International Operations - A 2002 Study Guide

 - May 16, 2008, 8:19 AM

The emotional roller coaster created by September 11 has forced many companies to completely rethink their international travel options. These new travel strategies have translated into a significant increase in business aviation flying hours outside the U.S.

Although precise numbers for the increase don’t yet exist, most aviation managers and pilots attending the 29th NBAA International Operators Conference (IOC) in Nashville, Tenn., in March said they were flying their aircraft even more since September. Bill Stine, NBAA’s director of international operations, said when the new benchmarking and salary survey appears this summer, it is expected to show a large swing toward more international flying. “The lag in international operations has been building for some time. But the pace of international business travel has really accelerated over the past six months,” he said.

While operating business aircraft outside the U.S. has always been challenging, it is now more so than ever, with complex new airspace to navigate, rapidly fluctuating permit and visa requirements and political skirmishes. Stine said crews need to realize long before takeoff that “they won’t be in Kansas any longer.”

Roger Rose, International Pilot Services’ well known director of aviation, shared his far-reaching, global survival strategy: “Make sure not to look like lunch while you’re in the jungle.”

This new rush toward more international operations has also brought a flurry of new aircraft into the mix, often flown by crews that lack oceanic seasoning. Rose said, “In the old days it was those salt-and-pepper haired international captains who brought the new people along for on-the-job training. But companies are letting those older, experienced pilots go at a furious pace.”

This has left many aviation departments scratching their heads at how best to produce the new crop of experienced international flight crews. “We’ve had our heads in the sand for so long in terms of a qualified pilot shortage,” Rose added. “There’s an experience crisis just around the corner and the U.S. and FAA are going to learn a lesson either by embarrassment or an accident.”

Training

Compounding this experience problem is the lack of any regulation requiring international training for a Part 91 operator before leaving the U.S. shoreline. The word “knowledge” is bandied about in government handbooks, but not “training.”  Europe’s JAA, on the other hand, has strict international training requirements before pilots can even make the 16-mi flight across the English Channel.

AIN talked with pilots at this year’s IOC who highlighted another issue–a growing number of unprofessional crews traveling abroad who characteristically expect international ATC to jump through hoops for them like controllers do in the U.S. This need to work with many more inexperienced pilots has caused a tremendous strain on air traffic controllers in other countries. Some experts believe there’s a correlation between the void in required training and this new breed of flight crews. But NBAA’s Stine disagreed: “No new regulation ever really solves this kind of problem.”

Val Trent, director of operations for National Charter, said, “International training should be required. Every year, so much changes that recurrent training is essential. One gross navigational error [GNE], an arrival at a Flight Information Region [FIR] without a clearance or overflying a country that requires 8.33-kHz spacing in an old GII, and the training pays for itself. The people in the back deserve a conscientious,
competent educated crew up front.”

Since no regulation exists for Part 91 international training, AIN delved into some of the hot topics that this year’s IOC participants said were foremost on their minds as a sort of primer of the issues a well trained crew might face whether they’re in Moscow, London or Myanmar (formerly Burma).

Security

For some companies, security before September 11 meant talking to a service provider. For others it was always more involved. PrivatAir, an international charter operator based in Geneva, has a 55-aircraft fleet, including midsize jets, GVs, Global Expresses, BBJs and a 50-seat 757, of mixed Swiss and U.S. registry.

“As a charter operator we’ve had our own internal security people for 10 years,” said David Hurley, PrivatAir’s CEO. “We added a U.S.-based security expert about a year ago.” We’re a private company that flies heads of state to many non-traditional countries, often landing at places that have no security presence of their own, such as remote locations in India, Africa and South America. The threats are there. Companies absolutely must reinvent themselves when it comes to security.”

Air Security International’s managing director, Charlie LeBlanc, made it clear that a heightened awareness, no matter where an airplane touches down, is the key to covering as many of the security bases as possible. “Some operators say corporate aviation should not change,” he said. “But the goals of most corporations are in direct conflict with the goals of terrorists around the world, and that could make them a target. If there is another attack, we need to be certain business aviation is not in the spotlight. The public will not allow another aircraft to be used as a weapon.”

Darcy Eggeman, a GV captain for Universal Studios, believes one of the most important aspects of the pre-takeoff security briefing is the realization that “we’re at war with someone. There are lots of people who hate us. When I make an international trip, I want to know specifics about the culture and how to deal with the environment we’re traveling to.” Eggeman said all international flights aboard any Universal aircraft begin with a thorough briefing from the studio’s internal security group.

