Flight Attendant's Conference

 - September 10, 2010, 11:55 AM

The annual NBAA corporate flight attendants conference has grown steadily, and on June 24 through 26 celebrated its 15th year and a new name and focus as the NBAA flight attendants/flight technicians conference. 

"The last couple of years have been challenging for our industry," Mike Nichols, NBAA vice president, operations, education and economics, told the audience. "We all need to be on the same page with talking points about the value of business aviation. A business aircraft is a sign of a well managed company. Those of us in the industry know that, but we don't always do a great job communicating that." 

Nichols also discussed flight attendants who work independently and announced that the NBAA's employment issues working group will "provide some resources for NBAA members about the challenging and confusing issues of an independent contractor versus an employee. For years there was an IRS 20-factor test, which is now a three-factor test." 

The new test includes behavioral and financial control and the relationship of the parties. "It's not a developing regulatory issue," he explained, "but there's not a good resource that explains it in the context of business aviation and when somebody can be an independent contractor versus when that person should be an employee. Clarity is needed in our industry, and I'm pleased the working group is going to be working on that." 

A new issue that will also affect flight attendants is the Department of Transportation's revision of Part 382 regulations governing disability in air travel. The revision made the regulations applicable to foreign airlines and Part 135 charter operators, generally those with aircraft carrying more than 19 passenger seats, according to Nichols. "We have requested that the DOT conduct a briefing on this rule at the NBAA Convention," he said, "and it's another area we're going to do some research on. It will require procedures and training." 

NBAA director of regional programs Dan Burkhart highlighted the importance of the association's regional representatives and encouraged flight attendants and technicians to participate. "We are your first resource when it comes to local activities," he said. The regional groups' education and outreach activities, he added, "provide a link between our industry and the community and provide a way for us to communicate the value of what we do to our communities. It's also important from a selfish point of view because we need new people in our industry."

Steve Brown, NBAA senior vice president of operations, updated attendees on the latest news of the Transportation Security Administration's plans for the large aircraft security program (Lasp). The revised Lasp rules, which have progressed to the White House Office of Management and Budget, should see a higher weight threshold than the originally proposed 12,500 pounds and a more reasonable approach to prohibited items. "We think it's going to be a much more favorable proposal than the first one," Brown said. 

He also addressed an issue that flight operations have faced. "There are still a number of customs issues. A number of operators are still thinking of everybody in the back of the airplane as a passenger, rather than flight attendants as part of the crew. And that causes filing complications on international flights."

Keynote speaker George Dom, a former Navy Blue Angels flight team leader, delivered an engaging presentation about the essential nature of trust and how it binds teams, especially the pilots flying six F/A-18 Hornets inches away from each other in tight formation. "How do you perform at that level, day after day?" he asked. "The answer is one word: trust. It's not some HR initiative to put nice people together to make it happen. This is a strategic imperative. A high-trust team can really take a punch." 

Emotions Rule

Shari Frisinger, founder of consulting firm CornerStone Strategies, delivered a compelling presentation on the emotional mind and how it affects the way people perform. Frisinger is an expert in human factors and has studied how communication, emotional intelligence and brain/mind physiology affect behavior, especially among flight crews. She has studied key accidents, such as the Colgan Air crash near Buffalo, N.Y., to see how the emotional mind affected the outcome. 

In that accident, she said, the captain's emotional mind was totally in control. And that prevented the rational part of his mind from dealing with the stall that caused the Colgan Air Dash 8 to crash. "When you encounter a change," she said, "the most prevalent emotion in the room will envelop everything. If you are panicking, Amy [your emotional brain] has got you. You've got this little window of focus that is going to permeate everything, and other people are going to pick up on it." 

A person's reaction to that type of situation is first to deny that it is happening. "We are resisting," Frisinger said. "And then reality has sunk in and you feel powerless and you're not in control. Amy is going to keep you there, in any crisis situation." To get out of that pattern, she suggests saying something "to jar us out of it. Don't let Amy take hold of you. You can say 'stop,' you can say 'excuse me,' walk away. This is not easy; it takes a lot of concentration. Have something that you can do to stop that. Otherwise you are really no good. Your passengers are going to model what you do, because you know more than they do. And if you are in a crisis and Amy has you, do you really expect them to act calmly?"

Highlights of this year's conference included presentations on two real-life emergency situations. One was the ditching of a Westwind last year after worse-than-forecast weather caused the pilots to land in the ocean after multiple attempts at shooting the instrument approach to Norfolk Island in the Pacific. This was presented by Winslow Life Rafts, Stark Survival and Survival Systems USA.

The crew of a Flexjet Challenger 605 departing Spirit of St. Louis Airport in Cahokia, Ill., on Dec. 2, 2009, gave a fascinating presentation about their aborted takeoff. Capt. Tom Blanton, first officer Jeremy Stoker and flight attendant Debra Turner were flying an empty leg to pick up passengers. Stoker, the flying pilot during the takeoff, elected to abort after smoke filled the cockpit, just as the Challenger reached 100 knots. An engine wash the previous day had left excess soapy fluid in the engines that pumped smoke into the environmental system during the takeoff.

Blanton made the call to evacuate the Challenger after the airplane was stopped. "The smoke was thick and dark gray," said Turner, "It's now entering the cabin, so when I look forward I can't see the galley, I can't see the cockpit and I can't see my pilots." Turner followed her training and shouted out "forward door" so that Blanton and Stoker would know which exit she was opening, and Blanton acknowledged by responding, "Yes!" 


Safety Lessons

Turner learned from the experience not only how effective her training was but also some key factors that will help her and those who attended the session. She had correctly left her purse with her cellphone in the airplane, and instinctively she took a few steps back toward the airplane after evacuating to retrieve her purse before stopping herself. This was before she knew whether the airplane was safe to reenter. "That is something to pay attention to if you're in a similar situation," she said, "especially if you have passengers." 

The other lesson was how long it took firefighters to arrive at the airplane. The airport doesn't have its own fire and rescue operation and is served by the local fire department. "I never realized that," Turner recalled. "I always thought there were fire trucks on the field at every airport. So keep that in mind. You might have to start triage yourself if you or anybody needs help.

"I've learned that in any life-threatening situation, you must remain calm," she concluded. "You'll be able to hear and listen and think. When you do this your training and survival skills will help you to survive. Trust me, there will be plenty of time left over for emotions. 

"When I look back at that day I feel fortunate to have had two cool, calm professional pilots. We were a team and I know that with Tom Blanton and Jeremy Stoker and the training that we received that I will always be in safe hands. I've been through something most crews never experience. I'm definitely glad I'm here to tell you about it. That day could have been my last."