C.A.S.S.: Corporate Aviation Safety Seminar

 - October 8, 2007, 11:22 AM

Issues arising from September 11 and from the Flight Safety Foundation’s accident prevention role shared billing at the 47th annual FSF/NBAA Corporate Aviation Safety Seminar (CASS), held in Phoenix last month. Airport security, bioterrorism and terrorism’s effect on aviation insurance received more than normal attention from the 340 attendees at the Pointe South Mountain resort.

Speakers at the three-day event approached traditional topics such as flight department safety programs, current FAA medical certificate policies and analysis of pilot risk-taking patterns. Robert Vandel, FSF executive v-p, began by reviewing current FSF initiatives. They included addressing incarceration of pilots following accidents in some nations, which Vandel said will be “a significant stand of the Flight Safety Foundation.” He added that the ALAR (approach/landing accident reduction) “tool kit,” previewed at last year’s CASS in Orlando, Fla., is being adopted by aviation agencies of several nations.

Vandel said FSF is working with international authorities to develop crew rest standards for long-distance flights by ultra-long-range business aircraft. Studies are focusing on fatigue measurement and rest requirements for flights ranging from 14 to 22 hr. A parallel issue–transfer of command when dual crews are carried–involves writing specifications for PIC recuperative sleep and guidelines for “who does what and when.”

FSF is also joining airport operators and planners to refine birdstrike prevention strategies. However, Vandel observed, “There’s a different solution for every airport, and a different solution for every runway at every airport.”

Security: a new ballgame

The security requirements that are fast becoming the price of admission to U.S. airspace were outlined by Richard van Gemert, president of New World Jet, a Part 135 operator, and international security consultant Brian Hollstein. Van Gemert touched on the political considerations of aviation security, which he summarized by stating that government responses to September 11 clearly answered the question of “who owns the airspace?”

“We have to realize that our use of the airspace is now a privilege, not a right,” he said. “The mood of the public has changed, and as a society we are now ready to accept more inconvenience, cost and security measures to ensure that our airports, airplanes and airspace are secure.”

For Part 91 operators, “Be aware that you are affected as well as the Part 121 and 135 people. You must understand that many of the emerging Transportation Security Administration rules are in direct conflict with FARs, as well as existing state and federal employment and civil rights laws. And,” he added, “you haven’t even begun to see the cost effects.”

Van Gemert noted that the considerable costs to be borne by airports and their tenants are “bundled into the FBO fuel price. Competitively, this affects us all equally–the customer ultimately suffers.”

Hollstein reviewed technical aspects of the new security environment. The former Xerox director of corporate security and FBI agent also described the changing paradigms defining today’s security world. Before September 11 it was believed that perpetrators would have a normal will to live, “Now it must be assumed that their motivation is ‘glorious suicide.’” Where before it was the bomb in the luggage, “today the terrorist is the bomb.”

Aircrews were previously expected to cooperate with hijackers. It became obvious on that late summer Tuesday that they must now be ready to fight to the death, he said.

The insistence of “human rights” advocates against “profiling” is being overridden by the need to identify and apprehend terrorists. “How else do we identify terrorists?” Hollstein asked.

Responding to a question from Blouin asking for advice to small companies on finding someone to set up a corporate security program, Hollstein replied, “The procedure for setting up a safety program is virtually identical. It’s not rocket science.”

Added van Gemert, “It’s a matter of thinking about areas of vulnerability. The security guy doesn’t know the difference between Part 91, 135 and 121. He looks at an airplane and all he sees is a fuel-air bomb.” He then offered some final advice: “If you don’t participate [in government initiatives to increase security] they’ll force their rules on you. Be part of the solution.”

‘Who’s in charge here?’

Attorneys Phillip Kolczynski of Newport Beach, Calif., and Valerie Dunbar Jones of Dallas, both pilots, introduced the emerging issue of liability for operational control of fractionally owned business aircraft. Kolczynski explained how the legal “standard of care” differs for owner-operators and “passive owners,” whose names may appear on aircraft registration papers but who have no involvement in the conduct of any particular flight.

“Traditionally,” the former Marine F-4 Phantom fighter pilot noted, “passive owners have not had liability exposure. That has been the trend in recent case law where such owners have no control over operational decisions.” Now, however, the proposed Part 91 Subpart K, which deals specifically with fractional ownership, suggests a different doctrine, Dunbar Jones added.

She noted that “fractional owners in operational control of program aircraft are deemed to have shared responsibility for airworthiness.” Explaining how Subpart K may affect the owner liability environment, she defined “operational control” as existing “if a person connected with a fractional owner, such as an executive or employee, is aboard. It imposes responsibility for all applicable rules and regulations even upon non-certificate holders.”