Dennis Fenerty, a BBJ pilot for General Electric, added, “Our security was always there before September. But what has changed is our awareness of security issues. We now get detailed information on each passenger we carry.” National Charter’s Trent said, “We do not accept cash payments for international charters any longer. We require passengers to send copies of birth certificates and passports when the trip is booked.”

Surprisingly, Kodak senior captain Ken Jackson, said, “On my last trip to Europe, Paris did not seem to do much screening of ramp traffic at all. Nor did England or Switzerland.”

LeBlanc highlighted other preflight issues: “Often calling the local host for a briefing is not such a good idea. They’ll usually tell you things are just fine and no more. Handlers can be helpful, but you must be very specific with the questions you ask.” He also said there is little interest in arming corporate flight crews, adding that many countries might not be too welcoming toward pilots with guns. “Weapons put you at a high risk. But many U.S. pilots still believe the American system of criminal justice and law applies to them no matter where they are. It just doesn’t.”

Joe Hemmer, PrivatAir’s director of security, said, “Before any flight’s takeoff, I ask who else flies to the location we’re visiting, who we’re carrying, if we have been here before and myriad other things to make certain the passengers, the crew and the aircraft are all safe. I also personally travel to the locations we visit.” Hemmer calls the U.S. embassy or consulate nearest the destination, something that his contacts as a 20-year security veteran makes a bit easier. “I talk to the embassy people and get a personal briefing on the airport, the city and the country. I ask the crews to check in with the embassy once they arrive and every few days if they’re going to be there for a while.”

The PrivatAir security briefings given to flight crews also include a through review of local cultural issues. Hemmer has the authority to deny any mission based on security concerns.

Hemmer cautioned, “Security can never be 100 percent, but you have to try and cover every single base.” During a recent bomb threat to Americans in Paris,
Hemmer said PrivatAir flight crews were able to safely search the aircraft for potentially lethal devices thanks to the bomb-detection training that pilots, flight engineers and flight attendants have received. PrivatAir also uses a small video camera mounted on the belly of some aircraft that transmits a picture of the ramp to a laptop computer within three miles of the parking location. If an intruder approaches the airplane, an alarm sounds on the laptop. If a crewmember doesn’t like what he sees on the laptop screen, someone drives out to the airplane.

Air Security’s LeBlanc thinks management complacency and the need for good intelligence is still a problem. “Many corporate pilots believe they don’t have time to ask all the questions they need answers to. Just like a good weather briefing, every international trip should begin with a good security briefing. In a pinch, with no planning, you’ll probably make the wrong decision. The rest of the world often plays by a different set of rules. We must fight a bad perception [of business aviation] and reduce the chance of being a target with deeds, not words.”

He believes that a critical link for flight department managers is the one they must
create with internal or external security personnel. “Very often we find that flight departments have no clue about some critical pas- senger information they should have before the flight begins. Managers need to ask if they really know their passengers as well as they think they do.”

Corporate executives believe their aircraft is a totally secure place. But when was the last time the company aircraft was swept for bugs? If it can happen to a Chinese VIP bizliner, it can happen to any corporate jet. AIG Aviation’s vice president of corporate aviation, Will Lovett, said, “You have to be proactive about security. Burying your head in the sand will come back to bite you. It is the flight department manager’s responsibility to get things moving.”

Certainly the ground rules at the FAA have changed since September now that aviation has a new security czar, Transportation Security Administrator John McGaw. Although he reports directly to Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta, word on the street is that he answers only to the White House.

LeBlanc told IOC participants, “The TSA doesn’t understand corporate aviation, and they don’t care either.” McGaw, a former Secret Service agent and the former director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, is said to have practically taken the FAA out of the equation on security threats. NBAA is making efforts to educate McGaw about corporate aviation, he said, but TSA is reportedly not asking for comments before it takes action on issues.

Insurance

Right after September 11, hundreds of flight departments were told their war-risk coverage had been canceled and that it could be repurchased at three or four times the regular rate. Lovett said, “Aviation loss estimates from September 11 range from $3 billion to $6 billion, and not surprisingly the airlines help drive aviation insurance rates. The value of aircraft today and the costs of settling third-party claims have also increased significantly.”

