Commitment to corporate safety begins with a plan

 - May 6, 2008, 7:13 AM

If the CEO of a corporation should suddenly ask the aviation department manager, “What are we doing to ensure the highest level of safety in our flying operations?” that manager should be prepared to outline the elements that constitute the company’s aviation safety program.

By nature, corporate executives are delegators and do not expect to be involved with the nuts and bolts of day-to-day activities of most of their subordinates. Results is the name of their game, and for aviation department managers a zero-accident rate should be the only acceptable score for their departments.

There are several essential elements for managing the safety of business aircraft operations. First, hiring pilots and maintenance personnel should be based on the highest standards. Department managers should be able to evaluate experience through the traditional methods of checking records, past employment history and so on. Evaluating job skills may require actual testing, either internally or by external services. The safety attitude of candidates has to be on the absolute positive side, and this suggests conformance with stated company operational procedures with a desire to constantly improve performance.

Hiring should be followed with an initial training program to indoctrinate the new employee about company policies and procedures. This should be followed by regularly scheduled training that includes a proficiency upgrading program.

A company operations manual that contains not only the company administrative policies but goes into depth as to the operational procedures is a must. The most important section of this manual is the portion that contains the standard cockpit operating procedures. The emphasis is on “standard” for this is the basis for monitoring pilot performance during normal operations and understanding how crew management resources can be brought into play when needed in critical situations.

For an in-house aviation safety program, someone in the flight department should be charged with heading up this responsibility. In larger departments, an experienced pilot can be assigned that task, but only if that pilot shows a dedication to improving the safety of the company operation. In smaller aviation departments, the department manager may have to assume that duty.

There is an abundance of safety information available from a variety of sources. Aircraft accident reports are commonly reported on and reviewed in most aviation publications. Membership in the Flight Safety Foundation will ensure a continuous flow of safety information from that organization. Likewise, NBAA furnishes members with its Operations and Maintenance Bulletin, which contains pertinent information. And the NTSB, the government agency charged with investigating aircraft accidents, will ultimately issue its findings and recommendations.

Aviation accident reports will provide much in the way of causal factors and should be carefully examined by the company safety officer, particularly if the accident involves aircraft similar to that operated by the company. Official accident reports tend to be very formal and factual, often requiring reading between the lines to envision the actual accident situation.

Using the “what if” approach to an accident report may be useful. For example, the safety officer may be able to imagine being a part of the actual accident scenario and ask, “What if these circumstances came up in our own operation and how can we learn from what happened?” There is no substitute for an inquisitive attitude when looking at an accident report, and if one little safety gem is uncovered that will add to the safety of the operation and will generate its own reward.

Acquired knowledge has to find a way to the crews. Memos or a written synopsis may be of some value. However, an open discussion allows crewmembers to assimilate and digest what is presented and add thinking to the safety process. Given the vagaries of aircraft scheduling, gathering the pilots, dispatchers and maintenance technicians all together at a specific time may present a few problems that have to be addressed and overcome. All of those people can make a contribution to safety and, again, all have a contribution to make toward the zero-accident-rate goal.

Participation in national or local safety seminars or meetings also allow for the interchange of safety information. At airports where there are a number of based business aircraft operations, the possibility of establishing an airport safety meeting, which could include not only all the aircraft operations but also airport management, tower operators and service organizations, should be explored.

To let the company executives know that the aviation department is on top of safety, department managers can propose a short briefing at executive staff meetings not only to present information but also to field questions. And, if it is at all possible, the corporate executives who are frequent passengers can be asked to visit the hangar on an off day to go through an indoctrination on emergency situations that may involve ditching, emergency landings and evacuation of the aircraft.

There is really no limit on what can be included in a company’s aviation safety program. What it takes is thought and dedication not only on the part of the people who are assigned to the safety function, but to all of the aviation department employees who play some part in the overall department operation.