NATA Offers Charter Safety Program

 - October 5, 2006, 10:57 AM

The National Air Transportation Association (NATA) has unveiled a program to help air charter companies improve safety. Modeled after the ground service safety program the association launched last year, the initiative for Part 135 on-demand operators is designed to reduce the number of accidents and eventually to lower insurance rates and deductibles.

NATA kicked off the program at a “town hall” meeting at New Jersey Teterboro Airport last month. The safety management system (SMS) for air charter operators calls for a commitment to safety by senior management, a comprehensive safety manual customized to each business, Web-based continuing education, independent third-party analysis and data collection and analysis.

“By lowering the number of accidents, air charter operators will see a significant saving in insurance deductibles and a decline in insurance rates over time,” said NATA president Jim Coyne. “In addition to cost savings, safer operation helps the entire industry to grow.”

Air BP, Avsurance, ChevronTexaco, ExxonMobil, Global Aerospace, Phillips 66 Aviation, Phoenix Aviation Managers, USAIG, XL Insurance and W. Brown & Associates have underwritten the air charter SMS initiative.

Although the FAA establishes minimum standards for Part 135 air charter companies, NATA pointed out there is a wide variety of companies within the industry that exceed the FAA requirements.

“This provides NATA with a tremendous opportunity to support its members with a tangible, industry-proven tool to enhance operational safety and quality, thereby permitting operators to meet the highest safety standards,” the association said. “An additional benefit will be an operator’s ability to more clearly communicate safety standards to its customers and differentiate its operation from that of its competitors.”

FAA Oversight

On June 10 the FAA issued a notice to regional FSDOs on the responsibility for operational control during Part 135 operations. The notice directs principal operations inspectors (POIs) to ascertain whether each of their assigned Part 135 operators has a system of controls in place that is adequate–in light of the complexity and scope of their operations–to ensure they maintain operational control over each Part 135 flight conducted under their certificate.

Operational control requires that an operator has the knowledge to make decisions and perform actions necessary to operate flights safely and in compliance with the regulations. POIs will rely on the FAA Inspector’s Handbook to assist in making their assessments about the adequacy of the operator’s control systems for safety and oversight.

NATA noted that mere compliance with the regulations does not in and of itself result in the corporate safety culture and quality management many operators wish to achieve. The SMS can assist in raising the safety and quality bar, which in turn will improve operational safety performance by lowering accident rates and identifying potential active and latent causal incident factors, it said.

NATA’s leading air charter members agree with this approach and have been involved in several high-profile meetings with senior leaders of the FAA and other industry groups. Among the participants are Executive Jet Management, New World Jet, Priester Aviation, Frederick Aviation and Million Air Salt Lake City. They are also encouraging their vendors to participate.

The association acknowledged that the SMS was driven by a rash of high-profile charter and corporate aviation accidents, some involving fatalities, which has prompted the FAA to consider targeted audits and increased surveillance.

NATA and SH&E, an aviation consulting firm, developed the air charter SMS, building on the FAA Air Transportation Oversight System, the Transport Canada SMS and the Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority SMS.