Charter safety group focuses on audits and SMS

 - March 30, 2009, 9:37 AM

The Air Charter Safety Foundation (ACSF) took center stage at the second annual NATA Air Charter Safety Symposium, held last month at the NTSB Training Center near Washington Dulles Airport, following its announcement that it finalized an agreement with Executive Jet Manage- ment (EJM) to conduct safety audits of the 80 vendor operators that provide supplemental lift for EJM. The foundation completed the last three beta test audits using the ACSF Industry Audit Standard (IAS) in December and will begin the EJM vendor audits this month.

The individual on-site audits will last two to five days, possibly more, depending on the number of aircraft each operator owns, according to Russ Lawton, the foundation’s director of safety. “EJM uses companies that vary in size from small to very large,” he said, adding that the ACSF plans to conduct the first 40 audits this year and the remaining audits next year. In addition to EJM, 10 other operators have expressed an interest in the IAS audit, Lawton said. The foundation has trained 20 auditors to date but plans to increase that number over the next year.

The ACSF worked closely with operators, safety groups, international organizations and audit firms over the past two years to develop the standard, said NATA president James Coyne, adding that the FAA was “very pleased” with the results of the beta test audits that were finalized in December. “It’s a big step because the whole industry needed a consistent standard,” Coyne said. “There are all sorts of audits out there, but now the industry has one standard that everyone can use. And quite frankly, it will be a lot tougher. It will raise the bar of the charter industry in the U.S.”

SMS Implementation
The symposium also highlighted what the ACSF calls “action items” in the industry. Safety Management System (SMS) implementation topped the list. The Industry Audit Standard focuses heavily on SMS, Lawton explained. “What we really want is for operators to start implementing SMS now, so when it eventually becomes regulatory they’ll be on board and won’t have to play catch up,” he said. “We’ve incorporated the latest FAA guidance on SMS as a criterion to audit the operators, and we encourage everyone to get started because it’s a multi-year process to get it fully implemented.”

In related news, the FAA on March 11 selected Lawton to serve on a newly formed aviation rulemaking committee tasked with developing SMS requirements. The agency is expected to publish an advance notice of proposed rulemaking this year, seeking input on how best to craft a regulation to require certificate holders to implement SMS programs, according to the ACSF.