Changes to Work as Done

John FRANKLIN • 19 January 2021
in community Air Operations

This is a sub article to the master article on Resilience and it will cover the impact of changes to work as done without corresponding changes to relevant procedures. 

Work as imagined - work as done

The reduced traffic situation in aviation is expected to extend well into 2021 and this means that the situation that 'work as done’ will be even further than usual from the ‘work as imagined’ - potentially for a longer period of time that we initially expected. To put it another way, procedures may stay the same but the way a task is performed or the balance of tasks is different.

Some useful references

Eurocontrol’s Hindsight Magazine, Number 25 provided a great article covering the concept of ‘work as imagined’ and ‘work as done’: This blogpost by Steve Shorrock, the editor of Hindsight magazine is also very illustrative of the concept and is a useful reference. 

Examples of changing work in aviation

It is useful to highlight to you some examples of the ways that ‘work as done’ has changed so that you can consider how this challenge might impact your organisation and its activities. This includes:

  • Procedures for aircraft joining a holding system in the vicinity of a large airport may remain in place, but only one hold point out of many may be operative;
  • No changes have been made to air ground communications procedures, but there are increased incidences of loss of communications where pilots have forgotten to change frequency. One can speculate that this is a consequence of reduced communications as a result of reduced air traffic;
  • Changed tasks also include safety management, such as the SMS defines continuous communication, collaborative risk assessments and spreading of safety alerts through regular meetings with stakeholders on an airport. However, due to absent staff the planned meetings may have been cancelled or are held with reduced presence, e.g. runway safety teams with no pilots present. As a result, risks may not be identified and mitigating actions may not be properly communicated, understood or implemented.
  • Depending on how airlines have managed the crisis, aircraft cabins may have far lower occupancy. This is an unusual circumstance for both flight and cabin crew. Lower aircraft weight requires that the pilots plan further ahead in terms of energy management. Centre of gravity considerations provide an additional reason for cabin crews to manage passenger seating, besides COVID-19 related requirements.

Note that the systematic and thorough approaches to risk management also remain the same, but the frequency and nature of the assessments may change. An example can be taken from the EASA Safety Risk Management Process. The process is outlined in the EASA Annual Safety Review.

Broadly, the process involves identifying safety issues or hazards, then assessing them, identifying and prioritising mitigating actions and implementing them, before monitoring the system to:

  • Check that the actions have been effective; and
  • Understand what new safety issues are emerging.

The safety risk management process runs continuously and the main output, the European Plan for Aviation Safety, is published annually. Where elements of the aviation system are stable, a safety issue identified in year 1 will be analysed that year and interventions proposed in the EPAS in the subsequent year (year 2). The process relies on both safety data and on expert judgement.

During this period when the aviation system is in crisis, the safety risk management process has continued to run as it normally would have. However, the significant instability in the aviation system has meant that:

  • A far higher number of new safety issues has been identified than would normally be the case;
  • The need to anticipate new safety issues has meant there is an increased reliance on expert judgement in the place of occurrence data. This expert judgement has proven to be remarkably accurate.

Overall, the safety risk management process remains unchanged and the EPAS is being consulted via its normal cycle. Nevertheless, balance in the type of work done changed substantially for those involved.  For example, those involved in identifying the risks spent far less time on quantitative data analysis and far more time on surveys and qualitative analysis.

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