At European Level, one of the most important documents in aviation is the European Plan for Aviation Safety (EPAS). This document is the regional aviation safety plan for the EASA Member States. It sets out the strategic priorities and enablers. It also highlights the main risks affecting the European aviation system and the necessary actions to mitigate them and improve aviation safety. The 12th edition of EPAS has now been published with the 2023-2025 Edition. The EPAS covers a 3 year period and is constantly being reviewed and improved, and is updated on a yearly basis. The plan is an integral part of EASA’s work programme and is developed by EASA in close consultation with the EASA Member States and industry.
The main objective of EPAS is to further improve aviation safety and environmental protection throughout Europe. At the same time it seeks to ensure a level playing field, as well as efficiency/proportionality in regulatory processes.
How is the EPAS made?
The EPAS is based on a solid foundation of data and risk analysis. The European Safety Risk Management (SRM) process is a key part of the EPAS development. More particularly for the systemic and operational priorities. The European SRM process is below:
The process takes performance monitoring of the aviation system and uses reactive data on accident, serious incidents and other occurrences collected within the scope of Regulation (EU) 376/2014 on the reporting and analysis of occurrences in civil aviation. It also takes in the proactive risk assessment of safety issues undertaken in the Collaborative Analysis Groups (CAGs) and the Network of Analysts (NoA) with the NAAs. The output of Step 1 of the European SRM process are the domain Safety Risk Portfolios with the full list of safety issues that you will find in Volume III of the EPAS. Following the Safety Issue Assessment (SIA), a number of possible EPAS actions are proposed to resolve a safety issue. These proposed actions are then assessed for their impact on the wider industry and the safety benefit they will bring in the Best Intervention Strategy (BIS). From there, actions go into the draft EPAS for consultation with the EASA Advisory Bodies with the NAAs and industry.
The structure of EPAS and what's in it
EPAS consists of 3 Volumes as shown below. It covers the full scope of the European aviation system. This includes commercial fixed wing aviation, aerodromes and ATM as well as general aviation, rotorcraft and drones.
- Volume 1 - Strategic Priorities.
- Volume 2 - Actions.
- Volume 3 - Safety Risk Portfolios with the key safety issues.
Volume 1 - Priorities
The focus of EPAS volume 1 are the main priorities for aviation safety in Europe. These are split into 5 topics, Systemic safety and resilience, competence of personnel, operational safety (in the different domains), Safe and sustainable integration of new technologies and concepts then finally, Environment.
It is important to acknowledge that just EPAS Volume I is 89 pages of detail, covering many different areas and all operational domains of the aviation system. A short article like this cannot possibly do the whole document justice. What follows is just to give you a flavour of the highlights of the whole document. Hopefully it helps you understand more about this important document and encourages you to read more when you have the chance.
The new priorities for 2023-2025
Before getting into the main priorities for aviation safety in Europe, it is useful to start with information on the new priorities that have been introduced in this year's edition of EPAS. These are below:
- Systemic safety and resilience.
- Address the impact of climate change on safety.
- Balance societal needs with aviation safety.
- Competence of personnel.
- Implement Competency Based Training Assessment across domains.
- Ensure availability of Data for Training (Evidence Based Training).
- Operational safety in the different domains.
- Ensure the availability of high quality geo-data.
- Enable proportionate rules for Business aviation.
- Improve safety assessment of Human Factors in aircraft certification.
- Ensure the safety of ATM/ANS ground equipment.
- Create a certification system for Aerodrome equipment.
- Safe and sustainable integration of new technologies and concepts.
- Digitalisation in Aviation - includes ‘EU electronic licences’.
- Enable new business models in air operations (group operations etc.)
The main priorities in the EPAS (not just the new ones)
You are probably most interested in the main priorities that we have in the latest version of EPAS. As the industry emerges from the pandemic the overall strategic theme for this 3-year EPAS cycle is to foster a safe, secure, sustainable and resilient aviation system that is capable of coping with disruptive events of any type.
The operational context of EPAS
Achieving our goal of a more resilient system will be achieved by building on the lessons learned from COVID-19, as well as from reactive analysis and proactive risk management. It is of course important to acknowledge the operational context the industry finds itself in. The COVID-19 pandemic had a dramatic impact on the world population and the global economy. Our industry was particularly hard hit. There are also increasing global threats such as climate change, the sudden rise of inflation and the increasing public financial debt. Other significant events, in particular Russian invasion of Ukraine, have imposed operational strains on the aviation system due to the resultant air space closures and the impact of sanctions against Russia. Their broader macroeconomic impact, including supply chain issues, commodities' shortages and inflation are taking their toll on the industry. At the same time, the industry needs to reinvent itself to meet the societal demand for a more environmentally friendly aviation. You can read more about the operational context for EPAS from Page 12 of Volume 1. Below are some highlights of the priorities in the different areas of EPAS. The priorities have 3 levels of detail and these start from Page 27.
