IBAC: IS-BAO proves valuable investment

 - March 28, 2011, 5:45 AM

Many years ago, airline managers could occasionally be heard quietly grumbling that investments in safety were mostly a waste of money. But no longer. Today, it’s regarded throughout aviation as an essential cost of doing business, with a valuable payback in real safety enhancement, customer confidence and, occasionally, for members of IBAC's IS-BAO program, in cash as well.

IS-BAO–for International Standards-Business Aircraft Operations–was conceived in the mid-1980s, shortly after the International Business Aviation Council (IBAC) was established. The thinking was that the diverse capabilities, experience levels and types of operation and aircraft of the growing membership needed a cohesive yet attainable baseline of safety standards, sometimes called a code of practice or a safety culture, for IBAC to be recognized as a responsible professional body by national regulatory authorities.

Yet business aviation’s very diversity made developing such a code of practice challenging. It had to be scalable, and flexibly achievable, by business aviation operators from corporate jet fleets to single owner-pilots, and yet still meet the overall safety objectives. It took several years of untiring work by former NBAA v-p Bob Blouin and former Transport Canada engineering inspector and CBAA consultant Ray Rohr (now IBAC director of regulatory affairs), in consultations with pilots and engineering staff at NBAA and IBAC member associations in Canada, the UK, France, Germany and Brazil, to develop an all-embracing business aviation code of practice.

The result was IS-BAO, formally launched by IBAC in May 2002. Today, more than 400 companies are registered program participants, with at least double that number expected to hold IBAC certificates of IS-BAO registration in the next two years.

What Is IS-BAO?

NBAA director of operations Bill Stine put it this way: “It’s a process built around establishing a true participatory safety culture within an operation. It does include all the requirements of a formal safety management system–an SMS–but IS-BAO goes beyond, by causing a company to develop a positive, non-punitive, safety culture with these industry-based best practices to support it. In other words, IBAC and its 15 member organizations designed IS-BAO to encourage participants to look beyond the mechanical task of simply ticking off boxes: it is a living component of the operation.”

As Stine emphasizes, it’s a participatory activity, where pilots, schedulers, maintenance staff and all other flight department personnel have clearly assigned roles and responsibilities toward the common safety objective. Importantly, IBAC recommends that company management should be seen as fully supportive of the program, although this usually goes without saying. In many organizations, the parent company probably already has similar industrial ISO 9000 and other standards in place in its base activity.

And safety is the prime objective. Analysis shows that between 20 and 30 percent of business aviation accidents could have been avoided by adherence to IS-BAO practices. As Chuck DeAlbuquerque of Yum! Aviation told IBAC, “There are now established procedures for everything we do. We all do things the same way, which avoids confusion and gives us a safer approach to our duties.”

The IS-BAO Process

Wisely, IBAC recognizes that some organizations would like to see just what they are getting into before committing the required resources to the total program. For this reason, the organization has published a substantial document package that describes the whole program in extensive detail. To date, it has distributed more than 1,300 packages.

The $1,250 package is the key building block in the process, and the required starting step for all applicants. One can think of the initial investment as non-refundable earnest money. Its content is designed to be reviewed by, and discussed with, all flight department participants because among other things, it describes individual tasks and responsibilities in detail. But IS-BAO guides, rather than dictates, the methods of compliance, thereby recognizing that not all companies operate in the same way, and perfectly acceptable “best practices” can differ among operators.

This initial assessment can take up to several months in assessing procedural and even organizational changes required for compliance, and in larger organizations one individual is usually assigned to coordinate reviews and discussions and record progress and issues.

With the company commitment to go ahead, the next step is to attend IBAC’s two-day IS-BAO training course. Here, the whole document package is reviewed, with particular emphasis on recommendations for the operations manual. This will become the key flight department document, but it often turns out that an existing company manual can lack important information and guidance on critical situations. One flight operations department reported that after unsuccessfully attempting to revise its existing manual, it became much simpler to create an entirely new and better document that was fully IS-BAO compliant.

The Audit

Implementation follows the training course, and many companies retain an IBAC-accredited auditor to develop a customized implementation guide to aid compliance. During the implementation phase, the auditor would make further visits to check progress and highlight any areas that need extra attention. When that auditor–who acts in a solely advisory capacity–is satisfied, a separate IBAC auditor, unconnected with the earlier person, conducts the formal IS-BAO registration audit. However, this is not a pass/fail hurdle. The auditor notes any areas not meeting the standard and returns at an agreed date to ascertain that they now conform.

Martin Rollinger and Keith Unzicker of Caterpillar noted, “The pre-audit was helpful in gaining third-party insight into our operating manual and readiness to meet the IS-BAO.”

But the process doesn’t stop there. Requalification audits occur every two years, and the program’s documentation is under continuous review. Stine points out, “The documentation is a living system. IBAC’s Standards Board reviews operator and auditor comments and suggestions annually and issues upgrades and amendments in January for the following year.”

Program Benefits

As David Nigi of Textron told IBAC, “IS-BAO is a good framework for a flight department to look at its operation not only from a compliance and safety perspective, but also from an efficiency perspective. It also allows the development of policies and procedures that best fit the corporation and the culture of the flight operation.”

There can be financial benefits as well. For example, IS-BAO’s inclusion of the full safety management system standards saves the likely higher costs when incorporated in isolation to comply with regulatory requirements in Bermuda and Cayman, and also with the April 1 SMS requirement of ICAO’s Annex 6, Part 2, for international operations, including U.S./Canada flights. IBAC is also currently working with Europe’s EASA toward acceptance of IS-BAO as a form of compliance with the forthcoming Central European Normalization program.

Even insurance costs can be reduced. Richard Longlott, chief pilot of Mi Windows and Doors, reported, “Thanks to our IS-BAO manual, we had all our training records, syllabus and documentation, and that made the underwriter feel comfortable. We got the discount we were hoping for, and the blessing from our insurance to use contract help as needed. Bottom line: we saved money.”

Looking ahead

By mid-year, IBAC expects to launch a customized version of the program for the helicopter industry, named IS-BAO HE. Separately, by early April, Tom Accardi will join IBAC as director of the IS-BAO program. Accardi is a former director of FAA Aviation System Standards, during which time he oversaw the award of IS-BAO certification to the agency’s flight inspection organization. (This was IBAC’s third certification: NASA and the FBI received the first and second, respectively.)

Tom Accardi can be reached through IBAC’s Montreal office: call (514) 954-8054 or fax (514) 954-6161.