Exploring the Impact of Operational Safety on Aircraft Fleet Planning and Management Factors in a U.S. Commercial Airline Operation

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Dinusha Adikhari Mudiyanse Gunarathna
Daniel Kwasi Adjekum


Aircraft fleet planning and management factor are key productive functions in a commercial airline to ensure the achievement of the airline’s operational and business goals. Fluctuating passenger demands due to public perceptions of air transport safety after adverse safety events such as air crashes and pandemics like COVID-19 makes it vital for commercial airlines to have resilient fleet plans and safety management systems. There seems to be a paucity of empirical studies exploring the impact of safety on aircraft fleet planning and management factors among airlines in the United States (U.S.) during and after adverse safety events. A qualitative approach was used to explore the research problem. Codes and emergent themes were derived from three case studies. Questions were developed from themes for semi-structured interviews with eight subject-matter experts to assess the relationships between operational safety, fleet planning, and management factors. The findings suggest that operational safety plays a major role in fleet management processes among U.S. commercial airlines. Fleet management factors such as market evaluations and customer perceptions are influenced by safety events about an aircraft type. Passenger comfortability and confidence in an aircraft type was suggested as driving factor in fleet planning and it influenced consumer behavior in terms of airline selection. The results from this study serve as a conceptual framework for further studies on the relationships between operational safety, fleet planning, and management essential for organizational resilience.

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Author Biographies

Dinusha Adikhari Mudiyanse Gunarathna, University of North Dakota. Aviation Department. Grand Forks. ND.

Former Graduate Student /Temporary Aviation Ground Dispatcher ( Flight Operations)

Daniel Kwasi Adjekum, University of North Dakota. Aviation Department. Grand Forks. ND.

Dr. Daniel Kwasi Adjekum has over 23 years of experience as a former Ghana Airforce squadron commander (Presidential Fleet), airline pilot, and aviation safety consultant. He has an airline transport pilot license (ATP) and is type-rated on the Britten-Norman BN-2T Islander, Fokker F-27, and Boeing 737 (300-800) series aircraft. He has also flown the Aerovodochody L-29 Dolphin jet trainer and L-39 Albatross light attack jet aircraft.

Dr. Adjekum is an International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) designated subject-matter expert in-flight safety and an International Air Transport Association (IATA) certified Safety Management Systems (SMS) implementation and control expert. He is also a graduate of the United States Airforce Safety Center International Flight Safety Officers Course. He also had aircraft accident investigation training with the United States Naval Safety Center.

He holds a Master of Science in Aviation and a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Aerospace Sciences from the University of North Dakota. He is a certified safety professional (CSP) accredited by the Board of Safety Professionals (BCSP) of the United States. Dr. Adjekum is currently an assistant professor at the aviation department (UND) teaching courses in crew resource management, safety management systems, and human factors. Dr. Adjekum also teaches statistics and advanced quantitative methods at the graduate level and has been a principal investigator (PI) for an inter-collegiate research initiative on aviation safety culture and safety management systems.

Dr. Adjekum consults extensively for the Government of Ghana on aviation matters and has been a prime consultant safety management systems implementation for the Ghana Airforce and other aviation organizations in Ghana. He has also worked on SMS implementation projects for Virgin Nigeria Airlines and UND Aviation. He has published extensively in peer-reviewed academic journals and presented at academic conferences and industry workshops both in Ghana and the US.

Dr.Adjekum has conducted a safety assessment/audit of the Ghana Airforce Maintenance Safety Program and a post-project standards compliance and certification/acceptance requirements for a new hangar facility. He recently (July 2018) conducted a Human Factors Workshop for aviation personnel of the Ghana Airforce and allied civil aviation entities. The evidence-based training focused on strategies to minimize operational errors due to human factors and operational performance limitations. It is also geared at ensuring proactive safety in aviation operations.

Dr. Adjekum, as the principal investigator (PI) recently won a $756,000 three-year grant from the National Academies Of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine to study safety reporting culture/practices in the Gulf of Mexico area of operations for Offshore Oil and Gas Organizations using exemplars from the aviation safety action program (ASAP). It is the first multi-disciplinary research effort between the aviation department and the petroleum engineering department of UND. Anticipated outcomes of the study will be a proposed safety reporting framework called the Offshore Action Safety Program (OSAP). He is regularly sought after by local, national, and international media houses to provide expert insight on aviation accident investigations and relevant aviation safety issues.