Due to the size and complexity of the aviation system, EPAS is naturally quite complex. It is very hard to show here in this article how the action link from the priorities and safety issues. Within this article we provide the page numbers where you can find more information. In Volume I, when you look at the main priorities, you will be provided with the main actions associated with them. The full list of actions are available in Volume II.
Systemic safety & resilience (From Page 27 of Volume 1)
The Level 2 priorities here are:
- Managing risk interdependencies.
- Improve safety by improving safety management.
- Management human factors and human performance (in all domains).
- Civil-military coordination and cooperation.
- Capable and streamlined oversight.
- Ensure a level playing field.
In this area the strategic priority ‘integrated risk management’ continues to evolve to enable the aviation system to address a broader set of risks that have the potential to impact aviation safety. This priority is now labelled ‘manage risk interdependencies’ and aims to develop greater capabilities to effectively identify and manage interdependent risks including cyber, physical security and health risks in addition to the traditional aviation safety risks. As highlighted above, there are the two new strategic goals to ‘manage the impact of climate change on aviation safety’ and ‘manage the balance between aviation safety and other societal needs’. It is particularly important to note the goal to improve safety by improving the effectiveness of safety management. A lot of our safety promotion efforts are gearing around this goal and was why the Safety Map of the World was created - to help you understand more about the purpose of safety and improve the effectiveness of your SMS. The value of managing human factors and human performance is also recognised as a key priority.
Competence of personnel (From Page 42 of Volume I)
The Level 2 priorities here are:
- Cross-domain priorities (Language proficiency and the implementation of CBTA).
- Aircraft priorities (flight and cabin crew).
- Priorities for ATCOs and other ATM/ANS personnel.
- Priorities for maintenance and other aviation personnel.
This area is elevated to become a stand-alone strategic priority, as an important enabler of systemic safety & resilience through the implementation of competency-based training assessments (CBTAs) across domains and the promotion of a more evidence-based, data-driven approach to aviation training and examination.
Operational safety (From Page 47 of Volume I)
The Level 2 priorities here split in to the different operational domains, from CAT Air Ops to rotorcraft, GA and others. The scope of strategic priorities within ‘operational safety’, currently addressing CAT & NCC, Rotorcraft and General Aviation, is extended to address key risks in all domains for which a safety risk portfolio (SRP) is or will soon be available. This will ensure a closer link between key risk areas (KRAs) , safety issues and strategic priorities. Other new priorities are included, such as removing obstacles for a well-functioning single market, ensuring proportionate rules for ‘business aviation’ (CAT/NCC boundary), and ensuring the safe integration of new business models in air operations.
Building on the lessons learned from the Boeing 737 Max and similar accidents, a new strategic goal is included with the operational safety priorities to improve the safety assessment of human factors in aircraft certification.
ATM priorities include the creation of a system-based licensing system for ATCOs and the preparation for SES2+. Important EPAS deliverables for 2023 will be the Opinions on ‘Conformity assessment (RMT.0161) to create a certification system for ATM/ANS ground-based equipment, and for the implementation (RMT.0682) of the regulatory needs in support of the SESAR deployment respectively.
Emerging technologies and concepts (From Page 59 of Volume I)
The Level 2 priorities here cover a range of topics, including:
- Artificial intelligence.
- Innovative aerial services and other mobility and operational concepts.
- Virtual certification, modelling and simulation.
- ATCO - system based licensing.
- SESAR research and development for new ATM/ANS functionalities.
- Safe integration of extended minimum crew operations and single-pilot operations.
- Safe integration of new business models.
- New propulsion technologies.
- Higher airspace operations.
In total there are now 10 distinct items addressed, in this area. Work is ongoing in all those domains to ensure their safe and sustainable integration into the aviation system, however not all of those priorities will lead to new EPAS actions initiated in 2023.
Environment (From Page 78 of Volume I)
When it comes to environmental protection, the priorities are maintained to support the implementation of the European Green Deal which sets an ambitious goal for the EU to be climate neutral by 2050. This is reflected in the European aviation initiative ‘Destination 2050 – A Route to Net Zero European Aviation. The pandemic and its drastic reduction in operations acted as a catalyst, leading to a significant push for a more sustainable aviation system, be it in the context of State aids and public relief packages for the aviation sector, the expectations of the travelling public or from industry itself. Coming under pressure from all those angles, industry is anticipating or accelerating their plans to adopt more sustainable solutions. The EPAS will continue to be instrumental in ensuring an integrated approach of planning and programming so that such solutions will not come at the expense of safety.
Volume II - the actions to improve safety
The latest version of the EPAS contains 158 actions. For the 2023-2025 edition there are 13 new actions, whilst 16 actions were completed and 2 actions deleted.
