Each June, NBAA’s Flight Attendants Conference (FAC) promotes the professional development of full-time and contract flight attendants, flight technicians and cabin safety professionals. Hosted by the NBAA Flight Attendants Committee, it focuses on the importance of having trained flight attendants and technicians on board corporate aircraft and is a forum for discussing industry changes affecting cabin safety, security and service.
At the inaugural conference in 1996 work began to build a base of support, communication and professional development for all corporate flight attendants. Over time the group has worked to sort out important issues for FAs and suggested research on the subjects of training requirements, job descriptions, cabin-crew duty limits and the perceived necessity for an FA certification program modeled after that of the airlines.
The 17th FAC ran for three days, kicking off with a lead flight attendant/flight technician roundtable and career workshops for people hoping to break into the industry. The event included leaders such as Jay Evans, director of professional development for NBAA, who assists with planning the event; and Ed White, vice chairman of the NBAA CAMC Committee.
Said White, “I’m here to share ideas. As a representative of Satcom Direct I know these attendees use our products, and could use more information about how our products work. I’d like them to be more than just operators of our connectivity products; I want them to understand enough to be able to make the minor adjustments sometimes necessary to keep the product working in challenging flight environments. That would enhance both our product and the flight attendant/technician’s competency. From my NBAA perspective, I’m here because NBAA committees are beginning to work together to build leaders throughout the corporate aviation industry.”
Louisa Fisher, program manager of emergency training and cabin safety at FlightSafety International, said, “This conference always has among its attendees a group of people who are interested in getting into the business. The networking opportunity for them here is terrific. The mentoring that happens among the attendees, and those who have been coming for years is impressive. What an opportunity: they get the contacts that assist them in getting the positions they are looking for.”
The lead flight attendant roundtable was attended by managers from flight departments that ranged from Caterpillar, Coca-Cola and Sony Pictures to ConocoPhillips, the U.S. Air Force 99th squadron, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Aramco and Jet Professionals. Discussions ranged from pay grades and rates for contract employees versus salaried employees to cross-training in emergency medical and first-responder skills for cabin crewmembers.
Concerns were raised that some flight departments don’t properly value cabin crewmembers. Nina Jones, lead FA for Yum! Brands, has had exactly the opposite experience. “Our HR director loves aviation in general, and he understands that the FA is a risk mitigator on flights,” she countered. “We handle food safety, medical safety; any type of risk in the cabin that you can imagine. We are a moving boardroom for our company. We will cancel a flight or put a flight technician in there if no FA is available. That’s our policy,” she explained.
Simultaneously, new and aspiring FAs and FTs were being briefed in another boardroom on the state of the industry and the benefits and pitfalls of the occupation by seasoned professionals, including the FA/FT committee chair, Mary Ann Fash, senior manager, flight services, executive flight operations at Boeing. She came to her position at Boeing after years as a commercial flight attendant and running Execujet Services, a contracting company for corporate FAs. She began attending the FAC in 2002, and assumed the chair of the committee in 2011.
“I think the [FA/FT] committee has evolved over the years,” she said. “Our goals are to build respect for that third crewmember and push for training standards. We’d like to enhance the image of the flight attendant and technician in the industry, and I think we are succeeding on that point,” she continued. “We started the year with our cabin-crew symposium at EBACE in Geneva in May. It had nearly 60 participants. We had global security experts speaking, as well as professional development and professional growth speakers.”
The final conference speakers, US Airways Capt. Jeff Skiles and retired US Airways lead flight attendant Doreen Walsh, provided attendees with a startling and heart-wrenching example of how two individuals, both doing the jobs for which they were trained, could experience the same catastrophic aircraft emergency in completely different ways. The juxtaposition of the pilot and the flight attendant’s view of the ditching of US Airways Flight 1579 into the Hudson brought home the mission of the FAC: each aircraft crewmember has a job on board, and with a proper complement of well trained crew, safety is enhanced and risk is mitigated.
This June’s FAC conference, held in June in Chicago at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare, attracted nearly 200 attendees. “More corporations with flight departments are hiring third crewmembers, and they are sending them to this conference to learn more about the profession,” Fash explained. “We are here to mentor them and develop them, because I want to see our legacy in this industry continue. The industry, from our end, is growing, and we are here to help companies become aware of the importance of that third crewmember.”
General sessions headed by industry experts included career panels, aircraft safety and cabin security sessions, catering and food safety. Conference sponsors, of which there were 32, staffed tables set up adjoining the general sessions and were available for interaction with attendees throughout the event.
In addition, the group awarded 32 training and career enhancement scholarships valued at nearly $50,000 to attendees.
The 2013 Flight Attendants and Flight Technicians Conference is to be held in Washington, D.C., at the L’Enfante Hotel, from June 20 to 22.