Air charter safety draws a crowd at forum

 - March 28, 2008, 6:25 AM

The charter industry is shifting to a new way of thinking about safety. “We are going from a compliance-based ‘Do you meet the regulatory standard?’ to ‘What more should we do, how can we be safe, how can we tell the good story of this industry?’ [Charter] is becoming a larger player in the transportation marketplace. And we need to communicate that story, we need to tell the positive side of it, but we also need to make sure that the operators and the service providers are capable of ensuring and maintaining the excellent safety standard that we are going to hold ourselves to.”
Those were the words of Jacqueline Rosser, executive director of the newly formed Air Charter Safety Foundation (ACSF), which held its first Air Charter Safety Symposium February 19 and 20, attracting an audience composed of charter and fractional share company leaders and managers. The ACSF aims to help the general aviation charter industry improve safety and share safety information, in much the same way the Flight Safety Foundation serves
the entire aviation industry.
Rosser, also director of regulatory affairs for the National Air Transportation Association (NATA), was delighted with the 100-plus attendees who showed up for two days of safety sessions at the NTSB Training Center in Ashburn, Va.
“Charter is the fastest-growing segment of commercial aviation,” said NATA president Jim Coyne. “We cannot achieve what we know we can
do economically unless we couple that with the most professional attitude toward improving safety that we can produce.”
NTSB vice chairman Robert Sumwalt kicked off the symposium with a presentation on the concept of a healthy safety culture. A long-time airline pilot, check airman and safety representative, Sumwalt worked in corporate aviation after leaving US Airways in 2004. When he arrived at the small flight department, he found that it was staffed by “a couple of bubbas flying King Airs.” One of his first moves was to develop a flight operations manual.
Sumwalt cited the October 2002 charter King Air crash that killed Sen. Paul Wellstone as an example of the importance of having standard procedures. The company did have a maneuvers guide that covered normal operations such as approach and landing in IFR conditions, but the accident pilots rushed to descend, pulled the power way back to slow down, put the landing gear down and failed to monitor the slowing airspeed, and eventually the airplane stalled. The maneuvers guide was provided to only three of the company’s dozens of pilots.
Sumwalt summarized best practices that operators should adopt to promote a strong safety culture. These include a top-down safety culture with 100-percent management buy-in; systems to ensure that standards are met; adopting flight operations quality programs such as auditing and confidential incident reporting, “some method of keeping your finger on the pulse”; and regular training.
One session focused on development of safety management systems, and Don Arendt, the FAA’s SMS “quarterback” at the Flight Standards Certification and Surveillance Division, said that a rulemaking for SMS might take place someday. The FAA is planning to convene a project team, he said, “to create and integrate SMS rules for all CFR parts.” Arendt added that an aviation rulemaking committee might be formed to launch the SMS rulemaking process and that regulations could take three to four years to become final.
SMS implementation is much more widespread in Canada. Asked how much SMS costs, Jacqueline Booth-Bourdeau, Transport Canada’s chief of technical and national programs, cited a large charter operator, Skyservice, which spent $5 million to launch
an SMS.
The second day of the symposium featured two “Tools You Can Use” sessions where safety managers and leaders from charter operators and flight departments shared some of their experiences. Dennis Keith, president of Richardson, Texas charter company Jet Solutions, pointed out, “These tools do no good sitting on the shelf.”
He urged attendees to take advantage of the safety resources that are available, and explained how the risk-assessment tool works as part of an SMS. This tool is available as an FAA Information for Operator, InFO 07015 (Flight Risk Assessment Tool).
Other tools highlighted during this session were SAFO 06012, which discusses runway landing margins, and the recently released Advisory Circular 91-79, which gathers formerly scattered information about how to prevent runway overruns. Keith noted that an aviation rulemaking committee is being formed to make recommendations about landing distance issues brought up in SAFO 06012, and he has accepted the position as chairman of the committee, which held its first meeting last month. Any eventual rule would apply to Part 91K, 125 and 135 operations.
Russ Lawton, NATA director of safety and security, concluded the symposium with an introduction to the ACSF’s new audit standard. “A lot of NATA members said they undergo multiple third-party audits,” he said. These audits consume operator resources, he added, and often the backgrounds of the auditors vary considerably.
Auditing companies such as ARG/US and Wyvern/CharterX, the Flight Safety Foundation and consulting firm Simat Helliesen & Eichner were part of a working group that helped develop the new audit standard. The idea was to create a standard that the industry could adopt that would raise the bar of safety, Lawton said.
The standard will include an operator registry so anyone can see if a charter company has been audited. Further details about the ACSF audit standard will be announced at the NATA Charter Summit June 9 to 11 in Chantilly, Va.    oo