Assessing Institutional Resilience: A useful guide for airline safety managers?


Significant attention has been given in the literature to aviation safety, with emphasis on the importance of developing and maintaining resilience to accidents.  To date, this attention has remained at the conceptual level, with comparatively little empirical research undertaken to test the validity of concepts put forward in the literature. This report presents the findings of a qualitative study, investigating the factors perceived to facilitate safety culture and institutional resilience within airlines.  Thirty-two senior managers, drawn from Safety Departments and Flight Operations Divisions, participated in the research, representing 12 airlines operating in the Asian and Pacific regions.  Data was obtained through semi-structured interviews with participants, based on questions relating to terms contained in James Reason's Checklist for Assessing Institutional Resilience.

The checklist provided a useful framework for obtaining data; however, some terms reflected exclusivity in identifying factors that impact on organisational resilience, and others significantly overlapped in their application to the airline industry.  Themes emerging from the findings include the importance of leadership roles undertaken by the board, senior management, chief pilots and safety departments, and the influence of both formal and informal performance management systems.  Analysis of the findings addresses the implications for Reason's checklist, and identifies those factors that are not on the checklist but perhaps ought to be.  The emergence of a model which may be empirically tested through quantitative design is considered, along with other recommendations for future research.  In conclusion, strategies are presented, drawn from the data, which support the presence or absence of safety cultures within the airline industry and impact on ability to assess institutional resilience.

Type: Research and Analysis Report
Author(s): Dr Margot Wood, Dr Robert Dannatt, Associate Professor Verena Marshall
Publication date: 3 July 2006
Last update 07 April 2014
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