CASS attendees share safety solutions

 - May 25, 2011, 6:10 AM

If there was any doubt that hundreds of safety-minded aviation professionals were in attendance during the second day of the 56th Annual Corporate Aviation Safety Seminar (Cass) on April 21, that doubt was dispelled when the fire alarm sounded. Quick-thinking flight attendant Amy Nelson, at the podium delivering a presentation on cabin safety, reacted with professional flair. “This is not a drill,” she announced. And with that, the room cleared and the attendees–from flight departments, airline and charter operators, safety consultancies and more–stepped outside into the ocean-fresh San Diego air until the all clear allowed everyone back inside. After resuming her presentation, Nelson assured the attendees, “That wasn’t planned.”

Nelson, chair of the NBAA flight attendant safety and training subcommittee, now works with the ConocoPhillips flight department in Anchorage, Alaska. Her Cass presentation outlined cabin safety issues aircraft owners and passengers face, especially after a new aircraft purchase. “There’s always pressure to get going on the first flight after purchase,” she said. And she expressed the concern that in Part 91 non-commercial operations, the owner’s attitude–“My airplane, my rules, this is the way I want it”–encourages crew who are worried about keeping their jobs to set aside regulations.

Nelson cited examples that she has seen (not by her current employer), such as a bulky fax machine perched on a table in front of the emergency exit, an in-flight bed made up before takeoff blocking emergency egress and unsecured luggage scattered all over the cabin. She also cited regulations that apply in these cases and recommended that flight crew perform a pre-departure sweep of the cabin to check for unsafe items.

Nelson emphasized the importance of safety training from the beginning, something that aircraft OEMs, brokers and crew need to teach buyers before that first flight takes place. “Don’t wait till the first flight to start educating,” she said. “It starts from the beginning. A safety introduction should be part of the acquisition process, knowing the location of emergency equipment, from a Pilatus to a Global Express; you never know when you’ll need it.”

Cass 2011, jointly sponsored by NBAA and the Flight Safety Foundation (FSF), hosted about 350 attendees and 30 exhibitors, ranging from VisionSafe, demonstrating its emergency vision assurance system (EVAS), to FBOs, vendors of Foqa hardware and data analysis products, SMS consultants, avionics manufacturers, medical service providers, cabin safety trainers, the FAA and other safety-related organizations.

Flight Safety Foundation executive v-p Kevin Hiatt and president Bill Voss presented this year’s Business Aviation Meritorious Service Award to Bombardier Aerospace, for annual sponsorship of its safety standdowns. The free standdowns are now offered in the U.S., Europe, Latin America and soon in China. Rick Rowe, chief pilot of Bombardier flight operations, said, “I have to thank Bombardier for continuing to support us and Flight Safety Foundation [which] has been dedicated to continuous improvement in global aviation safety, and I’m proud and humbled to accept the award on behalf of Bombardier Aerospace and the safety standdown team.”

Lyn Brubaker, chairman of the Flight Safety Foundation board of governors, noted that in a study of flight departments “that were not fully committed to implementing a safety management system, 100 percent of them suffered accidents and were affected by safety-related incidents over the five-year study. Of the departments exhibiting best-practice procedures, none of them suffered a single safety-related incident of any kind over the same five years. It doesn’t get more dramatic than that. The message is clear: there isn’t any such thing as being kind of safe, partially committed to SMS. On the issue of safety, the answer is, we need to be all in.”

“Here we are in Cass at a time when business aviation has a safety record of performance and culture that is stronger than it’s ever been, but the job isn’t done,” said NBAA senior vice president of operations and administration Steve Brown. “Given recent events such as the controller fatigue issue that has been a major focus of the public, we’re reminded that safety is job one. It all begins with your safety record and how you are perceived at nurturing it, working on it, improving it, and that’s what this is all about.”

Pete Agur, managing director of The VanAllen Group, moderated the Cass 2011 sessions and reminded audience members, “The whole question of these next few days is what’s in it for you? Getting the most out of these next few days is a tremendous opportunity. You can gain new ideas, new enthusiasm and new information. See if you can find something in each of these presentations that brings a new idea to you, and that you can take home.”

Expanding EVAS

The EVAS system demonstrator, it turned out, was the culprit in a second fire-alarm incident, this time in the exhibit hall on the second day of the seminar. The demonstrator is a cockpit replica that can be filled with fake smoke to show pilots how EVAS works, by inflating a clear plastic inflatable vision unit that allows the pilot to see the instrument panel. The EVAS filters the air in the vision unit, allowing pilots to view critical instruments even when the cockpit is filled with dense smoke.

