Safety is the primary consideration when Boeing engineers design an airplane. In addition to meeting regulatory requirements before certification, each airplane model must meet Boeing’s time-proven design standards. Often these standards are more stringent than regulatory requirements.
Regulatory requirements include ensuring redundancy in all critical systems. Every system vital to the safe operation of an airplane has a backup, and in some cases more than one backup.
For example, twin-engine jets are designed to safely take off, fly and land even if one engine fails.
Boeing designs damage-tolerant airplanes. The airplane structure is designed to withstand 150 percent of the greatest load an airplane might encounter in commercial service.
Engineers build in this extra margin of protection to allow a pilot to safely exceed the airplane’s intended flight envelope in case of an extraordinary emergency.
Boeing airplanes are rigorously tested to ensure they meet or exceed design standards and certification requirements.
Testing also helps Boeing find and fix problems before an airplane enters service.
There are many kinds of tests. Structural strength is ensured by static and fatigue tests. Static tests apply maximum loads or pressure to validate the airplane’s ability to carry loads. These maximum loads are often far greater than any load that would be encountered under normal operational conditions.
During fatigue tests, the airplane is subjected to up to three lifetimes of normal wear and tear to help validate its durability.
The tests help establish operator maintenance and repair schedules. Testing a new airplane design can take many months or years. Tests are conducted in laboratories, wind tunnels, icing tunnels, on the ground and during flight tests.
In addition to validation tests of brand new airplane designs, each airplane that rolls off the production line is tested before delivery.
Boeing continually monitors the performance of airplanes worldwide to identify opportunities to improve safety.
In-service events are analyzed through a formal, disciplined, safety process involving Boeing experts from a variety of technical disciplines, as well as senior and executive leaders.
Executive leaders constitute the Boeing Aviation Safety Council, which formally oversees a unified safety plan rooted in the company’s long history of continuously improving the design, assembly, operation and maintenance of Boeing airplanes.
Boeing works with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to thoroughly review, and if necessary act upon, data from in-service events. Boeing also works with customers to understand and address potential safety issues. If a potential safety-of-flight issue arises, Boeing recommends corrective action to airplane operators. The FAA typically issues a rule that makes mandatory the actions recommended by Boeing.
Permanent solutions must be thoroughly tested, analyzed, validated and re-certified. Where necessary, Boeing deploys interim action to assure fleet safety until a permanent solution is available.
In addition to monitoring the worldwide fleet, Boeing develops and incorporates new technologies to enhance safety. Through research, development and collaboration, Boeing has developed sophisticated technologies that provide distinct safety advantages.
Excellent examples of how technology has made aviation safer are visible in flight deck systems designed to help pilots avoid two safety problems common in years past: windshear and controlled-flight-into-terrain (CFIT).
Predictive windshear equipment along with improved windshear-training programs for pilots has virtually eliminated that type of accident.
Similarly, the "look ahead" terrain avoidance warning systems, such as Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System, have helped dramatically reduce CFIT accidents.
Vertical Situation Display is another safety-enhancing technology. This sophisticated system allows pilots to see at a glance potential terrain conflicts and runway overshoots at a much earlier point in time than traditional warning systems.
Apart from airplane equipment and technology, Boeing leads the industry in studying and applying human factors engineering lessons to the design of commercial airplanes.
Boeing human factors experts gather information about human abilities, limitations and other characteristics and apply the data to tools, machines, systems and processes.
Their efforts provide a better understanding of how humans can most safely and efficiently integrate with technology.
Boeing also works with the FAA and the industry to develop training aids that improve a pilot's ability to respond to challenging situations.
For example, Boeing provided an updated training aid as part of a continuing effort to reduce loss-of-control airplane accidents.
The upset recovery training aid focuses on helping flight crews recover from non-normal flight attitudes that can result from unusual weather or other "upset" conditions.
The enhanced training also increases the pilot's ability to recognize and avoid situations that can lead to airplane upsets.
Helping pilots prevent runway overrun excursions
At Boeing and Embraer, helping pilots prevent runway overrun excursions is a top safety focus area. There isn't just one factor that causes overruns, nor is there one simple solution to prevent them.
