Cranfield University addresses the future of aviation safety, risks and regulations


Against the backdrop of a zero-carbon ambition and as we navigate the post-Covid world, the aviation industry is transforming daily. While the industry has always been seen as a beacon for innovation, safety implications call for it to be a hugely conservative industry. With technologies moving faster than the regulations designed to govern them, we need to ensure we manage safety and risks in the future.

To support this, Cranfield University, in partnership with CAA International (CAAi), the technical cooperation and training arm of the UK Civil Aviation Authority (UK CAA), launched a new MSc in Aviation Safety, Risk and Regulation in 2020. Designed to provide a spectrum of technical knowledge and founded on promoting safety management and performance-based regulatory practice in the UK and worldwide, this globally unique course addresses the regulatory background of all aspects of safety in the operations, production and maintenance in the aviation industry.

The first cohort hailed from around the globe – from Hong Kong to the west coast of the USA, Europe, and here in the UK. Students include CAA regulators, pilots, cabin crew, air traffic control, and ground handling staff. Their broad range of experience has created a thriving environment within which they may consider the future regulation and safety of the industry.

Dr David Barry is a Senior Lecturer at Cranfield and the Course Director for the new programme noted, “A big part of this course is looking ahead to what is coming down the line in terms of innovation and working out how we will safely deal with these exciting developments. One of the strengths of the course is the level of experience in the cohort. All the students are experienced professionals in the industry, each bringing their own unique insights into current and future safety issues.”

“There is a real tension between innovation and the conservative pull of safety. While we don’t want to stifle innovation, it is imperative to ensure that it is safe. While the course considers current safety issues, this is not training for the here and now. We are asking students to be critical of the status quo, and to look for what can be improved. We are also looking at how we regulate for emerging risks that new technology such as drones, air taxis, and electric or hydrogen-powered aircraft will bring. Our partnership with the UK CAA gives students first-hand insight of the regulator’s perspective.”

Ellie Bevan-Waite works for the CAA. The regulator has recently been appointed to provide technical, policy and regulatory expertise to support the Government’s ambitions of enabling space launch activities from the UK. While the approaches for space and aviation have been historically very different, these worlds are starting to meet.

Ellie explains: “The MSc is a great opportunity for me to expand my knowledge and apply my learning to my role. I have recently moved into the Space Regulation Team as a Space Licensing and Oversight Specialist. Before this, I worked as an Inspecting Officer (Aerodromes), auditing low complexity Aerodromes across the UK. Working with and getting to know people from industry throughout the course is helping me to expand my network, understand different viewpoints and draw similarities in the way we work.”

Considering how the Covid-19 pandemic has affected the industry, particularly in terms of regulation and risk, Ellie said: “It has been almost two years, as the industry recovers, the competence of aviation staff across the whole industry lifecycle is one of the risks to safety. With fewer flights, fewer passengers and considerably higher stress levels, staff can struggle to maintain competence and currency of training. We need to address this first and foremost.”

Efthymios Kallianidis is an Airline Captain for a European operator. With more than ten years’ experience in different areas of flight operations, he agrees with Ellie on the implications of Covid on the industry. “The challenges are multiple; altered working patterns, increased safety reports, not to mention highly stressed passengers.” He continues: “Now is a great time to reorganize safety input parameters. Even though the pandemic has negatively affected operations in the short term, it is an opportunity of a lifetime to invest and improve for the long term.”*

He explains his reasons for choosing the MSc. “I wanted to understand the reasoning behind decisions made by the regulators and airline management. It has given us the opportunity to discuss current regulations with the CAA teams who created the safety documents. By asking them directly about the thinking behind each document, answering the ‘why, what, and how’ behind each decision, I have adapted my learnings into our daily operations and shared this knowledge with colleagues.”

Working with colleagues across the industry and the regulatory body has been vital to Efthymios’ learning: “Diverse cultures, education and working backgrounds, distinctive management hierarchies all help to shape a new way of thinking through interactions within the group. Aviation safety affects all of us, from the CEO, to aircraft cleaners and even airport taxi drivers”.

As we look ahead to the next academic year, Dr David Barry is excited to see how cohorts will work together, particularly on the group projects, to tackle emerging safety issues. “While we don’t have all the answers now, this course brings together minds from across our industry to identify and think about solutions for safety and risk management problems of the future.”