NBAA Flight Attendant Conference

 - August 4, 2008, 9:43 AM

If the drop in the number of attendees at last year’s annual NBAA Flight Attendant Conference was a result of economic uncertainty, then perhaps the increase in attendees this year suggests a market recovery. Few would be willing to publicly embrace such a notion, but the fact remains that the 197 attendees at this year’s conference in Philadelphia was a healthy increase over the 149 who turned the stiles last year in Nashville, Tenn. It also represents an increase from the 177 who attended in 2001.

“It keeps getting better,” said Ann Holmes, TAG Aviation USA director of cabin standards. Holmes said five days after the convention she had already translated her notes into “a long Annie-gram” for the 120 corporate flight attendants who work full-time or on contract for the Burlingame, Calif. charter and aircraft management company. “The conference agenda touched on some very timely subjects,” she noted.

This year’s event marked the eighth such NBAA-sponsored conference, and subject matter included lectures on making the transition from airline flight attendant to corporate flight attendant; cabin preflight; communication skills; corporate security and how it affects business aviation operations; and nutrition and health issues.

With the massive airline layoffs of the past two years, said Holmes, the transition from airline to corporate flight attendant was a particularly appropriate subject. “I’m getting an average of four employment inquiries a day from former and current airline flight attendants,” she said.

Jeff Hare, president and owner of J. Hare Safety & Survival Systems of Jamaica, N.Y., emphasized in his lecture the need for a cabin preflight before every trip. He noted that the FAA might not only levy a maximum fine of $11,000 per violation against a flight department found in violation, but the flight attendant might also be liable for fines up to $1,100 per violation. Violations might include such items as fire extinguishers that are not properly charged, missing lock pins and even the presence of illegal halon extinguishers. And he further warned, “Just because you did a preflight yesterday does not ensure that everything will be legal today.”

Terrorism Isn’t the Only Threat

Discussing passenger and crew safety, American Standard director of global security R. Scott Urbach pointed out that it has now been almost two years since 9/11, and as a result flight departments and aircraft crews and passengers may be tempted to relax their attention to personal safety. “There were 150 muggings in Philadelphia alone last night,” he noted, somewhat grimly tongue-in-cheek.

Urbach shared the subject of personal safety with Terrance McCann, director of New York headquarters security for Pfizer. McCann pointed out that an end to military violence in a region often means that a lot of people with access to weapons are now out of work, and “it’s a small step from killing for one’s country to killing for money.”

Both men also noted that kidnapping for money in countries such as Colombia and Mexico is no longer a cottage industry, but big business. Some kidnappers have even adopted a fast-food version of kidnapping, forcing their captives not only to turn over their valuables but also to visit the nearest bank machine for a substantial withdrawal before releasing them, or worse.

They also highlighted the need to check the aircraft cabin before departing to ensure no documents or floppy discs containing sensitive information, or laptop computers, were left behind by hurried executives.

While international terrorism may seem to have diminished as a threat, there have been numerous close calls since 9/11. “There were at least six attempts” on aircraft, said McCann, that involved weapons ranging from knives and guns to grenades and concealed explosives.

In September last year, a package of Semtex high-explosive was found on a Royal Air Maroc 737 bound for Europe. Missing was the detonator. Investigators speculate that another passenger was to have boarded the aircraft in Europe with the detonator.

In November last year two surface-to-air (SAM) missiles were fired at an Israeli 757 departing from Mombasa, Kenya. Luckily for the crew and passengers, both missiles missed their target.

In February this year, he said, a 37-year-old Venezuelan with a grenade in his backpack attempted to board an aircraft bound from Caracas to London. A possible disaster was averted only because it was determined at boarding in Caracas that the pack was too large and had to be consigned to the baggage hold. In London, an alert security force discovered the grenade when the would-be killer put his backpack
through the carry-on baggage scanner.

Catering a Major Presence

If there was a single overwhelming presence at this year’s conference, it was catering. There were 16 business aviation catering companies represented, from London-based Castle Kitchens to San Francisco’s Five Star Gourmet. As a sort of market condiment to the catering group were Monsey, N.Y.-based B.E. Princess, provider of locker and commissary items for aircraft galleys, and table-setting and serving specialist Duni of Atlanta. This catering ensemble provided two of the conference highlights: hosting an evening cocktail party at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia and arrangement of an afternoon catering roundtable. At the roundtable event, 11 companies from the catering group each tackled a particular subject, including emergency catering; high tea; pairing wine with food (with an opportunity to taste some select vintages); seafood preparation; special meals; haute cuisine; poultry and game dishes; dealing with worst-case scenarios; kosher meals and etiquette; Mediterranean specialties; and the importance of communicating clearly with the caterer. In many cases, those attending the roundtable sessions were invited to sample dishes prepared during the discussion.