To help pilots adapt, Boeing and Embraer have partnered to develop and provide a shared set of flight-deck guiding and alerting tools along with new procedures and training aids for pilots.
The foundation for the Runway Situation Awareness Tools is the long-standing philosophy of both Boeing and Embraer to respect pilot control, and help pilots make timelier, better informed decisions that support safe approaches and landings.
From the approach planning phase through landing rollout and deceleration, the Runway Situation Awareness Tools provide a combination of solutions to reduce runway excursions.
Aviation safety is the combined result of:
Boeing joins with governments and the industry to continuously advance safety in all aspects of the global air transportation system. This collaborative approach is more effective than regulatory action alone.
Boeing continuously works with members of industry, civil aviation associations, government regulatory authorities and operators to ensure safety efforts are effective and aligned worldwide.
An example of this collaboration is the Commercial Aviation Safety Team (CAST), which comprises representatives from airlines, manufacturers, labor and government.
Established in 1998, CAST has helped reduce the fatal accident rate in the U.S. by 83 percent in the 10-year period from 1998 to 2007 by systematically analyzing data from accidents and safety incidents worldwide. CAST developed more than 96 safety enhancements to date and has implemented more than half of them so far.
Safety efforts rely on investigating past incidents and accidents to prevent future ones and by examining aviation operational data to identify less obvious or emerging patterns and potential conditions before accidents occur.
Boeing collaborates with industry organizations and governments to help regions throughout the world to develop effective plans for improving aviation system safety.
Working together, the aviation industry is improving safety by sharing the knowledge of regulators, operators and manufacturers.
Industry efforts identify aviation safety risks and introduce best practices to develop and prioritize of safety initiatives while ensuring that these safety initiatives are coordinated and consistent worldwide.
Through collaborative efforts and continuous monitoring of the in-service fleet the global aviation system is safe and will continues to improve in the years to come.
Although Boeing's safety efforts primarily focus on preventing accidents from occurring in the first place, a great deal of effort goes into supporting accident investigations.
Accidents are rarely caused by a single failure or action. They most often result from a chain of events. Remove any link in the chain and the accident can be avoided. Industry and government safety experts study accidents to identify these chains of events as well as "intervention strategies" for preventing the same kinds of accidents in the future.
These strategies include new training aids for flight crews and mechanics, new operating procedures, infrastructure improvements, airplane-design modifications, and incorporation of new technologies into the aviation system. Working together, industry and government safety officials have been able to virtually eliminate some of the most common accident causes of the past and are confident they'll be able to continue to make air travel even safer.
The airport operator will handle firefighting and rescue operations if the accident is at or near the airport. If not near an airport, local police and fire fighters quickly take control of the site to facilitate search and rescue and to protect important evidence.
The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (if the event occurs in the United States), or the government with jurisdiction over the area, is immediately notified.
The affected airline is the responsible source of information about the passengers and crew on board. It will not identify victims prior to notifying next of kin. The airline typically will conduct media briefings from both the accident site and its headquarters.
The airplane manufacturer and engine manufacturer will be involved in the accident investigation, if called upon by the government agency leading the investigation.
Accident investigations are led by the country where the accident occurs. If it occurs over international waters or the airplane is missing, the investigation is conducted by the country where the airplane is registered.
Investigators from other countries usually are invited to assist. Sometimes, one of them is asked to lead the investigation.
The investigator in charge oversees all testing and analysis of wreckage, and is responsible for communicating with all stakeholders and the public.
Advisors can be appointed to provide technical expertise. They usually are representatives of the airplane and engine manufacturer, the operator and other appropriate parties.
Always important to an investigation are the "black boxes"—the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder, which are encased in steel boxes located in the tail of every airplane and capable of withstanding great pressure and temperature extremes.
The accident investigation’s final report often takes years to complete. It contains probable cause, as well as safety recommendations.
Boeing is committed to its role in helping all stakeholders understand the data associated with airplane accidents. That is why, since the 1960s, Boeing has published the Statistical Summary of Commercial Jet Airplane Accidents. The annual report has become the definitive source of air accident information for the aviation industry. By understanding what the data is telling us, we, as an industry, can take meaningful steps toward enhancing the safety of the air transportation system.