Cape Town - Understanding human nature and its changeability should be at the centre of the approach to safety in the air traffic and navigation industry, according to Air Traffic and Navigation Services SA (ATNS) CEO Thabani Mthiyane.
In his opening address at the Second African Symposium on Human Factors and Aviation currently taking place in Cape Town, Mthiyane said a more integrated socio-technical approach is needed in the industry since aviation consists of a complex set of components.
"Humans are not a mere factor in this industry, but rather the pivot thereof. Aviation is a system in which humanity and technology interact," said Mthiyane.
"All our people must operate at full potential because it involves matters of life and death."
He also said a new approach towards incidents that happen in the industry is needed.
ATNS chair Mpho Mamashela, himself a senior captain for South African Airways and active in the industry for 20 years, told delegates that aviation incidents due to human error all over the world show how challenging the environment is, especially for people from different backgrounds.
He also realised that uncompetitive salaries were causing many skilled people in the SA air traffic and navigation services industry to leave for opportunities in the Middle East. Once he managed to obtain salary adjustments in the local industry - with the support of Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe - he said attitudes in the industry started to change.
"Today we have R1bn turnover, employees are no longer leaving, people have a sense of belonging and dignity and feel part of a team," said Mamashela.
"Even transformation is no longer an issue at ATNS. When people realised we are all part of this country I had guys who became mentors and ensured that those they mentored succeeded. We love what we do in aviation and we are proud of it. So much more can be achieved by working as a team."
He said it is important to understand the role the human element plays in aviation safety.
"At ATNS we talk about what went wrong. We might find out someone had a fight with his wife and that was heavy on his mind. If you listen to what people say, relate to what a human being goes through and link safety to the human state, you will get much better results," said Mamashela.
"Stop considering the human element as a thing and relate to human beings. The human factor carries a lot more and is right up there with safety."