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PHD. MBA. MHS. Type rated on A350, A330, B777, B747-400, B747-200, B757, B767, B737, B727. International Airline Pilot / Author / Speaker. Dedicated to giving the gift of wings to anyone following their dreams. Supporting Aviation Safety through training, writing, and inspiration. Fighting for Aviation Safety and Airline Employee Advocacy. Safety Culture and SMS change agent.

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Safety Culture

When the System is Broken   

The reason Aviation Regulations exist are to protect the traveling public. But when an Airline does not follow regulations and when the FAA tends to look the other way when that happens, and the AIR21 statute does not punish or prevent retaliation against those who report safety, the accident rate will increase. 

Delta has proven this theory to be true. I am not saying this is not ongoing at other airlines, but I am closely familiar what is happening at Delta. 

Safety Management Systems (SMS) was enacted to reduce the accident rate. This risk mitigation tool requires a positive safety culture. A positive safety culture requires a reporting, learning, informed and just culture. I believe everything an airline does reflects its safety culture. 

Unfortunately, Delta Air Lines disagrees. Delta told the Judge, during my trial, that Safety Culture was a vague sort of term

“The word Safety Culture used in this case quite a bit, and that's a vague sort of a term, Safety Culture. I think Ms. Petitt will contend that pretty much everything an air carrier does, from interpersonal relationships to diversity, to compensation, to allegations of unequal treatment, all that impacts Safety Culture in some way.”

Delta’s accident rate is increasing annually, despite their SMS. What is frightening, is that there are only 6 months remaining until the end of 2023 and nothing appears to be changing. There is no accountability at the airline.

Delta mechanic Mark Wheeler's hpurs were cut because he reported that Delta failed to address an AD for over 14 years. Last week Delta lost two different motions to dismiss cases brought against the company. One case was a flight attendant was repeatedly raped by her Delta pilot husband, and the company did nothing to him and retaliated against her. The other was harassment and retaliation of Captain Ratfield. She had the audacity to report a Delta pilot for putting a gun into his mouth and threatening to kill himself, multiple times. The company took no action with the pilot, but they ultimately locked her down in an alcohol treatment center for five months, after she was raped, telling her she would be terminated if she did not comply. 

I know of other events where NDA's were signed, and others where pilots were terminated. But they each began with safety concerns. Yes, Safety Culture is in everything. It's the Culture of the airline. A negative safety culture will impact the accident rate. 


2023: 5
2022: 4
2021: 3
2020: 3
2019: 2

Why is Delta’s accident rate at an all-time high? 

More so, why is this airline's accident rate increasing? Safety Management Systems is a Federal Regulation that was enacted to mitigate risk. Delta has an SMS, so why isn't it working? 

To be effective, SMS requires a positive safety culture. A positive safety culture requires every employee to feel comfortable to report safety concerns free from retaliation. That could be the reason right there.   

I read an excellent an article by Robert Sumwalt: Convinced That You Have a Good Safety Culture?    

“Talk is cheap.
Actions and behaviors 
are what counts.” 

Robert Sumwalt

Sumwalt asserts a healthy safety culture is “where employees feel comfortable reporting safety concerns. To create a robust reporting culture, the organization needs trust and a just culture. Without a robust reporting culture, safety problems can go unresolved.”   

When Safety Problems go Unresolved,
Accidents Follow

Captain Sumwalt also warned us to, “Beware when someone tells you they have a good safety culture or that safety is their top priority.” He stated, 

“Whenever I hear these phrases,
I want to waive a BS flag.”

Ed Bastian

During his deposition, Ed Bastian testified: 

“Safety is our priority across all aspects of our business.
It is our number one priority.”

James Graham

Endeavor CEO,  James Graham, testified: 

“We always tell our pilots safety is the only thing out there, 
it's the number one priority.”

I’m guessing Captain Sumwalt is waving his BS flag at Delta’s CEO and Chairman of the Board, Ed Bastian, and Endeavor's CEO, James Graham. 

Safety Culture is Essential
for Aviation Safety

Safety Culture permeates every part of the company. I based my doctoral research on the operational procedures at Delta, and the results were jaw dropping. You can read them in Normalization of Deviance, a Threat to Aviation Safety. 

The results of my research were based upon a worldwide population, not just Delta. But Delta was the reason behind the research. Delta Air Lines has proven the impact of a negative safety culture and that the AIR12 statute is ineffective if the airline decides to engage in a war of attrition.

Unfortunately Delta’s Safety record is getting worse, not better. There have been 90 accidents worldwide in the previous 6 months, and Delta has had five of them. This means that Delta had just under 6% of the world accidents in the previous six months.

Until airline management can hold themselves accountable and take the necessary steps to solve safety concerns, instead of retaliating against employees who report them, I’m afraid these accidents won’t go away, but will continue to grow as they have. 

I cannot speak to other airlines, because I do not have the first-hand knowledge that I do with Delta. But I can tell you that if the government doesn’t crack down on the FAA to enforce regulations and ensure accountability, and if they do not change the AIR21 Statute ,with much needed improvements to ensure employees are free to speak out, everyone will be playing Russian Roulette when they get on an airplane. 

The data from the accidents came from an excellent source. Check out your favorite airline and see how they are doing. 

Take Action Now

If you have been harmed,
or are being retaliated against
Join me at

(Get your tickets here)

Washington DC 
September 7-8th  

This conference is a two-day event that focuses on spreading awareness and networking within the safe workspace & whistleblowing community. There will be variety of high-profile attorneys, social workers, and congressional guest speakers who are spearheading the movement, as well as whistleblowers.  I will be the keynote speaker. If you need someone to talk to about your event, this is the place to be.  If your health is suffering from your event, you won't want to miss my talk. 

Speak Out For Safety
Dr. Karlene Petitt
A350, B777, A330, B747-400, B747-200, B767, B757, B737, B727


  1. You need to define "accident." The general public defines it as when a plane crashes whether or not there are surivors. The industry defines it another way so explaining the definition of an accident is important for readers. You also need to cite examples of the five accidents Delta experienced.

    Bottom line, however, you are completely right that SMS is the single more important ingredient in preventing accidents. And, a just culture -- when employees feel safe in reporting safety issues -- is critical to successful SMS. That Delta is unable to define it as you posted previously is shocking and disingenuous at best. You can bet that Ed Bastian would know the definition if the NTSB were asking. Kathryn

    1. The definition exists: 49 CFR § 830.2 - Definitions.§ 830.2 Definitions.
      As used in this part the following words or phrases are defined as follows:

      "Aircraft accident means an occurrence associated with the operation of an aircraft which takes place between the time any person boards the aircraft with the intention of flight and all such persons have disembarked, and in which any person suffers death or serious injury, or in which the aircraft receives substantial damage. For purposes of this part, the definition of “aircraft accident” includes “unmanned aircraft accident,” as defined herein."

      Please go to the link, search Delta, search accidents and you can see specifically what they are, or you could select incidents see those too.

      Oh... Ed wouldn't know if the NTSB was asking. We deposed him and he had not a clue. When asked in deposition he stated, "I'm not a pilot or a technician." When it was brought to his attention that he was the accountable executive to the program, he said he didn't know what accountable executive meant. So... perhaps he knows. If not, he better brush up because I suspect he may be visited by the NTSB sooner or later. Thanks for your comment!


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