There are too many to list them all but it useful to at least explain the structure of this part of the EPAS so you explore it more easily for yourself. As explained earlier, in Volume 1 you can see the main actions for the different strategic priorities.
- Chapter 1 (From Page 8) - Systemic safety and resilience.
- Chapter 2 (From Page 51) - Competence of personnel.
- Chapter 3 (From Page 77) - Flight operations - aeroplanes.
- Chapter 4 (From Page 98) - Rotorcraft.
- Chapter 5 (From Page 114) - General Aviation.
- Chapter 6 (From Page 127) - Design and Production.
- Chapter 7 (From Page 150) - Maintenance and continuing airworthiness management.
- Chapter 8 (From Page 159) - ATM/ ANS.
- Chapter 9 (From Page 169) - Aerodromes and ground handling.
- Chapter 10 (From Page 180) - UAS and manned VTOL-capable aircraft.
- Chapter 11 (From Page 191) - New technologies and concepts.
- Chapter 12 (From Page 205) - Environmental protection.
Volume III - Safety Risk Portfolios
This final part of the EPAS presents how the safety risks in Europe are analysed and the outcome of this work. It is intended to give you more insight into where the actions come from and to highlight their basis in both reactive data and proactive risk assessment. You can use this volume to understand more about the accident outcomes that EPAS is trying to prevent. It is also intended to help you use the information on the safety issues to inform decision making in your own organisation.
Grouping by domains
The safety issues are grouped into the following domains. For the purpose of this article in the Air Ops Community we will focus on those issues relevant to Commercial Aeroplanes Air Operations, including the systemic and HF issues:
- Systemic issues (From Page 15).
- Human factors and human performance (Page 23).
- Commercial air transport - aeroplanes (Page 27).
- Rotorcraft (Page 37).
- Non-commercial operations - small aeroplanes (Page 43).
- Airworthiness (under development) (Page 48).
- Air traffic management (Page 49).
- Aerodromes and ground handling (Page 56).
Key Risk Areas - the accident outcomes
Each safety issue in Volume III is linked to one or more accident outcomes. In both the EPAS and ECCAIRS taxonomy for reporting and data collection, these are called Key Risk Areas. There are 10 of them, they are as follows:
- Airborne collision.
- Aircraft upset.
- Collision on runway.
- Fire, smoke and pressurisation.
- Ground damage.
- Obstacle collision in flight.
- Terrain collision.
- Other injuries.
The Safety Issue Priority Index (SIPI)
Before we get into the most important safety issues, it is useful to start with a some information about the European SRM process that is used to identify them. EASA develops safety intelligence from a range of different sources. We use accident reports, mandatory occurrence reports as well as expert judgement through our Collaborative Analysis Group (CAGs) with industry, the Network of Analysts (NoA) with the National Aviation Authorities and also the EASA Advisory Bodies. Once the safety issues are identified, they go through a Safety Issue Assessment (SIA) to determine what actions should be taken in the European Plan for Aviation Safety (EPAS). One of the biggest challenges is to prioritise the safety issues and this is where the SIPI comes in. This is a risk classification, based on the European Risk Classification Scheme (ERCS) principles, that considers its residual risk and additional elements such as historical accidents, the novelty of the issue and the level of exposure during operations. Read more about the SIPI from Page 12 in Volume III of EPAS.
The most important safety issues for CAT Aeroplanes Air Operations (Page 13)
Based on the SIPI scores and the different analyses carried out, the top safety issues for commercial fixed wing operations are below. The full list are in Volume III of the EPAS. You should consider the relevance of these safety issues for your own organisation. Talk about them with your operational teams, consider your level of exposure and what additional mitigations you might need to put in place.
- Airborne collision with Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS).
- Approach path management.
- Coordination and control of turnarounds.
- Crew Resource Management (CRM).
- Cyber Attacks.
- Decision making in complex systems.
- Entry of aircraft performance data.
- Fatigue and quality sleep.
- Inappropriate flight control inputs.
- Lack of industry wide staff support programs.
- Mass diversions.
- Reduced available financial resources.
- Training effectiveness and competence.
- Undetected occupied runway.
Finally - the process to handle safety issues in the SRM Process
Hopefully you remember the European SRM process from the beginning of the article. Once the safety issues have been identified they are categorised based on what we need to do about them. This results in the following categories.
- Assess - Elevated priority index: Safety issues for which a further assessment is or will be launched in higher priority to propose mitigations as needed.
- Assess - Normal to low priority index: Safety issues for which further assessment should be launched, when resources allow.
- Mitigate - Define: Safety issues with proposed mitigation actions under validation.
- Mitigate - Implement: Safety issues with validated mitigation actions ready for implementation, normally in the EPAS.
- Monitor: Safety issue under monitoring to determine the effectiveness of mitigations already implemented.