Safety is the theme at the flight attendant conference

 - September 13, 2006, 10:39 AM

NBAA tried something new at its annual Flight Attendants Conference, held this year in Denver in June. As part of its effort to emphasize the importance of the role of the business aviation flight attendant, the association decided to highlight the theme of safety, said Jay Evans, NBAA director of operations. Speaking briefly to those attending, NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen also emphasized the importance of safety: “Sixty years ago, our first mandate was safety and professionalism, and that’s where we are today.”

Bolen concluded by saying he was disappointed to hear flight attendants talk about their job. “It’s not a ‘job,’” he told the audience. “It’s a profession.”

The association expects to continue assigning a theme to the conference, beginning with next year’s event, scheduled for June 29 and 30 in San Diego.

At the Denver conference, the speakers included aviation safety consultant and television personality Gregory Feith; Capt. Denny Fitch, who assisted the crew in trying to land United Airlines Flight 232 safely in 1989 after a catastrophic hydraulics failure; Georgia Food Safety Professionals representative Jean Dible; and Emily Ann Caldwell, manager of flight attendant training at NetJets.

Feith is perhaps best known as the NTSB investigator in charge of a number of high-visibility aviation accidents, including the USAir DC-9 crash in Charlotte, N.C.; in 1994; the American Eagle ATR 72 crash in Roselawn, Ind., that same year; and the ValuJet DC-9 that went down in the Florida Everglades in 1996. He writes frequently for the media on the subject of aviation safety and is the host of “Hangar Flying Today,” a weekly two-hour radio program in Denver.

Safe flying is the art of risk management, said Feith. “We can’t make it safe, but we can make it safer.”

Fitch was a passenger on United Airlines Flight 232, the DC-10 that lost hydraulic power and crash landed at Sioux City, Iowa. Early in the emergency, Fitch had moved to the cockpit and was helping manipulate the power levers, giving the crew at least minimal control of the aircraft. In the subsequent crash landing, 184 of the 296 people aboard survived. Fitch gives much of the credit to crew resource management and training.

Capt. Al Haynes, who was in the left seat, drew on the experience of everyone in the crew. “It was a perfect illustration of the importance of crew resource management, combined with experience.”

At one point, Haynes called the chief flight attendant forward to prepare her for the landing, and then he spoke to the passengers directly. Fitch said the flight attendant then proceeded with her briefing. She would later say it was the first time every person on the airplane listened to every word she said.

Emily Caldwell’s presentation on the flight attendant briefing was one part “how to” and one part “how not to” as she discussed her own passenger briefing experiences and those of others. It’s particularly challenging in business aviation, she said, when the passengers are the same people on every flight. “How do you present the information differently, or involve the passengers in the briefing? What do you do to ensure that they understand it and take it to heart?” she asked.

Asked by a contract flight attendant if the association could push the FAA harder to raise the bar on training for all business aviation flight attendants, Bolen urged caution. He said NBAA is hesitant to urge the FAA to make changes, aware of the agency’s tendency to create “one size fits all” regulations. “Be careful what you wish for,” he said. “You may get it.”

Food Safety Measures
Dible gave her presentation on food safety in a game-show format as she quizzed contestants and her audience on the subject, asking questions and providing answers with a ready, and sometimes sharp, wit. Among the nuggets of information: the bacillus cereus toxin is found in rice that has been left warm for too long. That toxin might kill you, she said, but “nothing, nothing, nothing will kill a toxin.”

Even the ubiquitous potato can kill, she noted. Allowed to remain in the temperature danger zone (between 41 degrees F and 135 degrees F) for too long, anaerobic botulism bacteria can become active and create potentially killer toxins inside the potato. Melons, such as honeydew, cantaloupe and watermelon, allowed to slip into that temperature danger zone, could become a breeding ground for salmonella.

Is safe food handling important? Clearly yes. Every year, some 76 million illnesses stem from contaminated food, approximately 320,000 victims are hospitalized, and there are some 5,000 deaths.

Catering, as usual, played a major role in the convention, with half a dozen business aviation catering specialists in attendance. An afternoon session featured lectures on a variety of subjects, from ethnic specialties and culinary artistry to catering meals and snacks that require no refrigeration.

Tastefully Yours of Atlanta and Rudy’s Inflight Catering of Teterboro, N.J.,
provided free copies of their “Ordering and Packing Tips for International Trips” on CD. The publication includes language translations, cooking terminology, packing, hazardous material handling and conversion charts. It is available at no cost to flight departments, schedulers and dispatchers and flight attendants. To get a copy, call Tastefully Yours at (770) 455-7002 or Rudy’s Inflight Catering at (201) 727-1122.

According to Evans, this year’s conference drew 235 attendees (38 more than last year) and more than 90 first-time attendees, 30 more than in 2005.

Evans also said no small number of the first-time attendees were former airline flight attendants investigating the possibility of crossing over. “It happens when the airlines aren’t doing well,” he said.

At the conference, the NBAA Flight Attendant Committee announced the names of 57 flight attendant and flight technician scholarship recipients, 16 more than last year. The program had the support of 22 business aviation industry sponsors, four more than last year. (See sidebar for names of scholarship winners.)