The Journey Toward a Safety Culture for Over 25 years

By Étienne Côté - May 9th, 2023

Étienne Côté speaking in front of a crowd

In aviation circles, we often hear about “the Safety Culture”. But what is a safety culture in the first place? Where are we in this journey toward our Safety Culture? Are we really on our way there?” Bombardier Demonstration Flight Operations Chief Pilot, Etienne Cote, discusses the meaning of safety culture and the commitment aviation professionals must have to safety to build a better future.

“Safety Culture is the way safety is perceived, valued and prioritized in an organization. It reflects the real commitment to safety at all levels in the organization.” Additionally, Safety Culture has been described as, "how an organization behaves when no one is watching." Safety Culture's essence revolves around the belief in the importance of safety and how individuals view their peers' and leaders' commitment to safety.

Safety Culture is not something you find or buy. Modern Safety Culture is acquired from the combined effects of Organizational Culture, Professional Culture, and often, National Culture. For more than 25 years, Bombardier Safety Standdown has helped many in our industry embark on the journey toward a true safety culture.

However, it is not because we have SMS and other safety processes, that we have a Safety Culture. Being an advocate for best practices and attending Safety Standdown doesn’t mean that an organization has achieved a true Safety Culture, either. I’m sure you can find examples of this within your own flight operations group and across your broader organization.

I would say that the point of this journey is to keep flying, but not arrive. The pursuit of a healthy Safety Culture is a journey that should never reach its destination; it should never “end.” The journey should be a continuous evolution of our standards and practices. We must keep moving safety forward, all the time!

Therefore, I invite you to reflect on aviation professionals, members and managers of Flight Departments, corporations, Aviation Manufacturers, and regulators. We sometimes pride ourselves on sharing and promoting best practices with others, but have we truly learned and applied them to our own organizations? Is it really part of our corporate DNA?

Every journey requires the initial step, committing to it! Each of us must choose to board the flight if we collectively want to get to our destination. If you are reading those lines, your journey has, at the very least, begun. If you haven’t caught this “bug” and you are unsure where or how to begin, why not start by exploring Safety Standdown’s website and its phenomenal resources ( Better yet, come and experience Safety Standdown on site. If you cannot, no problem! Let Safety Standdown come to you via webcast sessions and virtual workshops and bring your colleagues along to watch in your living room!

Through the years, Safety Standdown has helped hundreds of individuals and organizations climb to a higher safety culture altitude and attitude. Here, the sky is not the limit; it happens to be our “playground,” for now at least! With the constant progress in cockpit and cabin technology, urban mobility, access to space and more, it becomes evident that we must continue to evolve and elevate our standards. Continue to Learn, Apply and Share!

So, in these days of going viral, why don’t we make our commitment to safety “contagious” and help others get “infected” to start this journey. It’s never too late to board that flight!"


Étienne Côté

Étienne Côté

Advisory Council Member


Demonstration Pilot and Air Safety Investigator

Council Member since 2020