ACSF Safety Symposium Focuses on SMS, FAA Enforcement Actions

 - May 9, 2012, 2:34 PM

Averring that “I am not your friend,” the FAA’s director of flight standards nevertheless told attendees at the fifth annual Air Charter Safety Symposium he believes in collaboration with offenders before enforcement actions are taken.

John Allen said he had an “interesting meeting” with the Experimental Aircraft Association several days earlier in which he shared how the agency is changing its policy to empower inspectors to build a proactive, collaborative relationship in terms of safety and not go the enforcement route reflexively.

“I’ve got so many enforcement cases out there, we’re not able to concentrate on those that we need to concentrate on,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of frivolous ones. … Mistakes are going to happen. Why smack [violators] with enforcement when it’s not going to build on safety?”

According to Allen, safety management systems will be extremely important because “I won’t have as many inspectors. We can’t be everywhere all of the time.” What the FAA must do is put the responsibility on the operators, which is where it should always be and always has been, he added.

The primary responsibility for SMS rests with certificate holders and not with the FAA, said Allen. And because of budget and manpower constraints, he envisions the agency making greater use of designees.

Allen also talked about a looming shortage in pilots and aviation maintenance technicians. Talking with academia, he said, the FAA has floated the idea of a U.S. Aviation Academy program using existing academic institutions to try to stave off the lack of pilots and aviation maintenance technicians (AMTs). Although funding needs to be worked out politically, he sees a five-year program in which the pilots would come out with a four-year degree with an instrument and multi-engine license, with internships along the way, so they will work with charter companies for their 1,500 hours needed for an ATP.

“Our senses are telling us it’s going to be pretty bad in about two or three years and the air carrier industry is going to be significantly crippled by lack of pilots, and probably AMTs,” Allen told the attendees. “So we are working on a plan to try to improve the education–and to improve the training–and then to generate top-notch pilots and mechanics who will go on and be the future check airmen, instructors, chief pilots and vice presidents of ops.”

Safety Board Participation

Christopher Hart, vice chairman of the NTSB, told attendees that runway safety continues to vex the Board, which has had that particular topic on its Most Wanted List of safety improvements since 1990. But runway incursions, excursions and confusions continue.

Of 1,429 accidents involving major or substantial damage between 1995 and 2008, a full 30 percent (431) were runway related. “If we don’t get our hands around this problem–and as far as I can tell we don’t really have our hands around this problem–sooner or later it’s going to happen again,” Hart said. A runway incursion involving two 747s in Tenerife in 1977 resulted in the most fatalities (583) of any accident in aviation history.

The symposium, held at the NTSB Training Center in Ashburn, Va., provided two days of learning and discussion on topics such as reducing errors through empowered accountability and crew resource management. The theme for this year’s Air Charter Safety Symposium was “Safety Is Everyone’s Responsibility,” and the event drew more than 100 representatives from the on-demand/charter and fractional aircraft ownership industries, as well as various aviation industry experts.

Air Charter Safety Foundation (ACSF) chairman Jim Christiansen said attendees benefitted from senior FAA officials, industry experts and NTSB board presentations that included current NTSB member and fatigue expert Mark Rosekind and Hart. “We’re pleased that the ACSF continues to gain momentum and the validity of the foundation’s mission–to raise the level of safety within air charter and fractional ownership operations–continues to be confirmed through operator and industry participation in ACSF activities,” he added.

Keynote speaker Dr. Tony Kern, CEO of Convergent Performance, discussed how to reduce costly errors significantly by targeting the most important aspects of the human performance equation: compliance and accountability. Kern introduced the concept of “empowered accountability,” which teaches each individual a new level of personal responsibility and accountability.

Jeff Hare, president of J. Hare Safety and Survival Systems, focused on the risks of cabin fires from electronic devices and strategies for combating a fire should it occur. Shannon Forrest, crew resource management (CRM) program manager for FlightSafety International, presented a case study in CRM that included situational awareness, decision making, workload management and task prioritization, monitoring and cross-checking and fatigue and stress management.

Rosekind also discussed fatigue education and strategies, scheduling policies and practices, organizational strategies, as well as fatigue management systems and programs. Presentations on aircraft tire safety best practices were enumerated by Keat Pruszenski, Michelin Aircraft Tire manager of customer support engineering, while Cliff Jenkins, Milliken’s director of aviation, and Robert Breiling, owner of Robert Breiling Associates, presented the latest data regarding turbine aircraft accidents.

“The attendees were awed with the quality, depth and range of information presented that they could use in their daily operations,” declared ACSF president Bryan Burns. “The best part was the interaction between attendees and presenters.”