Kurt Poruks, North American program manager for VisionSafe, said that there are thousands of EVAS systems flying, including on the entire NetJets fleet. UPS, which suffered an in-flight fire accident on one of its 747-400Fs last September, is the most recent customer to buy EVAS for its entire fleet. And Gulfstream is the first business jet OEM to select EVAS as standard equipment, for the new G650. EVAS has long been a standard option on many aircraft types, including Gulfstream, Falcon and Bombardier jets.

EVAS costs about $34,000 for a dual-system (two-pilot) installation. The smallest jet that EVAS has been fitted to is a Learjet 35, but anything smaller would be difficult, and EVAS wouldn’t work in a very light jet such as an Eclipse, Poruks said.

Rockwell Collins used the occasion of CASS 2011 to introduce its latest safety-related product, the new compact HGS-3500 head-up guidance system, which weighs a scant 12 pounds. The HGS-3500 is aimed at smaller aircraft, from turboprops to midsize jets, and it is housed in a single unit mounted in front of the pilot, with no rear projector required (see related story).

The growing use of satellite navigation systems around the world means that more pilots will be flying approaches using ground-based augmentation system (GBAS) guidance with one-meter accuracy, which can deliver lower minimums than Waas LPV approaches. Jim Terpstra, former Jeppesen senior vice president and an expert on anything to do with instrument approaches and charts, outlined developments in satellite navigation that pilots are going to have to become familiar with. While not many aircraft are equipped to fly required navigation performance (RNP) authorization-required (AR) approaches, interest in these approaches is growing.

Yet, according to Terpstra, there hasn’t been a real push by the aviation industry for more GBAS approaches. He pointed out that at a recent Air Transport Association (ATA) meeting, an FAA staffer noted that the AOPA lobbied Congress to accelerate implementation of Waas LPV approaches. “As a result of that,” the staffer said at the meeting, “there’s a congressional mandate that the FAA will create at least 300 new GPS approach procedures per year. When was the last time the ATA lobbied Congress to do the same thing?”

The reason why “you don’t see many GBAS approaches,” Terpstra said, “is that there has not been a real push by the industry to go to the GLS [GBAS landing system], whereas that’s why you see so many Waas procedures.”

Fighting Fatigue

Public perception of napping air traffic controllers reached a fever pitch at the time the Cass took place, and FSF president Voss was vocal in criticizing the politically charged reaction to controller fatigue safety issues.

“Right now we have the secretary of transportation [Ray LaHood] trying to pretty well demolish anything resembling a just culture of the FAA,” Voss said, “and somebody’s got to call him out, and it’s my turn in the barrel to do it.” Regarding the go-around maneuver by an aircraft carrying First Lady Michelle Obama, Voss said, “The NTSB is investigating, I don’t think because it wants to. This has become political insanity. And we’re trying to calm it down right now. I just wish the secretary of transportation would take a pill.”

Gordon Dupont, human factors safety consultant for System Safety Services, offered a more pragmatic approach to the fatigue problem (see story on page 00). Dupont helped develop an employee evaluation system called the Fit for Work Indicator, a tool that is used to see if employees are in good condition to work in safety-sensitive jobs, no matter what kind of impairment they are suffering (illness, fatigue, hangover and so on). Dupont said that more than 25,000 people per day are using the Fit for Work system, including Scottsdale, Ariz. charter operator Aero Jet Services, which often flies middle-of-the-night organ transplant missions.

For the companies using Fit for Work, fatigue is the main reason that employees score low enough on the test to trigger an alert, Dupont said. “Does it work?” he asked. “I feel it’s a fantastic tool, and a tool that we need to ensure that a person really is safe. There are some controllers who might not be in the trouble they’re in if they had to take this before they started their night shift.”

Dupont offered Cass attendees an opportunity to try Fit for Work on a voluntary basis, for only the cost of setting up the system. “We’ll provide the equipment,” he said. “All we require is that you give us a progress report every two months.”

Avoiding Unmanned Collisions

Richard Healing, former NTSB member and owner of R3 Consulting, outlined a system that could make it easier for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) to fit into airspace that will soon require mandatory ADS-B equipage by most participants. The all-weather sense and avoid system (Awsas) is a lightweight (less than a pound) box that can transmit on 978 MHz, the ADS-B out frequency for aircraft flying below 18,000 feet, and receive on both 978 and 1090 MHz. With Awsas installed on all aircraft, even those not required to participate in ADS-B would broadcast accurate position information to ADS-B-equipped aircraft, making for a simple solution for UAS and other non-cooperative aircraft.

The low weight and costs of Awsas could make it ideal for gliders, for example, which could have helped prevent the Smith, Nev., midair between a glider and a NetJets Hawker 800XP on Aug. 28, 2006. (The glider was equipped with a transponder, but the pilot left it off to preserve battery power.) The glider pilot successfully bailed out, and the two NetJets pilots landed the seriously damaged Hawker gear-up at Minden Airport.

