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BYU, GU Research: Room to Decrease "Near Misses" by Airlines

Flying into Salt Lake Valley.

Research on airline near misses by Brigham Young and Georgetown Universities finds there is still room for improvement in the generally very safe industry.  Peter Madsen is an associate professor at the Marriott School of Management at BYU.  He says even though very few errors lead to accidents, studies show pilots or crew members make at least one potentially hazardous mistake on 68% of commercial airlines flights.

“The question on our minds was; ‘do we plateau in safety at this point because we don’t have many accidents to learn from or are there opportunities to learn from other events,” asks Madsen, “smaller events, like near misses?’”

The study identified benign near misses as incapacitation of a flight crew member, software glitches or mechanical quirks in the cockpit, nuisance warnings, false alarms, poor handling of aircraft on touchdown and taxiway congestion. Madsen and his colleagues studied data from 1990 to 2007.

“One great thing about the airline industry is they collect data on near misses," says Madsen, "so it was a great place for us to do the study because we could get the data. In most other industries you can’t get that kind of information.”

Madsen says their findings encourage airlines to expand reporting of the already-successful data collection and remain vigilant about uncovering root causes of any deviation from normal operations. The research was funded in part by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and is published in Risk Analysis

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