Subpart K fails to clarify role of non-frax flight attendants

 - January 8, 2008, 11:04 AM

This spring the long-awaited Subpart K to FAR Part 91 regulations is expected to go
into effect, imposing new and more stringent requirements on fractional ownership operations. As written, the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) does much to clarify the role of the corporate flight attendant as part of a fractional operation, but does nothing to alter the existing Part 91 regulations with respect to flight attendants not flying with fractional operators.

Although currently regulated under Part 91, most fractional program managers claim they already follow the stricter Part 135 guidelines with regard to flight attendants. A spokeswoman for Flight Options said all its flight attendants have been trained to either Part 135 or Part 121 standards, and that it also follows Part 135 requirements with regard to flight-time limitations and rest for flight attendants. NetJets, the world’s largest fractional operator, also trains its flight attendants to Part 135. When flight-time limitations and rest requirements call for a change of the flight crew, the flight attendants are included.

But while the Subpart K NPRM borrowed heavily from the more stringent requirements of Part 135, some flight attendants and industry insiders say it falls short of what they hoped for.

The only reference to flight attendant training or competency in the existing Part 91 regulations says simply that: “No person may serve as a flight attendant on an airplane when required…unless that person has demonstrated to the pilot-in-command familiarity with the necessary functions to be performed in an emergency or a situation requiring emergency evacuation and is capable of using the emergency equipment installed on that airplane.” Nowhere else does the existing Part 91 discuss requirements for training or competency.

Subpart K Emphasis on Training
The proposed Subpart K is far more specific. Under FAR 91.1097, fractional ownership program managers are required to “…establish and maintain an approved flight attendant training program that is appropriate to the operations to which each pilot and flight attendant is to be assigned and will ensure that they are adequately trained to meet the applicable knowledge and practical testing requirements.”

The NPRM further mandates that the program manager must provide copies of the pilot and flight attendant training program to the appropriate FAA representative. And it outlines the minimum requirements for flight attendant “initial and transitional ground training.”

Under crewmember emergency training, the requirements consist of a lengthy and detailed list, from dealing with rapid cabin decompression and first aid to conduct during a hijacking and reaction to a passenger or crew illness or injury.

Nevertheless, the practical value of the NPRM may be that it makes mandatory most of the training and competency standards already practiced voluntarily, to a greater or lesser degree, by the fractional operators.

However, flight attendants and others point out that the NPRM is glaring in its omission of flight attendants from the flight-time limitations and rest requirements applied to pilots. It is not uncommon, said one flight attendant, for an operator to have a flight crew change that “totally ignores” the flight attendant.

“For a flight attendant on a Part 91 or Part 135 flight to go more than 24 hours on duty is not at all uncommon,” she said. And she noted as well that some operators will get around the flight-time limitations and rest requirements by listing the flight attendant on the manifest as “a ‘cabin server’ or an ‘informed employee,’ whatever that is.” Other operators, she said, will pressure flight attendants to remain aboard a flight voluntarily, even while the flight crew (pilots) are relieved. “They’ll ask the flight attendants if they want to be replaced along with the pilots, but they make it clear that it will be a black mark on your record if you don’t decline the offer,” said the flight attendant.

‘Cabin Server’ or ‘Flight Attendant’
The other flight attendant issue not visited in the Subpart K NPRM is whether or not the presence of a flight attendant should be required at all. Part 91 now requires a flight attendant only on aircraft with more than 19 “passengers on board.”

As a result, says contract pilot Jeff Beck, too many operators choose not to use a flight attendant, or “Worse, they assign untrained people to serve drinks and meals and list them as cabin servers.

“As much as we all hate more regulation,” said Beck, “I’d like to see flight attendants required on any airplane with 10 or more seats. The most important safety device on an airplane is the crew. CRM does not mean ‘pilot’ resource management; it stands for crew resource management, and that includes the flight attendant.”

While the Subpart K NPRM does not do all that many in the flight-attendant community had hoped to remedy the perceived shortcomings in Part 91 fractional operations, it could be perceived at least as a move in the right direction, for both fractional and non-fractional Part 91 operations.

An NBAA official said a flight attendant training program director should be a much more outspoken advocate for the corporate flight attendant. But the truth is, he said, “They’re not going to take a firm stand on behalf of flight attendants because it’s going to cost their members money–money to pay them if they are required as part of a flight crew, and money for their training.”