He also noted that rates have been affected by the shutdown of a number of insurance companies since September due to shaky business models. “A number of them tried financing their claims underwriting with cash flow, hoping to make up the difference between the low premiums and their costs with investment income. It simply did not work and premiums have risen.” Currently there are only seven companies writing aviation insurance, and only three are capable of writing amounts greater than $100 million.

Although some flight departments balked at higher war-risk premiums, this insurance is a necessity normally required by most aircraft mortgage holders. Lovett reminded IOC attendees, “Without war-risk insurance, you are not covered for sabotage or hijacking either.”

War-risk insurance must be purchased annually, and unlike some other additional coverages, is not available on a per-flight basis. Since the highly publicized kidnapping and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, he said companies are also beginning to look much more closely at kidnap and ransom coverage for all aboard their aircraft.

According to Lovett, crimes such as theft and murder perpetrated against flight crews and passengers are often the real threat. “When you’re in a foreign hotel, don’t yell your room number across the lobby.”  You’re simply giving the bad guys a lot of useful information. He related the story of a U.S. flight attendant who went wandering around in Saudi Arabia by herself in early October. “The PIC on this flight was an idiot to let her go alone. Sometimes we just don’t know what is appropriate in other countries.”

Speaking directly to the aircraft underwriters about how the company aircraft is being used is a good way to obtain the best possible rates. Consider higher deductibles as well: “$25,000 and $50,000 deductibles are being talked about now,” said Lovett. “And while that does put the company at more risk, premiums are affected by losses even when they are not your fault anyway, such as hangar rash.”

Simulator-based training is also high on the list for most insurance companies. Lovett said some 30 percent of corporate flight departments still do not send their crews for recurrent training at least every two years.

Planning

Jerry Norton, chairman of this year’s IOC conference, said, “It is important in aviation to learn from the mistakes of others.” In fact, that’s the point of the IOC.

Gordon Berturelli, director of business development at Air Routing International, asked a number of simple yet pragmatically thought- provoking questions at the conference for aviation managers to consider when planning an international trip. “We always think it won’t happen to us. But ask: does your company have a disaster plan? When did you last see it? Are the contact numbers up to date? Does your service provider have or need a copy of your plan? A good plan should outline the roles and responsibilities in a crisis, large or small. Financial issues should also be covered, such as how to get someone out of jail in a foreign country.

“Do you have a copy of all of the credit-card numbers for the aircraft and crew in a separate location? Do you have a GSM telephone? Sometimes they are the only communications devices that work, except in Japan where even they are a bit dicey. If there is a problem, who is the spokesman for the company and how do you contact that person? If you need to charter in Africa, how do you decide what company to use? Sure, the service providers can help, how do you make the final decision? Ask whether the information you’re receiving from everyone else makes sense. What will you do if you have a conflict? Good planning for an international trip means asking lots of questions.”

National Charter’s Trent suggested, “Unload as much work as you can on international trips. If your mind is too cluttered with details it is difficult to get adequate rest on short layovers. Arrive at the airport at least two hours in advance in case you need to pull a rabbit out of a hat. Overseas, those rabbits don’t often speak English, and security may certainly take longer than you think.”

Almost no one flies anymore without an Ac-u-Kwik or a similar equivalent in the cockpit because of the wealth of planning information it offers. But the Ac-u-Kwik international edition offers something not available in the domestic version–editorial comments on specific cities and airports from Azerbaijan (“Good handling, excellent caviar and surprise, my GSM phone works”) to Zimbabwe (“The continuing land dispute has blown away any semblance of stability. Exercise caution, especially in outlying airports”).

These, and a host of other useful bits and commentary are the brainchild of Alain George, an easygoing Londoner who claims no writing skills to speak of. But for whatever writing skills George lacks, he makes up for with his journaling talents, a skill that adds more than 200 pages of practical tips crews can use, delivered through frank and witty commentary.

Navigation

Flying the oceanic tracks can appear both routine and challenging. Business aviation currently makes up about 4 percent of traffic crossing the North Atlantic each year, yet is responsible for about 45 percent of the gross navigational errors in that region. “We’re doing better on the North Atlantic, but this number is still pretty bad,” said Peter Ingleton, director of ICAO’s liaison office at the International Business Aviation Council.

