culture within the UAS community, delivered a progress report and s set of interim recommendations to the DAC.

“Over the last several decades, the aviation industry has been able to develop and mature the safety culture that we know today,” said DePete. “This became possible through building relationships and—most importantly—establishing trust and considering the lessons learned by both our failures and our successes.

“When the CAST [Commercial Aviation Safety Team] started its efforts to dramatically reduce the fatality risk in aviation, which at the time was unacceptable based on the growth the industry projected, we learned the industry’s incredible ability to work together collaboratively because everything great in aviation comes from working together for common cause,” DePete observed.

DePete, along with Jangelis, presented his group’s first deliverable—a list of six safety tenets that will serve as guiding principles in developing a safety culture within the UAS community.

1. Safety ownership: Empowering each individual across all groups with a share of the collective responsibility to learn, understand, advocate, and participate in the best safety practices and behaviors for the intended activity.

2. Safety modeled by leadership: A safety culture is driven throughout the aeronautical community from the operator to executive-level management. Leaders should model safe practices (“walk the talk”) and reinforce the critical importance of safety as the top priority in the community.

3. Organizational values: A safety culture reflects the values, principles, and rational behavior of an individual engaged in an activity that presents risk to the life, safety, or property of others and must be scalable to the organization.

4. Learning culture: A positive safety culture will always continue to learn and grow; individuals can adapt and change. Few operations in the national airspace system are error-free, but operators learn from failures going forward and utilize risk management tools (knowledge) to improve the safety and quality of operations or products with the power of data sharing both internally and within the communities to which they belong.

5. Systemwide approach: Those who set and promote safety rules and parameters must share the responsibilities of systemwide safety by the creation of risk-based rules that are reasonable and proportionate considering the relative risk of the operation.

6. Trust: A strong safety culture is enhanced by trust and a firm belief in the honesty, reliability, and ability of others.

During the meeting, DePete reiterated his support for a collaborative approach to safety, because in aviation, “we don’t compete on safety,” adding that “we’ve seen the importance of this proactive, collaborative approach in addressing the COVID-19 public-health crisis.”

The next step for the group will be to develop recommendations to the FAA on what the agency can do to enable the drone community to adopt a safety culture.

The DAC was created in May 2016 to advise the FAA on priorities, formalize stakeholder input, and make recommendations to the agency for a safe, comprehensive UAS integration strategy. Its 35 members represent a wide variety of UAS interests, including industry, government, academia, retail, and technology. ALPA’s Air Safety Organization has continually called for the safe integration of drones into the national airspace system and robust training requirements for their pilots.

The DAC’s next meeting is planned for October.

Watch the Meeting

Watch Capt. Joe DePete, ALPA’s president, and Capt. Steve Jangelis (Delta), ALPA’s Air Safety Organization Aviation Safety chair, participate in the June 19 FAA Drone Advisory Committee meeting.

This article was originally published in the August 2020 issue of Air Line Pilot.

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