Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management

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Volume 19 Issue 3 (September 2011), Pages 123-181

High Reliability Systems and the Provision of a Critical Transportation Service (pages 158-168)

The majority of high reliability organizational (HRO) research analysing the performance of the US Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) air traffic control (ATC), nuclear power plants, and US Navy's aircraft carriers has treated these organizations as individual or separate units studied apart from the larger organizational frameworks in which they function. This research reports the evolution of the FAA's ATC reliability as a part of a larger high reliability system (HRS). A HRS construct was created as a result of a longitudinal case study spanning a period from 1905 to 2002 which analysed the development of the FAA's ATC service. The investigation focused on the emergence and institutionalization of policy‐ and agency‐level HRO attributes in conjunction with emerging industry characteristics associated with high reliability. A three‐tier model was identified that helps explain (1) how high reliability, low error operations evolved in the FAA, (2) how the HRS structure currently maintains reliability in the FAA's provision of ATC, and (3) how high reliability management is incorporated within a regulated US industry as a result of federal policy‐ and agency‐level actions. Understanding how the aviation HRS manages the exceptionally safe and highly reliable ATC structure is important because this knowledge can be applied to other complex public safety and security policy and operational areas where high reliability is crucial.

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