The perspective from the Central Monitoring Agency’s Jim Benson in London is that “it has not been a good year for general aviation on the GNE front.” The agency is responsible for investigating all North Atlantic GNEs. “In rough terms the GNE rate is on the order of one per 2,000 flights in minimum navigational performance specification (MNPS) airspace. A general aviation flight has a 14 times greater chance of having a GNE than a commercial airliner. These figures vary from year to year, but over the last five years or so these are typical.” Air Routing instructor Dave Stohr said, “These errors overall are up. We cannot continue to watch this happen.” The worst GNE on record is a 240-nm error.

Benson explained, “There were 18 GNEs last year. ATC intervened on 81 different occasions last year to prevent a North Atlantic GNE; without that intervention the total would have been much higher. Fully 90 percent of all errors are due to transcription problems where the crew mistypes a part of the clearance into the FMS.” Ingleton added, “Until recently all GNEs were lateral separation issues, but now we have RVSM to be concerned about, too.”

With the implementation of MNPS airspace, track separations have shrunk. This makes that mere one-degree error quickly equate to 60 mi off course and a possible track into the face of oncoming traffic, a situation now even more likely since the arrival of RVSM.

Despite the two high-accuracy navigation systems required for MNPS airspace and the more stable altimetry necessary for RVSM altitudes, the most common cause of GNEs is the failure of the crew to adhere to published procedures. An example is not conducting proper cross checks of clearances with information in the long-range navigation systems.

The next most common cause is the crew’s failure to carry out waypoint checks effectively, followed by their failure to manually check the accuracy of the waypoints in the FMS. Finally, crews often fail to accurately program a revised oceanic clearance into the long-range nav.

Tips to help prevent these errors include confirming the accuracy of the flight-plan coordinates against a master source, such as the track message. The captain and the first officer should perform independent verifications of the route. At coast out, check the accuracy of the navigation system before leaving Class One airspace. In cruise, ensure position cross checks are regularly accomplished through the use of a plotting chart about 10 min after passing each checkpoint.

Additionally, make certain time hacks are accurate and that all aircraft clocks agree. Use the FMS for position reports, not the flight plan as a cross check. Pilots should also be careful to adhere to their flight planned Mach number, including during climb and descent. Kodak’s Jackson added, “We switch all our FMS units to single operation so each pilot independently loads the flight plan. Then we check each other’s work and finally put them back into dual. We do this even after we upload a flight-plan clearance from Gander via AFIS. Double checking is a requirement, as well as midpoint checks.”

RVSM is enforced widely these days between FL 290 and FL 410. RVSM areas include all Atlantic MNPS airspace from 27 deg north to the pole, within all six FIRs and most of Europe and the Middle East.

With RVSM, altitude deviations are being watched much more closely than ever before. During the first 15 days of this year, 3 percent of the 133,000 flights entering RVSM airspace in Europe required some follow-up inquiry.

Major causes of altitude busts, other than turbulence, have been human error, mainly with crews failing to climb or descend at the proper time because they misunderstood the clearance. Another factor has been poor phraseology.

And too often, the Central Monitoring Agency, which also keeps an eye on RVSM violators, has run across aircraft claiming to be RVSM qualified that are not. All RVSM-qualified aircraft tail numbers are kept on file at the National Air Traffic System computer in the UK. When an international flight plan appears, the agency will know for certain if the aircraft is really RVSM qualified. The CMA follows up closely with violators.

Specific performance of an aircraft’s RVSM-qualified altimetry system is also checked through the use of ground monitoring units (GMUs) near Gander. Other monitoring locations in Europe include Strumble VOR in Wales, within 65 mi of Nattenheim VOR in Germany, within 65 mi of Geneva and within 120 mi of Linz, Austria. More monitoring units are planned as well.

In northern Canada, RVSM took effect on April 18 between FL 290 and FL 410. RVSM in southern Canada will take effect when the U.S. adopts RVSM, which is scheduled for implementation in 2004.

On another front, anti-choke points in southern Canada remain in effect to help the flow of traffic from the U.S. eastern seaboard. Canada also just finished upgrading its Gander ATC center with new controller workstations and automated capabilities.

And coming to airspace near you soon, such as across the North Atlantic, will be the combined MNPS/RVSM airspace defined in the required navigation performance (RNP) specs, to squeeze ever more aircraft into the same space. Essentially, RNP means that in a given piece of airspace, the total system error (TSE) must be contained 95 percent of the time.