Dunbar Jones said the rationale for Subpart K is to “level the playing field between the Part 91 fractional operation and on-demand Part 135 charter and air-taxi operators.”

However, Kolczynski added, “The FAA has unwittingly created a target-rich environment for liability lawyers. The aircraft manager always has it, but now the fractional owners must agree to submit to FAA enforcement. This rule exposes people who don’t know a biplane from a bicycle. They have no certificate to be revoked, but their corporate image and good will can be damaged by the public relations surrounding an enforcement action.”

He said that if the FAA pulls the fractional aircraft manager’s certificate, the aircraft is grounded and all of its owners suffer. The “operational control” doctrine can also bring liability for EEOC violations in connection with an aircraft operation, Kolczynski cautioned.

Dunbar Jones offered solutions and avoidance strategies that include management agreements that may provide owners single limit-liability coverage of $200- to $500 million. “But be aware of exclusions…read the fine print. Does it cover war risk and FAR violations?”

On the subject of risk management, Kolczynski commented, “I’m not suggesting that fractional ownership is bad. It can be very good. But it creates a new environment in which owners can no longer consider themselves passive owners.” He advised them to:

• Analyze their management and ownership contracts.

• Read applicable insurance policies, especially for uncovered risks and exclusions such as diminution of value and/or loss of use.

• Audit the aircraft management program for compliance to protect their investment in their shares.

He concluded by noting that one of the responsibilities of fractional ownership–pilot qualification–has a recently added and complicating factor, that of security clearance, which can be a time-consuming but necessary expense.

GA’s man on the inside

General aviation–specifically business aviation–is not, as some may believe, voiceless and powerless to influence its access to the nation’s airspace. That was the message Bob Blouin delivered to the CASS audience. NBAA’s senior v-p for operations described the “NBAA ATC Connection–the GA Desk” in the FAA Air Traffic Control System Command Center (ATCSCC) at Dulles International Airport.

Blouin briefly outlined its short history, noting that the GA desk mirrors a six-year Air Transport Association presence at the ATCSCC, which has grown into a synergistic relationship where the FAA and airline industry have developed a collaborative decision-making process for airspace access and use. This gave airlines input into operational decisions affecting their “bottom line.” NBAA, recognizing a similar need for business aviation, developed a similar plan adapted for this segment’s unique requirements.

The GA desk became operational last August 1, with three NBAA air traffic specialists providing seven-day-a-week, 16-hr-a-day coverage. Blouin, who was instrumental in establishing the NBAA presence, noted that the ATCSCC is the “master control of all National Airspace System centers under one roof.” He said the GA desk through collaborative decision-making with the FAA “assures us of access to the airspace.”

Business aviation’s representatives at the ATCSCC participate in real-time national airspace flow control and decision making, as well as long-term strategic planning. On September 11, six weeks after the desk became operational, it proved its worth as an advocate for its constituency, Blouin said. “We were able to advise aircraft operators via the NBAA Web site of emergency notams as they were being issued and facilitate their getting back into the air.”

He announced that NBAA is working to set up arrangements with several weather and flight-planning service providers to offer one- and two-aircraft operators much of the same advantages that the GA desk currently provides to subscribing flight departments. He noted that during the day before the seminar the GA desk served 475 business aviation operations, and 920 in the previous 24-hr period–“the equivalent of a good-size regional airline.”

Blouin explained that the GA desk has the dual function of providing information to business aviation subscribers, and of relaying to the FAA real-time scheduling information on that portion of the GA fleet with which it is in contact. The desk gives subscribers information generally available to the public, but before it is released. “We get to look under the tent,” he explained.

In return, the desk receives scheduling data from corporate flight dispatchers, which enables ATC to integrate business flights into the airspace flow. The on-site GA desk also allows the NBAA specialists to be “ahead of the curve” in disseminating convective weather forecasts to subscribers. The desk is also in position to advise corporate users of where their aircraft are in a given airport’s delay queue and suggest time-saving alternates.

Safety programs: what works?

John Sheehan, president of the aviation consulting firm Professional Aviation, shared his findings from visits to a number of flight departments to determine which ones have effective safety programs and why.

He offered a few common denominators: “You have to be dramatic, fun…get a little action into it.”

“Willingness to ask ‘Why?’…to train ‘outside the box.’”

“Formal programs on the shelf don’t get it done.”

“When I see informal discussions [about safety] going on between individuals, I know the program’s working.”

Sheehan said, “I’m sometimes asked, ‘We’re safe. Why do we need a program?’ My answer is, ‘You never know where or when. You got out of bed this morning…you were taking a risk. Being a safe individual is not enough. You must be part of a safe organization.”

He listed three reasons why even an accident-free operation needs a safety program: risk reduction, hazard elimination and awareness and safety consciousness.