Awsas will be test-flown in Canada in July and then in Arizona, according to Healing. Cost of a certified Awsas box should be approximately $2,000. And for a low-cost cockpit display, it could easily show information on an iPad. R3 Consulting has also developed a software algorithm that takes advantage of ADS-B and Awsas, so that aircraft equipped with either system could easily conduct a lateral separation maneuver long in advance of a potential collision. A lateral avoidance maneuver, Healing pointed out, is far less costly than a vertical maneuver. o

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Cass 2011 Highlights

Instructor Standardization Planned for Upset Recovery

B.J. Ransbury, president of APS Emergency Maneuver Training, outlined an effort under way to provide instructor standardization for those who teach upset recovery training. Ransbury is also vice president of global integration for the Upset Prevention & Recovery Training Association (UPRTA).

Loss of control in flight was the cause of the most crash-related fatalities in commercial aviation during the past 10 years, according to a Boeing study cited by UPRTA. One result of that startling statistic was formation of a group called the International Committee for Aviation Training in Extended Envelopes (ICATEE) by the Royal Aeronautical Society. “The mission for this organization is to deliver a complete comprehensive long-term strategy to reduce loss of control,” said Ransbury. “The exciting part about this organization is that it realizes that [instruction] needs to be done properly. What we don’t want to do is make the situation worse by implementing a solution that is going to cause more accidents.” Part of ICATEE’s work is to set instructor standards and create an auditing system for instructors who teach loss of control prevention and recovery.

SimChecklists Prohibited in the Cockpit

An issue has been developing where pilots cannot use the same checklist that they fly with during simulator training, according to David Bjellos, president of Daedalus Aviation Services. The problem stems from simulator training companies that are approved under Part 142 regulations not being allowed to use anything other than the checklists covered under their FAA approvals. To use their own checklists, pilots would have to obtain a letter of no objection from the FAA. Using two different sets of checklists–one for training and one for flying–is a safety problem. “We’re entering a situation where we’re normalizing deviance,” Bjellos said (see story page 00).

NTSB Member Touts Value of SOPs

Robert Sumwalt, a current NTSB member, highlighted the importance of standard operating procedures (SOPs). During a stint running a flight department, Sumwalt’s company had SOPs but pilots weren’t adhering to them. Sumwalt created an incentive bonus plan where all pilots had to undergo a standards check ride every year. If any pilot failed, no one received the bonus, creating an incentive for all department members to uphold the SOPs and help each other do so, too. The top 3 to 5 percent of operators are world class, Sumwalt said. The rest fall into those with best practices (more than minimum regulatory compliance), basic compliance and sub-standard performance (corner cutters). “If you don’t have SOPs,” he said, “at best you’re basic.”

Former Qantas Exec: How To Make SMS Pay

The question of the necessity of safety management systems (SMS) naturally came up during Cass 2011, although the audience was understandably the type most likely to have an SMS already or at least be familiar with the concept of risk management. Bob Dodd, Qantas Airways retired general manager of group safety, offered some fascinating insights into the history of risk management at Qantas and ways to make such efforts worthwhile. One interesting point that he made concerns the worry some have about documenting risk mitigation efforts and whether that opens the door to future liability in case of an accident. “Risk management without action is giving lawyers an easy job,” he explained. When asked whether SMS should be a regulatory requirement, Dodd’s opinion was, “I’m a great believer in outcome regulations as much as possible, and I think the outcomes of the SMS should be a regulatory requirement. The challenge is how do you demonstrate that you’re meeting that outcome? The problem with a detailed regulatory requirement, [and] in some ways the ICAO documentation is sort of dangerous in that respect, is that it encourages people to simply tick boxes. It encourages a sense that, ‘If I do all of these things, I have a good SMS.’ Well, no you don’t. Because it’s about how you execute. It’s about the culture that is behind that process.”

Dealers Showcase Corporate Foqa Tools

Corporate-Flight Operational Quality Assurance (C-Foqa) is clearly a topic of interest to safety-conscious flight departments. A number of exhibitors at Cass 2011 offer C-Foqa-related services, from hardware maker Avionica to data analysis providers such as Aerobytes, Austin Digital, Flight Data Services and Sagem Avionics. To participate in a C-Foqa program, an aircraft must be equipped with a data-gathering device, usually a quick-access recorder (QAR). At Cass 2011, Avionica demonstrated its new miniQAR, a tiny 6.5-ounce unit that can store up to 6,000 hours of Arinc 717 data on 2 GBs of memory (upgradeable to 32 GB). Avionica also sells a 3G wireless module that not only transmits QAR data for C-Foqa analysis but also serves as an onboard wireless gateway for airborne devices like EFBs, airborne servers and maintenance terminals.