Safety Mindfulness

The idea behind mindfulness is that if operational staff are aware of the possible threats that can occur in their day-to-day activities, then they can anticipate and deal with them without any adverse safety outcome. Ideally training and instructions should achieve this, but such standard methods can be limited for several reasons:

  • ‘Work as designed’ is often different from ‘work as done’, and so training and procedures may not contain everything that can happen in the real job
  • Aviation is a fast-evolving industry at the operational level, continually leading via smarter and more efficient (cheaper) ways of working, but there may be unplanned side-effects that can lead to safety risks
  • Unusual combinations of conditions (adverse weather, delays, shortage of staff, equipment failures, etc.) can lead to operational situations not previously considered, which are less protected from risk
  • New or temporary staff (e.g. temporary summer staff at airports) will have very limited training yet need to be aware of a diverse range of risks, and are working under peak workload traffic conditions

In Future Sky Safety, the mindfulness concept was first explored at the Maastricht Upper Area Control Centre, one of the busiest air traffic centres in the world. Controllers cited several examples where they might notice something unusual and potentially risky, and deal with them. They would tell their immediate colleagues and supervisor, but what about the next shift, or the one after that? The ‘traditional’ way of passing new safety information up the hierarchy where it can be assessed and evaluated, leading to new recommended practices, takes time, during which the risk is still present and can grow. The idea of a Mindfulness ‘App’, a way of fast-tracking information on ‘things to watch out for’ to operational colleagues, is now being developed. The Luton Safety Stack (see the Safety Stack section on this website) is also implementing this concept onto mobile devices, so that safety-related information can be fast-tracked not only within a company, but between difference companies.

The second idea in the Mindfulness area was to see how we can better learn from operational data using modern data science techniques, to determine safer ways of working that are suited to operational needs. This part of the study analysed ground handling operational data for a major airline, and identified the ‘pinch points’ in turnaround operations where safety could be at risk, and then determined how to improve working practices. These mindfulness approaches enable aviation organisations to be more agile when it comes to safety, ensuring that as they sharpen their business and operational approaches, safety is not left behind.