While safety training is promoted as the first concern of every flight attendant, few are unaware that more business aviation flight attendants have lost their jobs for catering failures than for a lack of safety training. Anyone in this business will tell you, said one full-time flight attendant, that “catering is a corporate flight attendant’s greatest daily concern.”

At the same time, not everyone was impressed with the almost overwhelming presence of caterers at the conference. Ironically, Kim Elliott, vice president and founder of Nor du Bois Executive Catering in Dallas, was one of those. “It almost seemed like the conference was more about caterers than about flight attendants,” she said. “It should have had more substance, particularly in terms of licensing and regulatory issues.”

She noted that in every U.S. state there are licensing and regulatory standards that must be met to sell and/or distribute wine, “and there are caterers that are in violation of both the sales and distribution laws.” She also noted that an FBO that places, accepts and delivers an order that includes wine is also subject to these laws.

In fact, one issue was evident at the conference by its very absence from every discussion. At no point did any caterer mention the growing practice by FBOs of adding a handling charge–sometimes as much as 25 percent–to catering orders placed on behalf of clients. “I could talk about it,” said one well-known catering executive when asked privately. “But I won’t.” He did, however, note that while he believes a “reasonable” handling charge is not out of line, some FBOs have obviously seen catering handling charges as an opportunity “for a little price gouging.”

Other News

A subject that aroused much comment at the flight attendant conference was the recent news that the aircraft flight manual for the new Gulfstream 550 will require the presence of an evacuation crewmember.

A Gulfstream source said the decision was related to a dispute with the FAA over the agency’s contention that the existence of four window emergency exits would not be sufficient to meet current requirements. While the proposed G550 operating manual calls for an “evacuation crewmember,” training requirements are essentially the same as those for a flight attendant in Part 135.

The G550 received provisional certification on December 11 last year, and deliveries were scheduled to begin this month.

In other news, plans are being made for an alliance that will create a “one stop” training course for flight attendants at the FlightSafety International facility in Savannah, Ga. FSI had expanded its flight attendant training program in early May to include medical instruction from Phoenix-based health and security service and equipment provider MedAire.

The FlightSafety program will further add training in cabin service by Susan C. Friedenberg Corporate Flight Attendant Training of Philadelphia and in-flight food safety and passenger and crew health by Castle Kitchens’ Jet Academy.

According to FSI program manager of emergency training and cabin safety Louisa Fisher, completion of the full course will require eight days at the FSI Savannah center and will provide comprehensive training for a corporate flight attendant. The course syllabus will include:

• Training in cabin service by Corporate Flight Attendant Training.

• Emergency ground school training by FSI.

• Emergency ground school and emergency scenario training by FSI.

• In-flight food safety and passenger health by Castle Kitchens’ Jet Academy.

• Emergency scenario training, firefighting and sea survival by FSI.

• Emergency scenario training and written exam by FSI and initial medical training by MedAire.

• Continued initial medical training by MedAire.

Also at the conference, Air Chef announced growth of its partnership catering chain. The Columbus, Ohio- based franchise caterer revealed that it is adding Jetstar In-flight Catering of Teterboro, N.J., and Catering by Starlite of West Palm Beach, Fla.

“Air Chef…by Jetstar” operates from a new 5,000-sq-ft facility just east of Teterboro Airport and plans to open a new kitchen at Morristown Municipal Airport in Morristown, N.J., this summer. “Air Chef… by Starlite” operates three Florida kitchens, one each in West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami. The addition expands the Air Chef presence and menu to 17 markets in the U.S. and, according to Air Chef president Paul Schweitzer, the company expects to be operating in 23 markets by year-end.

NBAA announced the 2003 flight attendant scholarship winners. According to NBAA chairwoman Virginia Lippincott, the 28 scholarships sponsored by 13 companies and foundations are valued at more than $40,000.

A time and place have yet to be scheduled for the ninth annual NBAA Flight Attendants Conference, but Lippincott said the flight attendant committee expects to
see continued growth as part of NBAA’s encouragement of its members to recognize the corporate flight attendant as a key element of the aircraft crew.