Aviation represents a complex socio-technical system in which a strong emphasis is placed
upon safe operation. Advances in this area have traditionally been reactive following particular
incidents or accidents. As the traditional accident causes (predominantly technical engineering factors) have become better understood, the need for proactive solutions to counteract the
increasing proportion of human performance related accidents has grown.
This thesis proposes and utilises case-study research methodology to examine the reasons
behind Australia's good record for airline safety. At the time of writing, no lives have been lost
in an Australian jet passenger aircraft accident. The methodology is designed to advance the
application of systemic safety investigation in order to avoid the traditional "primary-cause
focussed safety investigations" which are generally used following accidents.
Having established the safety record for commercial jet RPT (regular public transport)
operations to be above average, a number of factors which may have an effect on that record
are reviewed. The analysis is divided into three main sections, namely the human, operational
and natural environments. Evidence used comes from a variety of sources so as to ensure
validity. Data collection methods included primary data obtained through expert witness
interviews and attitude surveys of 2,600 Australian and British flight crew and air traffic
controllers. Secondary data came from extensive literature reviews which have attempted to
bring together existing micro-level research work in a systems context.
Initial conclusions point to the existence of a number of natural environment factors which are
perceived to have a major effect on flight safety. However, deeper examination has suggested
that there are a number of cultural factors within the human and operational environments
which exist at professional, corporate, industry and national levels. These have contributed to
the quality and quantity of risk countermeasures which have been instrumental in creating the
good safety record. This thesis explores the importance of these influences and how they may
be changing in the current and future aviation environment.
A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.