But unlike RVSM approval, which once granted lets an operator  fly in any RVSM airspace, RNP approvals may be much more region specific, based on time or range of suitable navaids. Once RNP airspace is inaugurated over the oceans–something that is still a number of years off–aircraft will be separated vertically by 1,000 ft and 30 mi laterally, making GNEs even more threatening to safe operations than ever before.

WGS-84 issues are still around as well. Chet Mason, senior international manager at Jeppesen/Sanderson, said, “Until a few years ago we were worried only about coordinates. Now the datums used by various countries have become a real concern.” The World Geodetic System emerged in 1984, and ICAO mandated the datum for all countries in 1998. But not all countries complied.

Essentially the problem becomes clear when comparing the Tokyo datum to WGS-84 standards, for example. On an approach, the difference between the two systems could cause an airport to be 1,500 ft away from where the pilot expects to see it, a pretty scary thought when breaking out of the clouds in some places. There is also no note anywhere on an approach chart indicating that the country is not WGS-84 compliant (for more information, click on the WGS-84 link at www.jeppesen.com).

Future air navigation systems (FANS) and a new version called FANS A are also coming down the road to reduce radio chatter, with automatic position reporting and a host of still to be determined uses. No technology on this front yet exists for business aircraft, however. Stohr said, “People will help drive this new technology. But everyone is waiting to see what the standard will be. It will be [as commonplace as] RVSM in five years, although the infrastructure is not there yet.”

The subject of navigation would not be complete without a quick look at the differences in altimetry around the world. For review, references to QNE mean flight levels above which the altimeter is set to 29.92. QNH is height above sea level and QFE is height above the ground. Since transition levels, at which hard altitudes magically morph into flight levels, are different almost everywhere in the world–some as low as 2,000 ft–crews need to be on their toes when departing to avoid meeting someone in the clouds.

Briefly, the Russian and Chinese altitudes are measured in meters, not feet. Fortunately, some of the new avionics will do the conversions from inches to millibars, but when controllers begin giving altimeter settings in HectoPascals, conversion charts are needed. Fred Figgie of SimuFlite said, “When flying in the CIS or China, the controllers will often give altitudes in reference to QFE, despite the fact that altitudes on the charts are referenced to QNH. This is an accident looking for a place to happen.”

Interception Procedures

Since the threshold for interception of suspicious aircraft is much lower today than before September 11, a healthy respect for and a solid understanding of aircraft interception procedures is a necessity when flying into areas where unfriendly folks might live. Brushing up on lost communications procedures coming back from Europe is also a good idea.

Despite the widely held belief, English is not legally the language of ATC, according to ICAO. That means the fighters that may intercept your flight could have trouble establishing contact. No matter which language they use, however, they should attempt contact on 121.5 MHz. If intercepted, pilots should squawk 7700 and closely follow the directions of the lead fighter, something that can be difficult in the dark. During the day, a fighter should approach from off your right wing, while at night or in IMC, the approach will come from beneath your aircraft’s nose.

Essentially, if the fighters look you over and make a hard climbing left turn, they’re signaling you are cleared to proceed on your way. If, however, the fighters lead you to an airport and then overfly it or lower their landing gear, you are expected to land if the airport is suitable. If not, a low approach and a circle around the pattern should call the fighter pilot’s attention to the problem. But remember, interception procedures on a nice VFR day in a relatively peaceful region may differ vastly from those in the Middle East or Asia, where tensions are considerably higher.

J.R. Richards, a GV captain for a Singapore-based venture capitalist, recalled a flight on which a permit to overfly Egypt fell through the cracks. Although fighters did not show up off his wing, Richards said, “I got the distinct impression from ATC that if we didn’t land in Cairo as they asked us to, we were going to be made to land.”

Controlled Flight Into Terrain

Not much of anything new to say about controlled flight into terrain (CFIT), except that pilots are still flying perfectly good aircraft into the ground, despite the fact that CFIT is one of the most preventable accidents. Most CFIT accidents occur with aircraft lined up on final approach within eight miles of the threshold. Since a CFIT accident is almost always a cockpit crew error, according to SimuFlite’s Figge, “GPWS has reduced CFIT accidents tremendously.”

Major causes of CFIT are “one pilot deviating from standard procedures with inadequate cross check by the second pilot,” Figge said. “Complacency is another cause, with pilots expecting to hear one thing and actually receiving a different message. Some errors occur simply because someone tuned in the wrong frequency.”

