On Tuesday 27 June the RAeS Yeovil Branch celebrated its 62nd Henson & Stringfellow Dinner and Lecture in the Fleet Air Arm Museum (FAAM) at RNAS Yeovilton. The event was attended by over 175 guests, each of whom came from a spectrum of different career backgrounds and experiences, but all united in their engagement in aerospace. It was particularly encouraging to see a significant number of young people attending the night, representing an impressive 20% of the total attendees present. The majority of the event took place in the shadow of the iconic Concorde 002.

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Following dinner, the branch President and MD of Leonardo Helicopters Yeovil site, John Ponsonby, gave the opening speech of the night in which he proudly outlined the activities of the Yeovil Branch and Leonardo Helicopters. He reminded the audience that the Yeovil Branch celebrated its 90th anniversary in 2016 and how, having been originally called the Westland Aircraft Society, it was formed by the Company as a “way of encouraging engineering competence across an ever growing workforce” by providing lectures on all matters aeronautical, a key purpose that continues to this day. John made special mention of how last year, to celebrate both the 90th anniversary of the Branch and the Society’s 150th anniversary, members of the Yeovil Branch committee along with trainees from Leonardo Helicopters and Airbus, organised a STEM event under the banner of Cool Aeronautics aimed at primary school children. The event, coincidentally also held at the FAAM, was attended by 151 children from 9 local schools and was “characterised by the Society staff as the best one yet”.

The guest speakers for the night were Colin Russell and Bob Simmons of Baines Simmons, the internationally renowned company specialising in aviation safety performance improvement. Their lecture, entitled “Safety from push to pull”, discussed the emerging issue that reliance on lessons learnt from incidents and accidents, combined with the development of ever increasingly comprehensive regulation, no longer provides an adequate approach to safety assurance. This approach has undoubtedly driven significant improvements to safe operations to the extent where accidents in particular are increasingly rare and regulation serves to assure safety, but can constrain further improvement. The whole industry must now adopt a revised approach where safety leadership becomes more than regulatory compliance alone: the concept of “safety leadership” was described as the foundation for an organisation pulling safety through rather than reliance on safety being assured by the airworthiness authorities pushing regulation into an organisation.

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The concept of safety leadership can be summarised as the process of interaction between leaders and followers, through which leaders can exert their influence on followers to achieve organisational safety goals. However, it will be necessary to clearly define what “leadership” means and how it is applied. Too often, the terms “leadership” and “management” are used interchangeably, but there is a critical differences between these roles and the vital functions of each in building strong safety performance. Specifically, managers exist as part of the organisation’s structural hierarchy and exert formal influence over their subordinates, while leadership is a voluntary activity by which an individual exerts influence over co-workers by setting an example of appropriate behaviour to elicit shared goals and effect positive change in the organisation. Certainly one individual can be both a manager and a leader, but this only occurs through conscious effort to effectively perform both roles. It was a testament to the skill of the speakers that they managed to take, at first glance, a dry subject and present it in such a thought-provoking manner, leaving all of the assembled guests with a new outlook on how safety can be implemented within their respective organisations.

Prior to the lecture, the RAeS President Elect, Rear Admiral Simon Henley, gave an impassioned speech, in which he outlined each of the guest speakers backgrounds and thanked them for volunteering their time to present to the assembled guests, before putting emphasis on the vital role all in our industry play in ensuring safety across all levels of supply and operation. The final vote of thanks for the night was given by Air Vice-Marshall Graham Russell, Director of Helicopters at Defence Equipment & Support, who echoed Simon Henley’s words in thanking the speakers for their lecture, and presented the speakers with a small token of appreciation in the form of two signed copies of the popular “The Art of Flight: A Celebration of a Century of Aeronautical Achievement”, which features a collection of paintings and sketches of every type of aircraft built over the last hundred years at the Yeovil site.

The subject of encouraging and promoting young people was a popular message echoed throughout the night by the various speakers. John Ponsonby noted how the Yeovil Branch “enjoys a youthful committee, including five young engineers” and that the Strategic Partnering Agreement signed with the UK MoD last year represented “joint investment” to “[attracting] the right apprentices and graduates in engineering, business and support; and [thus] invest in future generations”. Simon Henley, whilst discussing the future strategy of the RAeS, made a point of stressing that one of the key aims of the Society for the next couple of years was the encouragement of young people into taking leading roles within the organisation as “the future continuance of the RAeS is in their hands”. Even the guest speakers made reference to how on-going Safety Leadership will need the support of young aerospace professionals if it is ever to “take-off” as a culture within organisations.

The event was a grand success, made even more impressive by the variety of historical aircraft which surrounded the guests during the whole proceedings. Truly, it was a fitting environment for such a prestigious occasion. Thanks are due to the guest speakers, the museum and catering staff, the audio visual team, the Leonardo Helicopters external affairs team, and the organising committee from the Branch for such a sterling evening.

The Henson & Stringfellow Dinner and Lecture is the Yeovil Branch's annual black tie named lecture, and is the highlight of the branch calendar. To join the RAeS Yeovil Branch mailing list and be informed of all future events, please email the committee at raesyeovil.mbx@agustawestland.com

Daniel Young
14 July 2017