European-based Flight Crew Survey

Please find following a summary of the results for the European-based Flight Crew Risk Assessment and Voluntary Reporting Attitude study that you participated in between January-March 2017. I would like to offer my sincere gratitude to all pilots who volunteered their time for the study; without this commitment, research and hence improvements in aviation safety would be difficult. 

The study had three main aims, namely to investigate:

  1. Pilots’ situational risk assessments
  2. Operational factors that may influence the voluntary reporting of an incident
  3. Pilots’ trust in their organisations ‘Just Culture’

539 airline pilots from twenty-nine European Union based countries completed the study. In relation to the first aim, the results revealed that when asked to assess the risk level in three risk based scenarios (low, medium, and high; as determined by subject matter experts and validated utilising ICAO risk assessment criteria), the pilot participants overestimated the risk level consistently in the low- and medium-risk scenarios.

In the high-risk scenario, pilots assessed the risk similarly to the subject matter experts. This result is consistent with the Australian-based study. While not entirely ideal, there are some positives with this result; the most notable being that pilots expressed a level of caution in their risk assessment.

In relation to the second aim, pilots were more likely to report an incident for a passenger carrying flight in contrast to a non-passenger carrying flight. In terms of incident reporting intention, the EU-based pilots are 32 times more likely to report an incident using their airline’s SMS, as opposed to not reporting an incident. The results also revealed that as perceived risk increases, likelihood in reporting increases.

In relation to the third aim, the results revealed that over three-quarters of the pilot participants (83.75%) stated that they were confident in their airline’s just culture policies, whilst just under one-tenth (7.42%) lacked confidence in their airline’s just culture. The participants were asked if they had either previously withheld or selectively reported safety information and the reasons why. The results revealed that just under one-third of the participants (29.47%), stated that they had either selectively reported or chose not to report safety information using their airline’s SMS. Of these pilots, one-quarter (21.8%) stated that they were confident in their airline’s just culture.

Consistent with the Australian-based study, the participants indicated that fear of reprisal from their employer was the most prominent concern, and hence inhibitor to reporting. Another reason for not submitting an SMS report that emerged from the EU-study results was a number of participants indicated that they had been involved in, or observed a safety-related matter, however elected not to report, as they believed the risk level too low to warrant making the effort to submit a SMS report.

From an applied perspective, we interpreted the results as follows: Airlines need to devote more effort to improve crew confidence in their reporting systems. Importantly, organisations need to dispel any fear employees have about reporting, in terms of reprisal from reporting safety related information. As the EU-study results indicate, there is a high level of confidence in airline Just Culture policies, but yet approximately one third of pilots (29.47%) report withholding safety related information; indicating there is room for improvement. Understanding the drivers and motivators of those pilots who confidently report is important in order to promote those positive behaviours. Equally as important is understanding the reasons why some pilots elect not to report, and hence addressing these reasons.

The results also revealed that airlines need to focus on improving/standardisation of risk assessment amongst pilots, and provide objective guidance and training to pilots about when and what to report in terms of risk level metrics (negligible, low, medium, high), rather than flight crew attempting to determine when and what to report without aid of objective guidance and tools.

A number of participants from the Australian and European study indicated that they considered the mandatory reporting of a go-around an unnecessary time burden, as a go-around is considered a routine manoeuvre, and in some situations, flight crew elect not to perform a go-around in order to avoid submitting a report. Airlines are encouraged to communicate to pilots ‘why’ they require certain events to be reported, for example, the reporting of go-arounds may assist the safety department in detecting increasing risk trends at a particular airport that may be investigated.

If further information is required please contact me by email at

Kevin J. McMurtrie
Research Trainee – PhD Candidate
School of Aviation
University of New South Wales