Figge added, “Just as there is an emergency escape maneuver for wind shear, there should also be one for a GPWS alert that will get the airplane climbing at the fastest possible rate. He retold the story of a crew who received a GPWS alert and initiated a maximum climb, but eventually shallowed the rate when they believed they were clear, despite being in the clouds. The aircraft struck a mountain just a few hundred feet below the peak.

ATC Communication

“It may sound trite but the most common issue or trip point on international trips is likely one of the oldest–radio procedures and practices,” said International Pilot Services’ Rose. “Somehow, we are missing the boat. Many operators are often lax or complacent, and none of the schools, from ab initio to heaviest jet, give radio work sufficient weight. Procedures were established to simplify our communications and foster the greatest possibility that they would be effective.

If CRM is the control and management of interface levels, how can we continue to simply hope our communications will improve?”

Often, it is the subtle differences that cause problems. “In much of the world we may be issued instructions to ‘line up and wait.’ Why should any of us read back ‘position and hold’ in the assumption that it means the same thing to a controller operating in a language that is foreign to him?” Rose asked. “Oral atrocities are committed wholesale each day and night on the North Atlantic and Pacific routes. The problem is global in scope and critical for safe, effective operations.”

Challenger captain Katha House said, “Nonstandard phraseology is a real issue overseas.” She’s learned that some of the standard tricks we use for clarification are often ineffective in China. “If we say, ‘Say again,’ foreign controllers often will say precisely the same thing they did the first time and you still cannot understand them. I’ve tried using the phrase ‘speak slowly again in English’ with good results. But pilots still need to listen for the differences between the literal translation of ATC instructions and the figurative meanings. Pilots need to avoid slang at all times.”

“Even though we complain about it, the best ATC system in the world is in the U.S.,” said GV captain Richards. “But Third World countries don’t have a clue about ATC, so expect lots of traffic on the in-flight frequency in Africa.” Bill Kessinger, director of training for Regal Aviation, a Dallas-based charter operator, said, “South America is one big problem area. There are lots of NDBs as the primary approach system, lots of DME arc approaches and a huge lack of ATC radar. They don’t always tell you when they’ve lost radar contact there either.”

Canpass, GATE

Reports of the demise of Canpass were premature. It never completely disappeared after September 11. It was only restricted to 60 airports from the normal 200.

Canpass resumed on April 2 at 176 airports, but only for transborder flights originating in the U.S.

The U.S. expedited-processing system, GATE (general aviation telephonic entry), is closed, but efforts are under way to reopen it.

Survival Training

Ask crews how often they check all the required survival gear before takeoff and most will say, “Every single time.” But what are the chances  if a crew did successfully ditch an airplane that they could survive for a few days–or longer–in a small raft? Would the PIC still be in charge? What if a survivor had life-threatening injuries? Would you know what to do?

“Most people bury the thought of ditching far back in their heads,” said Ken Burton, managing director of Stark Survival of Olympia, Wash. No one ever wants to be the one to have to ditch, despite the fact that almost every single pilot crossing the ocean, as well as the passengers, has looked down and wondered what he’d do if they all ended up in the water.

“As we build aircraft that are out over the water for longer periods of time, the exposure is greater and the failure possibilities are really endless, including decompression, fire, smoke or electrical failure,” Burton said. But survival training all too often falls into that nice-to-have category, according to Burton, because–like international training itself–it is not required for Part 91 operators.

“It’s important to be realistic and be prepared,” he said. There should be a third person on board every aircraft with some sort of emergency evacuation and survival training. If there is no flight attendant on board, the senior passenger should be trained in what to do.”

Crews should know all life rafts are not created equal. “Some people will use any equipment they can find,” said Burton. The best rafts weigh in between 53 and 63 lb and measure a mere 18- by 9- by 30 in. (uninflated) on average. Burton said the minimum equipment that should be on board any raft, and confirmed before takeoff, is an ELT, sea-dye markers, 1,000 calories of rations for each passenger for at least two days, a fishing kit, a flashlight with extra batteries, seasickness pills, a whistle and flares. And this is simply the minimum. “I’d add plastic bags, space blankets, rope, duct tape, a really good first-aid kit, a strobe light, additional flares, a reverse-osmosis water generator and an international orange trailing banner," Burton said.