NBAA Recommends Minimum Training
On the other hand, the latest NBAA Management Guide now lists “a recommended minimum standard training curriculum.” And according to Virginia Lippincott, chairwoman of the association’s flight attendant committee, the group is now writing a corporate flight attendant training guide for its membership. “We want to see every flight attendant who is assigned to a business aircraft properly trained and properly listed on the manifest as a flight attendant. And in a perfect world, the rules of Part 91 should reflect the rules of Part 135.” Lippincott said the committee also urges NBAA members who use mechanics in the role of a flight attendant to include in their training the same minimum recommendations for a flight attendant.

Corporate flight attendants are also picking up new support from pilots in the form of
the recently incorporated Independent Contract Aviation Professionals of America. The group was first proposed as the Independent Pilots Association, but was later broadened to include other contract employees in the aviation community, “in particular the flight attendants and flight engineers.”

The nonprofit organization describes among its goals the setting of training and qualification standards, drug test pre-screening, security background checks, verification of training currency and compliance with FAA regulations and insurance standards. The organization was expecting to formalize its board of directors and officers before the end of the year. Its Web site is

That pilots would see the value of a trained and competent flight attendant is no surprise to Louisa Fisher, flight attendant program manager for FlightSafety International in Savannah, Ga. Fisher notes that “large numbers” of pilots are attending the Cabin Safety Training course dedicated to teaching cabin emergency skills to pilots. And she adds that 70 to 80 percent of those who attend the initial training course return for recurrent training.

More stringent training requirements for Part 91 would be particularly important to the contract flight attendants, according to Lippincott, who is also a flight attendant with the Pfizer flight department. “They’re more likely to be unsure of company policy, and whether the company will back them up if they made a controversial decision, or even if they’ll get any more work from that company if they complain or if the passengers are unhappy.”

Perhaps few groups could exert more pressure than aviation insurers. Vic D’Avanzo, senior v-p for underwriter USAIG, made it clear that the role of a flight attendant, as defined by an insured, is a major factor in determining insurance rates based on safety.

“We want to know if they use a flight attendant. We want to know if the flight attendant is a full-time employee of the company or if they use contract flight attendants exclusively or to supplement the full-time flight attendants. We want to know if they’re trained and to what standards, and we may in some cases want to see how their role is addressed in the flight department’s operations manual.

“We try to avoid discussions that become so focused on price that the concept of safety is lost, and a properly trained and competent flight attendant is definitely a factor in determining safety,” said D’Avanzo.

Separate Flight Attendant Ops Manual
Lucille Fisher, president of Quality Resources, which prepares operations manuals, is one of a number of independent contractors who is discovering that the perception of the flight attendant as part of the flight crew is growing among Part 91 flight departments.

Fisher said her Lyndhurst, Ohio-based company has recently completed writing a flight department operations manual that includes a separate flight attendant manual. The 96-page booklet includes galley operation, emergency equipment location and operation, first aid and more. And, noted Fisher, the flight attendant manual interfaces with the main operations manual. “We’ve found that in many cases, the pilots and flight attendants are trained, but no effort is made to coordinate the front and back of the airplane. This particular flight department, said Fisher, was very conscious of the role of its flight attendants as part of the aircraft crew.”

Fisher also said that in writing operations manuals, it has become obvious to her company that the role of the flight attendant extends past what even some flight attendants recognize.

A contract flight attendant interviewed by Quality Resources told of an incident in which she was welcoming passengers aboard a 15-seat Gulfstream and discovered that there were actually 17 passengers, two of them children who would be held on the parents’ laps. The flight attendant said the pilot was surprised when she asked where the additional oxygen masks were located. It hadn’t occurred to him that, “Even though it did not violate regulations to have two ‘lap children’ aboard with regard to seating, if there were not two additional emergency oxygen masks, they would, indeed, be violating the FARs.”

The FARs, said Fisher, state clearly that a 10-minute supplemental oxygen supply is required for “each occupant” of an aircraft operated above FL 250.

Is Subpart K Enough?
It may be that the new Subpart K addressed the concerns of corporate flight attendants in a fractional ownership role. But did it go far enough?

Doug Mykol, president of Facts, an emergency procedures training provider for corporate aircrew in Olympia, Wash., said that despite a growing awareness of the importance of the flight attendant as an integral part of the crew, the attitude persists that their primary role is that of serving drinks and meals.

At the same time, Mykol said, the industry seems to be moving toward a single, higher level of training expectation for corporate flight attendants, “whether it is mandated by the FAA or not.”

The Subpart K NPRM is currently making its way through the approval process at the Office of Management and Budget. If all goes smoothly, the new regulations are likely to be published this spring and would be phased in over a 15-month period thereafter.