Then Sheehan rhetorically asked: “Some programs work, some don’t. Why?” In his answer, he turned to a common definition of a corporate safety culture. “It takes commitment, starting at the top, with the CEO or whoever’s in charge. It takes direction at every level. It takes talent on the part of someone who can make safety interesting, fun and exciting. And of course it takes leadership–the willingness to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.”

What doesn’t work? Sheehan described “huge, unfocused” programs structured around committees, heavy reading and impractical, poorly thought-out procedures. He called “safety is a serious business” a turn-off that threatens rather than encourages, as unmotivating as “do as I say, not as I do.”

Safe companies have a solid top-to-bottom safety culture in which everyone participates, he said. They perform interdisciplinary, recurrent training in a well rounded safety program, including recreational and industrial safety, topic-by-topic over a two- to three-year period. They grade managers on safety while recognizing and rewarding it at all levels. Sheehan said formal written safety policies, rules and guidelines are good–even essential–“but they mustn’t become archives of never-changing historical documents.”

Perceiving and managing risk

Dr. Judith Orasanu of NASA Ames offered this quote from the business world: “Managers pursue risky actions because they fail to accurately perceive the risks involved.”

This is directly applicable to aviation said Orasanu, introducing results of a study into how pilots perceive and evaluate risks. “The goal, then,” she said, “must be more accurate perception.”

Conclusions from a survey of Part 121 pilots showed that plan continuation errors (“pressing on”) predominate in approach/landing accidents. “They recognized risk cues such as weather but continued the procedure, either because they did not appreciate the significance of the risk or they overestimated their own capability…the ‘I’ve done it 100 times before’ syndrome,” Orasanu said.

NASA researchers planted “confederates” in Boeing 747 simulators to crew with test subjects. The “plants” made deliberate errors while researchers observed how the “real” pilots’ evaluated and responded to risks. Some results were surprising. For instance, pilots were seen to respond to risk implicitly, but not talk about it with a fellow crewmember.

Orasanu said this finding suggests a need to “make implicit risk assessment more explicit.” Among risk factors identified in the study, social and professional issues were cited more than twice as much by first officers as by captains (“what will the captain think?”). This was borne out in simulator exercises with planted confederates to observe “what do first officers say to captains, and how does a captain correct a first officer?”

In many lab simulations, she noted, when things turned to worms, captains of lower-performing crews were not providing leadership even if first officers were making suggestions.“I find this rather distressing,” Orasanu concluded.

Bioterrorism: detection and response

Terrorists can prepare a deadly biochemical agent for as little as $5, compared with $80,000 for a smart bomb. The low cost and difficulty of detecting such weapons make them a particular concern for corporate operators, especially those who travel worldwide without the level of passenger and baggage screening used by airlines.

This was the message conveyed by Patricia Campbell, R.N., and Dr. James Fleming, representing MedAire. They placed particular emphasis on biological weapons because, unlike chemical agents whose effects are immediate and identifiable, the consequences of bioterrorism may not be felt for hours, days or even weeks, depending on the incubation period of a given disease agent and how accurately it is diagnosed.

Campbell said airborne bioweapons like anthrax and smallpox will be characterized by delayed recognition and persistent effects, such as contagion, especially through air travel. “They both initially seem like the flu. By the time they are recognized the mortality rate may be 80 percent or higher,” she warned.

Given the impossibility of totally preventing determined criminals from dispersing such agents, she recommended, along with common-sense measures, actions that global travelers can take to counter bioterrorism. Her main emphasis is for everyone to strive through diet and lifestyle to maintain their immune systems at the highest possible level.

She acknowledged the difficulty of recognizing a bioterror attack. “If a cropduster flies over and dead birds start falling out of the sky…it’s obvious what’s going on,” but Campbell conceded that this is a less likely scenario. An audience comment ended the presentation on an ominous note: “I’m struck by the number of FBOs that have no control over catering, food preparation or storage areas.”

Did you know...?

In contrast to flight standards for pilot certification and currency, which are codified in great detail in FAR Part 61, the medical standards outlined in Part 67 are broad, non-specific and ever-changing.

Dr. Quay Snyder pointed out to CASS attendees that FAA medical certificate requirements are contained in policy, unlike those for airman certification, which are set in rules that must undergo a formal, well defined process before being modified. He noted that so as to maintain policy-making flexibility in response to the ever-evolving nature of medicine and medications, the FAA rarely publishes written guidelines. “Only those AMEs who maintain continuous contact with the FAA can be confident of providing their pilots with current, accurate advice,” he warned.

The former USAF flight surgeon cautioned pilots about undergoing the “Cardioscan” procedure unless specifically directed by an AME. He said it may indicate a level of calcium that, while not in itself serious, could–under current FAA policy–invite unwanted attention from Oklahoma City. Snyder is president of Virtual Flight Surgeons.