Air Transport World

The guardian. (Flight Safety Foundation)

Over the years, the Flight Safety Foundation has managed to enhance safety, maintain the industry's support and still keep its independence

When the regional airline industry came under fire last year following two back-to-back accidents, the usually reticent Flight Safety Foundation was the body that came to its defense. A highly publicized report by a passenger group urging its members to avoid 30-and-fewer-seat aircraft was called "outrageous" by FSF Chairman and President Stuart Matthews, who further chided the news media for their unfair portrayal of this safe mode of air transportation.

The incidents are telling for this 50-year-old organization that heretofore had maintained a low profile, while helping to make the skies safer. Traditionally, FSF has been known as a repository of expertise and thoughtful comment on aviation safety, as well as the noted author of 70 safety-related publications, produced annually. And it will continue to be so. But its new proactive style is an acknowledged attempt by Matthews to promote safety and FSF at the same time.

Matthews's strategy also is seen by some as a necessary step to remove FSF's immediate past image as a creative but not very well-managed entity that often didn't deliver the promised services, an organization that coasted on past laurels and didn't want to rock the boat for fear of offending someone.

But defenders of the previous regime say FSF fell on hard times in part because airlines dropped out rather than pay the extra money a safety agenda would cost them.

Nevertheless, Matthews, known for his business acumen, is expected to bring back the organization's luster, sources add.

"Look. If we are going to be referred to as the conscience of the industry, we'd better start acting like it," says Matthews, a former president of Fokker Aircraft U.S.A. One of his primary concerns is to find ways to reduce the accident rate over the next decade. While the airline industry is considered safe, worldwide traffic is expected to double over the next 10-15 years. Consequently, the number of accidents will increase statistically, due to the traffic increase, not because there has been a degradation of safety..

Says Matthews: "There has to be a harboring of the accident rate over the next decade or the industry will have a real problem. The public certainly won't tolerate a doubling of accidents because they are far more concerned with the number of accidents rather than the accident rates. …

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