Craig Foster (MSci ARCS CMath MIMA) works in the Directorate of Safety at NATS and is conducting PhD research into the application of success-based techniques to the safety of air traffic control.
Safety is fundamental to the air traffic management industry which is often characterised as a high-coupled and complex socio-technical system. Yet despite this complexity, it is also an industry that achieves very high levels of safety performance. Against this backdrop, measures of safety which rely on failures provide diminishing returns.
Increasingly technology modernisation in the industry is making available more quantitative data of how work is actually performed.
This PhD research is exploring alternative principles and techniques which can be applied to normal work to make sense of operational data recorded by the systems used by controllers. It is believed that this will help to improve our understanding as to how safety in the service is really delivered and to ask appropriate questions about how it can be improved. The ultimate goal is to use this understanding to strive for more robust, appropriate and repeatable levels of high performance. By using all available information about how the air traffic control service is being delivered this research will examine whether it is possible to develop measures of normal work, adaptation and variation as a leading indicator of safety performance to enable the industry to better anticipate risk. The research will also examine some of the challenges which these novel approaches present in a highly regulated industry.