A good survival class to teach crews how to use all the survival gear they carry takes about a day-and-a-half through Stark and costs anywhere between $950 and $5,000, depending on whether Stark comes to the aircraft base or pilots take survival training as part of recurrent training. If Stark visits a company base, the instructors can also bring along a portable underwater egress-training device called the dunker to add as much realism to the training as possible.

Burton said, “It is important that crews fully understand the psychological aspects of survival as well. Some people will only worry about sharks. Others fear they will die or that they won’t know how to use the equipment on board the raft. Then there are seasickness and sunburn to cope with.”

Burton offered some basic survival tips to all crews: “Ration water, but drink it when you need it. Sipping is not good. Organize the people on the raft to operate like a team. Give everyone a role of some sort. It is dangerous to let someone give up because that attitude can quickly infect others. Next take care of the physiological factors, such as breathing, bleeding and shock. Access the knowledge of others in the raft. Some people won’t share valuable information unless they are asked directly. Establish a plan. Control drift and spinning with a sea anchor. And when someone looks or sounds as if they’re giving up, help pick them up. Making them understand that all aboard are in this together is the only way to survive.”

If you should need to ditch, the automated mutual vessel emergency rescue system (Amvers), a computerized rescue system run by the U.S. Coast Guard from Martinsburg, W. Va., could just save your life. Amvers tracks the position of ships on every ocean in the world 24 hr a day using position reports and dead reckoning. With 140 participating countries, Amvers is the only worldwide safety margin for rescue at sea, with as many as 2,700 ships on the plotting grid in any given day. If an aircraft sends a Mayday, the system provides the search-and-rescue coordinator with information necessary to send the nearest ship speeding toward that aircraft’s position.

Fatigue

When issues related to performance alertness and the mood changes that occur because of body- clock disruptions or a lack of sleep arise, fatigue is normally the culprit. A chronic problem, fatigue can be an especially nasty issue during international travel when crews are gone for days and sometimes weeks at a time, crossing and often recrossing time zones.

The effects of fatigue can be tough to gauge because everyone’s body reacts to it somewhat differently. Mix those covert signs in an arena like flying, however, where pilot’s egos make them believe they’re all John Wayne, and the result can be a dangerous set up for an accident.

All too often, accident reports list pilot error as a cause, but do not dig deeply enough for the actual reasons why an experienced crew made a critical mistake. While correlation data exists between fatigue and reduced performance, the connection between aircraft accidents and fatigue is a little harder to establish. One noteworthy exception is the DC-8 that crashed at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and all survived. The crew had been awake between 19 and 23 hr at the time of the accident.

Another fatigue-related crash was the more recent American Airlines MD-80 accident at Little Rock, Ark. And more fatigue potential exists for corporate crews, especially on Pacific trips when it takes 13 hr to make the run from New York to Tokyo or 12 hr from Anchorage to Singapore, while crossing half a dozen time zones in the process.

Dr. Mark Rosekind, founder, president and chief scientist of Alertness Solutions, is internationally recognized for translating scientific knowledge on sleep, circadian factors, human fatigue, performance and alertness into practical strategies that improve safety and productivity.

“The best approach to fatigue is to look at it the same way we do hypoxia. It is a physiological issue that requires the individual to act as a manager,” he explained. “The better you manage it, the more you pay attention and develop a coping strategy, the better your chances of getting the edge you need to complete the mission safely. If you ignore fatigue, the consequences can be vast, both personally and operationally.”

Rosekind believes the unpredictable nature of flying makes managing rest time before a flight difficult, something to which anyone who flies on-demand charter can quickly relate. “Many people also believe fatigue is only a long-haul issue, but fatigue is just as important a concern for shorter duty days,” Rosekind said.

Essentially, short flights normally mean less preparation time before the flight to give your body the rest it needs, while on the long-haul side, crossing multiple time zones completely disrupts the body’s time clock. “Fatigue may account for 10 to 20 percent of the pilot errors we see in all modes of transportation,” he said. “In aviation this may account for altitude busts or landing on the wrong runway.”

Age 50 and Sleepy

According to Rosekind, one-third of the adult population also reports having some kind of sleep problem. “By the time you’re 50, you are much more likely to have a sleep disorder and it is more likely to be severe.” A 1995 NASA cockpit study showed a nap can improve performance by 34 percent, with an accompanying 54-percent boost in alertness. But naps should be kept to no more than 45 min at a time. Longer periods send a pilot into deep sleep, which translates into a groggy and disoriented feeling when awakened.

