Key topics from the Defence Aviation Safety Conference 2019

At the recent Defence Aviation Safety Conference, senior aviation officials and experts from around the western world gathered to discuss the latest perspectives on aviation safety, new threats and solutions. Talan Husseini reports on the key themes coming out of the conference.

// RAF Typhoons on the runway. Image: Crown Copyright / MOD

The Defence Aviation Safety Conference brought together leading military officials and aerospace and defence experts in London in April. Across the two-day event, more than 20 speakers from the military and industry discussed how military capabilities can be enhanced through better aviation safety standards, and what their respective countries and companies are doing to contribute.

The first day culminated in a panel discussion on ‘creating a safety culture through leadership’, in which the UK former director general of the Defence Safety Authority discussed the importance of instilling a culture of safety and the use of data analytics to drive innovation. Participants included the director generals of the German and Dutch military aviation authorities and the US Marine Corps’ assistant deputy commandant for aviation.   

Maximising combat and minimising danger

One of the most touched upon themes throughout the conference was how to maximise the effectiveness of combat operations while maintaining safety.

US Marine Corps Brigadier General BJ Gerring identified the two major threats to aircraft and aircrews and made an astonishing comparison for the year 2018.

He reported that the number of aircraft takedowns and fatalities from enemy defence systems such as rocket-propelled grenades, MANPADS, surface-to-air missiles, small arms, and enemy aircraft resulted in 14 aircraft takedowns and 19 fatalities. Meanwhile, non-directly threatening factors – complacency, fatigue, controlled flight into terrain, fires, aircraft brownouts and spatial disorientation – caused 127 aircraft takedowns and 212 fatalities last year.

Speaking about fatigue specifically, Gerring placed importance on studying the science behind restricted sleep, alertness rhythms, and mean relative performance. He also prioritised the role of the unit commander to set a good culture of air safety, saying that “your example and what you make important is the key” to maximising effectiveness and minimising danger.

International approach to aviation safety

Major General Günter Katz from the German Military Aviation Authority (MAA) highlighted the need for international cooperation in the quest for aviation safety.

Katz said that safety in aviation needs to be prioritised right from the get-go, and must encompass all divisions of the MAA, such as strategy and policy making, certification from national authorities as well as supranational bodies such as the European Union Aviation Safety Authority, flight operations, and recognition and licensing.

Katz said in his presentation: “Having a solid network–nationally and internationally–is the key to success for future operations–this applies in particular for MAAs.”

“Another challenge that international cooperation should concern itself with is how to prepare for the increasing use of military UAVs.”

To do this, cooperation with national and international bodies should be at the forefront of MAA operations. Using Germany as an example, Katz discussed the multiple partnerships that the German MAA holds with the German aviation authority, Luftfahrt-Bundesamt, air traffic control company Deutsche Flugsicherung, the German transport ministry, the German Aerospace Center and German industry.

Equally important is the synchronisation of aviation safety internationally. The MAA is partnering with international organisations such as EASA, NATO, Eurocontrol, and the European Defence Agency, and takes part in the annual European Union Aviation Authorities Conference.

Another challenge that international cooperation should concern itself with, according to Katz, is how to prepare for the increasing use of military UAVs, which present their own unique issues and require internationally standardised policies and practices to ensure safety.

Industry offering: aircraft X-ray scanning

Mircea Tudor Scan Tech’s CEO and founder Mircea Tudor exhibited his firm’s innovative x-ray scanning technology that can detect a variety of threats, from explosives hidden on aircraft to weapons, narcotics, undeclared goods or money. The scanning array is able to detect metal objects as small as a key or a string of paperclips.

A key advantage of the scanner is that it can also detect mechanical or structural anomalies of an aircraft, which could help prevent serious damage or accidents in the future.

The Tudor Tech Aeria Dual View technology operates on the end of a crane arm fitted to a small truck, and the company says that it can scan a narrow body aircraft in as little as five minutes.

Tudor said in his presentation at the conference that the military applications of the Tudor Tech Aeria DV scanner include a “fast and conclusive integrity assessment of aircraft after combat missions”, but also can be used over time simply for “routine inspections and checks”.