The philosophy of excellence at the heart of this year’s conference

By Andre Tousignant Director, Air Safety Investigation Office Bombardier Business Aircraft

As Bombardier wraps up the 2018 Safety Standdown conference, I was asked to discuss and reflect on this year’s theme, the Normalization of Excellence, as it relates to my line of work as an air safety investigator. The goal to normalize excellence is a commitment to excellence as the norm every time, without exception, rooted in technical competence, responsibility, total accountability and the ability to face the facts. It is a noble and just cause in our industry and one that is certainly worth continuously striving for each day.

In many cases, safety investigators deal with events that demonstrate a departure from the philosophy of excellence that nurtures a strong safety culture. All investigators know that bad outcomes are rooted in a host of non-excellent behaviors that are usually “good enough” to get through the day — behaviors that have become “normal” and “accepted”: the normalization of deviance.

It never ceases to amaze me how creative human beings are at contributing (knowingly or unknowingly) to their own grief and occasionally their own demise through deviation from the standards and practices that are specifically in place to prevent bad outcomes. Most are related to human factors and can be prevented. Not all professionals involved in aviation fall into this non-excellent category all the time, but no one is perfect, and there is always a seemingly good reason to take a shortcut. The aviation industry has an enviable and continuously improving safety track record, but is this because we are excellent 99.9% of the time, or because 99.9% of the time it is sufficient to be “good enough?”

So from a perspective of “Normalization of Excellence,” what does this really mean? It means we can do better. From my point of view it means being prepared for any eventuality (when things go well and more importantly when they don’t) that may occur during the operation, maintenance, or any other type of interaction with an aircraft (sufficient rest, dispatch, flight planning, WX briefing, etc.). It means being better than “good enough,” being better than the minimum standard to get a license or pass a test.

In my line of work there are common contributing factors that have consistently and repeatedly contributed to incidents and accidents, these are: 

  • Lack of, deviation from, or acceptance of deviation from, SOPs, procedures, or processes
  • Not qualified and/or sufficiently trained to carry out the task
  • Lack of knowledge
  • Poor decision making
  • Fatigue

Normalization of Excellence is being able to look at our performance, objectively assess it, and then recognize that we are faced with one of these incident/accident contributors. The “excellence” part is then to take concrete proactive action, either individually or corporately, and correct the situation. Those that accept that it is good enough and say, “it will never happen to me,” “I got away with it again,” or “we’ve always done it this way,” will eventually become a statistic in an air safety database somewhere.

From a humble air safety investigator’s perspective, the ability to recognize our performance shortcomings and correct them could one day contribute to avoiding an undesirable outcome, greatly advancing the stated goal of the 2018 Safety Standdown: the Normalization of Excellence.

Andre Tousignant
Director, Air Safety Investigation Office
Bombardier Business Aircraft

André Tousignant is Director of Air Safety Investigation at Bombardier Business Aircraft, boasting a cumulative experience of 42 years in the aviation industry. André joined Bombardier in 1998 as a technical instructor and held positions of increasing responsibility such as Manager of Air Safety Investigation Office (ASIO).