Rosekind was part of the NASA cockpit study. “We recorded brain and eye movements from crews during a number of nine-hour flights across the Pacific.” During the last 90 min, the crews that were allowed to nap showed only occasional periods of short drowsiness, sometimes just a few seconds–called micro sleeps–and none during the approach phase. But crews who were not allowed to nap recorded as many as 120 micro sleeps during the last 90 min of the flight, 22 of them during the approach to landing phase. Interestingly, this correlates to the location of where many CFIT accidents occur–during the last few moments of the flight.

Alertness Solutions also learned more about pilot napping from diaries they asked working pilots to submit. In results from 1,500 corporate aviation operators, an astounding 71 percent of pilots reported nodding off at some time during a flight. On the regional airline side it was even worse, where 80 percent reported a snooze. In diaries and surveys, corporate aviation operators also “reported that 67 percent have a crew and duty rest policy. That means 33 percent have none at all,” Rosekind said.

But there are some general fatigue-coping strategies crews can use. The first is for each individual to draw up an honest list of what happens to them when they are tired, a list of trigger points they can share with the other pilots they fly with to tip them off to an upcoming performance loss. “One common coping technique is using caffeine. But caffeine takes 30 minutes to kick in and lasts only around three or four hours. It gives you a short edge, but masks fatigue,” Rosekind said. Chewing gum also works. GE’s Fenerty added, “Coping with fatigue is a very personal thing. Some guys use caffeine while others won’t touch it.” Challenger captain House finds “that 30-minute snooze helps a lot with my performance.”

“But there is also a huge cultural issue to deal with when it comes to recommending a nap,” Rosekind admitted. “Some people still believe that if you need to nap, you’re stupid, dumb or just plain lazy.”

Regulations regarding duty and rest issues have some effect, but Rosekind wondered, “How do you get corporate aviation to take a more proactive approach to the fatigue issue. Managers need to answer the challenge sleeping in the cockpit provokes because pilots will get drowsy. Show me what else can boost a person’s performance 34 percent? Without napping, you’re essentially paying people to be unproductive on long trips. The risk is out there and if you don’t pay attention something is going to happen.

Don’t Wait for Congress

“Heaven help us if there is a high-profile business aviation accident related to fatigue. We’ll have Congress jumping in to fix the problem and we won’t get a good fix that way.” Jerry Norton, Honeywell’s director of aviation, agreed: “In business aviation you can’t have a one-size-fits-all kind of regulation to do this job. Aircraft differences must be considered. If you lengthen the duty day, you [the manager] need a compensation factor, such as additional time off.”

National Charter’s Trent said, “Most people who travel internationally would agree that you never seem to be able to rest adequately before you go. We all try, though. Short naps in the cockpit help tremendously, but I’ve flown passengers who would have a fit if they saw a pilot with his or her eyes closed. Noise-canceling headsets help considerably in keeping the fatigue factor down. With enough time between flights, we’ll try to stay awake until sleep time in the new time zone. This can be grueling at first, but we’re pretty much turned around by daylight. Staying hydrated also helps a lot in at least feeling normal on long flights. Since boredom is such a powerful sleep aid, flying with someone pleasant really helps both pilots stay awake. But talking too much can be painful.”

International flying strategies have and must continue to change. “We must now do what we did years ago to fly internationally,” said Rose. “Follow every news story available, stay intuitive and appropriately skeptical about our own preparations for the flight. Complacency can get you scared,
hurt or killed.”

But don’t expect too much leadership from the FAA on this issue. Rose believes the balance of power for international aviation regulatory functions is shifting east toward the JAA. “The FAA is giving up its leadership role, whether Washington wants to believe it or not,” he said. “It is basically a case of abdication. In the absence of continued growth and leadership by the FAA, it’s a case of ‘follow or get the hell out of the way.’”

No matter who takes up the regulatory reins for international flying issues, flight departments must remain in sync with the sometimes fluid operating philosophy it takes to fly overseas successfully. U.S. pilots may be licensed by the FAA and may need to follow ICAO rules when outside the 12-mi limit, but they’re beholden to the flag of each and every country they visit. And to fly there safely, they must prepare by learning the frequently changing rules each of those countries imposes on the international flying game.