Author: Captain Santiago Luna, Director LASC, Sirius Aviation Limited
LATAM Regional Safety Enhancement

The Latin American & Caribbean accident statistics indicate that Safety Management and Regulatory Oversight are two significant contributory factors affecting operator safety performance. Safety Management Systems are critical to safety performance within an airline and in most cases are required by Regulators. The advent of COVID-19 has brought this into stark focus. It is clear that Safety and Compliance Management is an area that needs further attention as demonstrated by the fact that both IATA and ICAO currently have safety initiatives in the region.

For the civil aviation industry in Latin America and the Caribbean, the COVID-19 pandemic represented an estimated passenger revenue loss of more than USD26bn in 2020, when compared to the previous year. More than 18 months into the pandemic, a number of countries have decided it is time to open up and adopt a "living with COVID-19" model. IATA economic performance projections for Latin America show that interregional traffic is recovering but improvement in financial performance is slow.

The global situation regarding the pandemic continues to be fluid; some countries are facing a third wave, there are pocket outbreaks at destinations, restrictions via vaccine passports, and testing & travel bubbles (as countries open up). Airlines are adapting and responding as guidance evolves, which means the operational risks need to be identified, mitigated and managed on a continuing basis. IATA predicts that global RPKs are estimated to improve by 18% in 2021, reaching 40% of pre-crisis levels. In 2022, the recovery forecast is being linked to the rate of country vaccine rollout, vaccine passports, and travel restrictions; these factors will determine international traffic ramp up, while domestic travel is forecast to improve rapidly.

PWC states that the market recovery will be driven by five factors: the pandemic, industry factors, economic climate, consumer behaviour, and regulation. IATA predicts that regions with large domestic markets, faster vaccination rollout and less restrictive government policy will continue to recover faster than the other parts of the world (linked to consumer disposable income). The airline industry is therefore facing an uneven recovery from the pandemic.

The Latin America Training Centre (LASC)

The duration and impact of the pandemic means that some of the safety issues identified in 2020 have been exacerbated. Meanwhile, new safety issues are emerging. These include issues such as the risk of skills and knowledge degradation due to lack of recent practice, the wellbeing of aviation professionals, the impact of long term storage of aircraft and recovery and the overall effects of reduced finances on safety, including loss of suppliers and the loss of operational and technical staff.

As the new delta variant spreads and outbreaks occur, airlines are continuing to face unprecedented challenges on all fronts. The pandemic has created severe financial distress in the industry, thus driving some to implement draconian cost-saving measures, and forcing others to take on significant debt in a fight for survival.

These financial constraints have led to a huge reduction in resources available for operators to manage operational needs. It is critical that operators can ensure that the safety culture, programs and processes which are in place remain effective in monitoring their operations, identifying and mitigating risks, and assessing the possible new risk arising of operational changes. A systematic approach is needed to effectively manage the current situation. The necessary capabilities are already embedded in the operator’s safety oversight programs. There are four phases of critical activity for operators as the industry progresses to a ‘new normal’: Initial Response, Respond, Mitigate, and Manage.

The much talked about “new normal” phase (stage 4) of COVID-19 pandemic is building the foundation of ‘living with the virus’ and for a new way of doing business with a focus on dynamic risk management response and safety resilience.

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